Now that The Dark Knight Rises poster is out and the teaser trailer has been released, it’s a great time to be talking about Batman.
There is something you have to accept: Christian Bale’s Batman is an allegory for George W. Bush. Google it. Or, I can save you the time by suggesting you read analysis of it at a million different blogs and websites, including Foreign Policy, The Wall Street Journal , Cracked.com, and so on. The genius of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films is proven throughout these various analyses by the fact that while people agree that The Dark Knight is about George W. Bush, they disagree about whether The Dark Knight is meant to be an indictment of the Bush years, or praise of Bush’s tactics.
Now, unlike the post on James Bond, where I didn’t say whether the theory is accurate or not, this time I’m completely behind it. I will argue that it’s not meant to be a pro-Bush or an anti-Bush film – that’s actually the whole point of it. It’s meant to generate discussion and provoke thought, but not to say “George W. Bush is a good guy. Like Batman. Get it?” Or “The Patriot Act is bad. That’s why Morgan Freeman quit at the end. See?”
This theory can be pushed further, to include The Joker as Osama bin Laden, and possibly even Harvey Dent as Barack Obama. The Joker is fairly easy to accept: he is definitely a terrorist, he is feared by all, he has his own devoted following of nutcases, and he believes himself to be the yin to Batman’s yang. You can get into an argument over this when you decide how to interpret Joker’s statement that Batman created him, but yeah, you get it.
The Harvey Dent as Obama theory is a bit riskier, and less common. While Batman as Bush is widely accepted, Dent as Obama is still more limited to argument on Comic and gamer websites and paranoid religious forums. Dent is a smooth-talking, charismatic leader who unfortunately realizes that his role in the public eye is more than he bargained for: his morals change throughout the film. The comparison can be made to Obama, as someone who campaigned on lofty ideals, but who some regard as “Two-faced” and others regard as an outright villain. (There is also a trend to photoshop Obama’s face into The Joker – but that’s not the kind of political conversation that I think is worth discussing on here.) The most intelligent comparison is a column describing Obama as suffering from “The Harvey Dent effect,” and even applies Harvey Dent’s predicament to all politicians, paraphrasing the concluding Commissioner Gordon monologue with: “Neither McCain nor Obama are the men we want but they are, I imagine, the presidents we deserve.”
Some have also taken to apply The Dark Knight to the Wikileaks situation, saying that Julian Assange is The Joker, because of his belief in the truth, while Batman and Commissioner Gordon are America because of their efforts to “lie for the greater good.”
The Dark Knight Rises
And here is why this matters. Because the next film – and the conclusion of Nolan’s Batman trilogy – has Selina Kyle in it, portrayed by Anne (her?) Hathaway. Selina Kyle, as you either already knew or are vaguely aware or are going to learn at the end of this sentence, is the alter ego of Catwoman.
Catwoman is an unusual character, because she exists in a real middle-ground in comics with few other characters. She is not an outright villain, but she is certainly no hero. She has existed since 1940 in one form or another, with Catwoman often serving as a love interest for Batman while Selina Kyle off-and-on dates Bruce Wayne. In many storylines, one or both of them are not entirely sure of the other’s full identity. In the 1992 film Batman Returns, she is an anti-heroine who squabbles with both Batman and the villainous Christopher Walken and Danny Devito. In 2004, someone decided to make a Catwoman movie in which Batman and Gotham City don’t exist, and Catwoman is not named Selina Kyle but does have magical powers.
Selina Kyle has had many occupations, depending on which comic or TV series or film you’re referring to: sometimes she’s a prostitute, at other times a socialite. Catwoman is always a thief and criminal of some sort, but she does have an altruistic streak at times. Unlike most of the Batman cast, she is one of the few characters who veers between fighting Batman and working with him. She may or may not be the illegitimate daughter of Carmine Falcone (the mob boss who went nuts in Batman Begins, and whose legitimate son was rumored to be played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.) If they go with this route for The Dark Knight Rises, then there is certainly quite a bit of material to work with.
But here is what she is going to be, regardless of whether she is a hooker or a gangster or a secretary or cat burglar: Sarah Palin.
Why Sarah Palin?
Just like The Joker is a result of Batman’s actions, so is Catwoman. She is a sign that Gotham is changing. That Batman’s presence has unleashed a new class of criminals in Gotham and is bringing them to the forefront.
Catwoman is unlike anything that previously existed in Nolan’s Gotham City, because she is a reaction to Batman without being simply a copycat Batman, or a villain. Even Harvey Dent was not in the same vein: he was more of a tragic hero who suffered a downward spiral, more of a Hamlet than a Macbeth.
Catwoman will be to Gotham what Sarah Palin is to America: a game-changer. A sign of a new wave of rhetoric. A hero to some and a villain to others, she is a somewhat ordinary citizen who takes on a greater calling. And if they follow the path I anticipate this film may follow, Batman’s fall will parallel Catwoman’s rise. As Batman becomes the villain in the eye of the public – as he did at the end of the last film, receding into the night and taking all the blame in the same way that Bush left office at the lowest point of his popularity – Catwoman rises, changing the role of what Gotham needs. Catwoman will certainly be a response to Batman – from the basic concept of her identity to her appearance, she is both a reaction to and a parody of Batman, in the same way that Palin replicates some elements of Bush while being the antithesis of other aspects of him. Palin and Catwoman both represent the deterioration of a hard truths – they exist in a gray area, with Catwoman lingering between villain and hero while Palin is something between a politician and a celebrity. They are both rejections of traditional concepts of femininity while reinforcing many elements of it at the same time. Catwoman is an independent woman, yet is never depicted without being highly sexualized. No discourse exists regarding Palin which ignores the fact that by simply being a woman, she is always a minority among her peers.
We will have to wait to see if they really go overboard with the metaphors and include a red-faced, tearful Mad Hatter in the film. There is a Mad Hatter in the Batman comics and TV shows, an outcast who models himself after the Lewis Caroll character, and who at times kidnaps people and makes them have tea parties with him. He is one of the characters who is truly a response to Batman – his character is mostly harmless, yet is one of Batman’s most hated enemies as his existence perverts Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a book that Bruce Wayne was read as a child by his mother.
If only there were a public figure who he could be a metaphor for…
Regardless of what the plot is for the new Dark Knight film, it’s clear that there will be a Selina Kyle, and I fully expect that the parallels to Sarah Palin will be ready to be drawn. In fact, I might not completely be the first to come up with comparing Palin and Catwoman, although I think I’m the first to think this hard about it and apply it to a film that doesn’t exist yet. But someone did make this poster back in 2008.
Whether the film ends with a sun-burned, retired Bruce Wayne watching a Rangers game while Selina Kyle goes on book tours is yet to be seen.