I Can Make This Warrant-Signing Pen Disappear!

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[Warning: This post contains spoilers about The Dark Knight. Don't read it if you haven't seen it.]

The third act of The Dark Knight takes a morally ambiguous twist with Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) discovers a sonar-based spying node that Batman (Christian Bale) is using to locate The Joker. Fox is horrified at the invasion of privacy; Batman, uncomfortable with what he's done, gives Fox the power to shut it down. Over at the ACLU's blog, Amanda Simon is thrilled at the plot twist. Sort of.

Unfortunately, like the telecoms before him, Mr. Freeman's character reluctantly goes along with the plan saying he'll resign and terminate the program after "this one time." At least he didn't ask for immunity.

But Tylerc217 at the Daily Paul totally rejects the twist, and sees the movie as propaganda.

I clearly remember one scene in The Departed where Alec Baldwin was giving high praises for the Patriot Act. The one line of praise stuck out in my mind, because after watching Thank You for Smoking, it dawned on me that lobbyists try to win over the ideas of the movie at hand. Without actually coming out and saying "buy our product", they instead push an idea and subconciously get the viewer to be in agreement with it.

You know, it didn't strike me like that it all. The sonar actually screws up at points; when it malfunctions, Batman nearly dies. And the way it's presented, there's nothing the technology offers that heat imaging doesn't offer. I'd want the Nolan brothers to explain their thinking before I rule one way or the other, but I'd bet the sonar was an anti-national security state statement.

NEXT: Karadzic Arrested

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  1. da da da
    da da da
    batman!

    Saw about 20 minutes of the Jack Nicholson movie, thought it sucked, don’t care to see any other batman movies. No thanks.

  2. That was constructive.

    Anyway, yeah, the anti-spying message struck me as heavy-handed if anything. Although I was more than willing to buy it as an excuse for Batman’s bitchin’ white eyes.

  3. {continued spoiler alert}

    it also assumes alot of cell phones. I mean, I know cell phones are ubiquitous, but really, everyone in that building seemed to have a cell phone.

  4. Also, it was used for part of one day in response to an immediate, active threat. Simon puts quotes around “one time”, but it actually was used only one time and then destroyed.

  5. Saw about 20 minutes of the Jack Nicholson movie, thought it sucked, don’t care to see any other batman movies. No thanks.

    I had a strawberry! When I was five! Hated it! No need to try it again!

    Beyond that, I think it is always dangerous to attempt to divine the *author’s* intent behind a piece of plot development, unless they out and tell you.

  6. But Tylerc217 at the Daily Paul totally rejects the twist…

    I don’t know who Tylerc217 is, but most people at the Daily Paul are raving conspiracists. To them it is inconceivable that any movie could be made without government involvement. They think that if a movie has a message they don’t like, it’s because of deliberate government propaganda! There’s a lot of movie messages I don’t like, but being a rational person, I’ve always attributed it to the leftist ideology pervasive in Hollywood.

  7. Yea, I don’t think that this was intended to get people to agree with more intrusive government surveilience(sp?). No more than I think Bat-mobile car chase scenes are an attempt to warm people up to the idea having the police use military-level vehicles in civilian law enforcement.

    Probably both are just used for their entertainment value (see also NotThatDavid’s “bitchin white eyes” comment).

  8. Maybe it was a vague anti-surveillance message. I don’t see how it matters either way. It’s the goddamn Batman.

  9. The film came down on the morally right decision in favoring Batman’s one time use of such radical surveillance to stop an anarchic terrorist who wants to destroy society. Libertarians who oppose such surveillance are just whiny people who would see no reasonable way for any surveillance ever.

  10. As long as it’s Batman, and not Gotham PD, conducting the surveillance, I’m willing to look the other way.

    This once.

  11. It wasn’t ambiguous in the least. It was the theme of the movie. Batman does what must be done, what public figures like Gordon and Dent cannot. Whatever Gotham needs. He is the Dark Knight. He does the dirty work. For Gotham’s own good.

    He needed Fox’s help. He would also need Fox’s trust in the future. He knew Fox would get a warm fuzzy seeing the cellphone tech destroyed. He is Bruce Wayne. He could make another similar thing whenever he wants.

  12. Unfortunately, like the telecoms before him, Mr. Freeman’s character reluctantly goes along with the plan saying he’ll resign and terminate the program after “this one time.”

    Unlike the telecoms, Fox says what he means. And means what he says. Don’t fuck with the Fox.

    It’s a Batman gimmick, that’s about it; stop reading moral implications into it beyond the film. I thought it was pretty cool idea. Completely unrealistic, but cool.

    The Dark Knight is awesome. Just. Fucking. Awesome. This ends my review.

  13. This seems like nothing compared to what goes on on 24 (at least the few episodes I’ve seen.)

  14. This power is only for the sake of stopping terrorists.

    I won’t use it for anything else.

    I promise.

  15. you have a constitutional right to privacy from state actors, not from non-state actors, right guys?

  16. I think there was a more problematic scene: when Batman breaks a mobster’s legs to get information out of him.

  17. omg! “I can make this pen disappear.” That may have been the most awesome scene in a movie since the word “c**t” was written on Jason Statham’s forehead in “Crank!” The Dark Knight was awesome! But unfortunately, when I saw it I was sitting next to a large black woman an excessively talkative individual. Oh, for the record, I think people are entitled to privacy from individuals as well as the government. btw, as for everything else, I think I agree with ♪.

  18. He needed Fox’s help. He would also need Fox’s trust in the future. He knew Fox would get a warm fuzzy seeing the cellphone tech destroyed. He is Bruce Wayne. He could make another similar thing whenever he wants.

    Not without Fox he couldn’t. IIRC from BB, Fox is somewhat his “Master of Badass Gadgetry” (am Seing TDK tomorrow, but somehow I don’t think that particular bit would have changed).

    Besides, by putting the objections in the mouth of a magical negro Black actor of great stature and gravitas, I’d say the film is giving anti-surveillance everything it could, given that a deranged anarchist *is actually* running around blowing stuff up.

  19. You only have a *constitutional* right to privacy from state actors. However, I believe you do have a right to privacy from non-state actors, through things like laws against peeping toms.

  20. Wow man, DK is going to totally ROCK, I cant wait to go see it. I gotta take a second mortgage out on my house so I can take the kids!

    JT
    http://www.FIreMe.To/udi

  21. Batman!

    What about child predators and meth cooks?
    They are the moral equivalent of terrorists.

  22. Progressive Gotham resident[…]
    Batman!

    What about child predators and meth cooks?
    They are the moral equivalent of terrorists.

    Har har har. This has been the mantra of parents, “progressive” and “conservative” alike, since time began. Parentage reduces the IQ by a rough 50 points, 75 when the issues directly relate to children.

  23. So you think corporations should be limited by the govt in the new technologies they create? Is this thenation.com?

  24. Who are the Nolan brothers?

    I know Christopher Nolan is the director. Who’s this other guy?

  25. I think there was a more problematic scene: when Batman breaks a mobster’s legs to get information out of him.

    Spoiling ahead…

    The most problematic scene involves the ferry boats.

    One ferry is filled with criminals, per the Jokers demands, the other with Gotham citizens. Each boat has been rigged with explosives. The Joker left a radio controlled detonator on each of the boats for the purpose of exploding the other boat. At midnight, if one of boats was not detonated, the Joker would detonate both. Passengers on both boats brooded over whether or not to pull the trigger on the other boat.

    Not one person on either ferry tried to figure out how to get off the boat.

    In the scene’s setup, an aerial view showed the boats were stalled only hundred yards from the dock.

    Is it any wonder that Gotham needs the Batman?

  26. j,

    you seem to have forgotten the joker told them he was watching and if anyone jumped ship he’d blow them both up.

  27. The villain always says that to his captor who is tied the chair. As soon the villain leaves the captor tries to untie himself.

    No one tried to defuse the bombs either. Jack Bauer would have.

  28. Warning: Further spoiling in this comment

    Not one person on either ferry tried to figure out how to get off the boat.

    In the scene’s setup, an aerial view showed the boats were stalled only hundred yards from the dock.

    Is it any wonder that Gotham needs the Batman?

    Did you miss the part where the Joker announced that he would blow up both boats if anyone tried to get off?

  29. The film came down on the morally right decision in favoring Batman’s one time use of such radical surveillance to stop an anarchic terrorist who wants to destroy society. Libertarians who oppose such surveillance are just whiny people who would see no reasonable way for any surveillance ever.

    And it is a totally acceptable time to drink.

  30. You know, sometimes a movie is just a movie, folks.

  31. You know, sometimes a movie is just a movie, folks.

    And sometimes it’s a BIG BROWN DICK!

    (relevant apologies to the recently deceased)

  32. I’ve got no problem using such surveillance against imminent threats. I haven’t seen the movie, but I strongly suspect that Batman wasn’t on a fishing expedition, but trying to find a known criminal in order to stop an active plan of terrorism.

    But be aware that this is a vastly different thing than FISA. If the threat is not imminent (as in happening right *now*), then get a damn warrant. If you feel that there is not the time to get a warrant, then you need to give a full accounting afterwards. Is that so much to ask?

  33. I was kinda hoping the Joker was lying about each ferry’s detonator being on the other boat. I was hoping one of them would flip the switch and blow their own boat to hell. Just a lighthearted little prank. But then, he’d already pulled that hilarious switcheroo gag with Harvey and Rachel.

  34. treacher

    “I was kinda hoping the Joker was lying about each ferry’s detonator being on the other boat. I was hoping one of them would flip the switch and blow their own boat to hell.”

    Maybe he did… neither detonator is used so we have no way of knowing which boat had which one.

  35. This Batman creature has violated my client’s fourth amendment rights.

    Typically, a fourth amendment violation requires state action. the exception to this rule is the “entanglement exception,” when the state and a private actor’s actions are so intertwined that conduct by the private actor can be attributed to the state. I submit that Batman is “entangled” with the Gotham City Police Department. They call him via giant searchlight, he illegally arrests and detains criminals only to turn them over to the police department for booking. He frequently associates with Commissioner Gordon. He’s basically a volunteer policeman with a cooler car. He cannot be allowed to arrest, seize, detain, and search my client and other fine citizens of Gotham without at least obtaining a warrant beforehand.

  36. [Lawyer finds himslef dangling upside-down from a balcony over an alley]

    Like the view, punk? I wonder how long it will be before my arm gets tired?

    Yeah, you’ve got rights. So does your client. Sometimes I like to stay up all night counting them, just to make myself crazy.

  37. I was kinda hoping the Joker was lying about each ferry’s detonator being on the other boat. I was hoping one of them would flip the switch and blow their own boat to hell. Just a lighthearted little prank. But then, he’d already pulled that hilarious switcheroo gag with Harvey and Rachel.

    I had almost those exact same thoughts – in that order. Except for instead of “hoping” I went with “I bet he was lying”
    Either way, I was prepared for that douchebag on the “for the children” boat to blow himself and everyone on the boat to smitherines.

    Anyway, I thought the whole point of Batman is that he’s outside the law. They dance around that moral point a lot, but I think the general conclusion is that he’s not the only one operating outside the law (the many corrupt police, for example), but is seen by some to be immoral because he is a non-law enforcement citizen operating outside the law instead of a LEO doing the same. I think that is a very astute observation by the writer.

  38. thanks “Remember Me” cookie

  39. Same thought on the boats. Afterwards I thought, why not have both buttons detonate both boats?

    But he was telling the truth about the bridge and tunnel. Surprise: no bombs!

  40. Yeah, you’ve got rights. So does your client. Sometimes I like to stay up all night counting them, just to make myself crazy.

    The Rules of Professional Conduct preclude me from having further conversations with an unrepresented party involved in litigation which I’m pursuing.

  41. Hey, I thought the tacit (and sometimes not so tacit) reason position was that high tech data mining and reconnaissance were okey-dokey as long as the government wasn’t involved. Or did I miss the point of that magazine cover with a picture of my house?

  42. Also, does anyone know why Batman never tells Harvey that the intention was to save Rachael?

    Did I miss something?

  43. The surveillance takes place in a very specific context. The Joker has killed plenty of innocent people and is minutes away from killing more.

    If you want to make a comparison, don’t compare it to post-9/11 government action. Try to imagine how you might feel about all those laws DURING 9/11, like between the first and second planes hitting.

    The whole point of the Joker is the heroes have to do things that make them uncomfortable (Dent and Gordon, too) to defeat him. Since his goal is to demonstrate everybody is as crazy and evil as he is, making them cross that line scores a little bit of victory for him, although the people on the boat ultimately deny him.

  44. My own favorite line from that book:

    “Sometimes the world only makes sense…when you force it to.”

  45. Amazing to watch Deebo’s moral transformation from gold necklace thief to detonator disposer.

  46. Also, does anyone know why Batman never tells Harvey that the intention was to save Rachael?

    He spent the entire movie trying to get Dent to accept the role of hero and replace him. The Joker’s little trick actually worked for him in that regard: as far as Dent knew, Batman considered him so important that he saved Dent instead of Rachael.

    The movie wasn’t about Batman, or The Joker. The movie was about Dent becoming Two-Face, and about Gotham and its relationship with its heroes. Batman seemed barely there and The Joker was a force of nature, not a person.

    I was a bit disappointed that neither ferry pushed the button, I will say. In an excellent movie, that seemed like a “all people are basically good” cop-out.

  47. Epi-
    I don’t know if I buy that Wayne would act so rationally after learning of Rachaels death. I also am not sure why Dent went as crazy as he did over Rachael, being that he didn’t really know her all that well in comparisson to Wayne. We do find out that Dent is a lot weaker than Wayne gave him credit for, but we already knew that back when he was about to blow that guys brains out.

    I was a bit disappointed that neither ferry pushed the button, I will say. In an excellent movie, that seemed like a “all people are basically good” cop-out.

    I agree. I was ready for some real evil at the end of the movie, and all I got was some sappy garbage.

  48. He didn’t “learn” of Rachael’s death; as soon as he saw it was Dent in the room and not her, he would have known that The Joker pwned him and the gig was up. Wayne is a pretty cold and rational dude, and he would immediately say to himself “shit, I got pwned, how do I make the best of this”.

    It’s not like he has no experience with suddenly losing people that are important to him. As someone who also has that experience, I can tell you that you get a lot more clinical about it.

  49. he would immediately say to himself “shit, I got pwned, how do I make the best of this”.

    I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t, only because I have a really hard time imagining Bruce Wayne, much less Batman, uttering anything in gamer leetspeak.

    Even in internal monologue.

  50. Bats use sonar to find things. he’s the BATMAN so they had him use sonar stop looking for hidden meanings in things.

  51. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t, only because I have a really hard time imagining Bruce Wayne, much less Batman, uttering anything in gamer leetspeak.

    You haven’t seen the movie yet, right? Because you may be suprised that he actually says out loud “d00d, teh jokerz pwned me”. It’s a bit of a twist on the Batman, but you have to allow room for Nolan to interpret.

  52. You haven’t seen the movie yet, right?

    Tonight, dood. And I don’t have much allergy to spoilers (real or fake); I have excellent suspension of disbelief and memory-hole powers.

  53. I was originally kind of miffed at the conclusion of the boat thing. The “people are good” deal really kind of jumped out of the rest of the movie’s moral setting. But the more I think about it, the more I accept it. It’s yet another twist. I know I expected the innocent boat guy to blow up either their boat or both of them after all the tricks the Joker plays. And I think the subtle genius in it all is that the contrast of these people stepping off the edge with Dent’s devolution helps highlight the latter. The man who was so strong compared to your average citizen in the first half is now weaker morally and more open to the Joker’s “games.” Makes a nice character arc.

  54. Reinmoose,

    We do find out that Dent is a lot weaker than Wayne gave him credit for, but we already knew that back when he was about to blow that guys brains out.

    He was never going to kill the guy. The coin had two sides, both heads. It only became a yes/no after the bomb scars one side.

    That Dent and his father were both cheats… make of that what you will…

  55. Let’s see…yet another comic book is made into a movie
    and we debate what it all means to real people.
    This is what it means:
    $
    Really, that’s it. That’s all it ever means.

    You’re welcome.

  56. no mention of using RICO to get at the mobsters because they pooled their money?!

  57. [i]And the way it’s presented, there’s nothing the technology offers that heat imaging doesn’t offer.[/i]

    Except for the lack of heat imaging sensors all over Gotham City to help Batman locate the Joker in the first place. Remember? They had no idea where he was before they traced his call.

    Seriously, there is a reason Nolan went with cellphones here.

  58. Let’s see…yet another comic book is made into a movie
    and we debate what it all means to real people.
    This is what it means:
    $
    Really, that’s it. That’s all it ever means.

    You’re welcome.

    And for his next trick, Jesus H. will tell us all how the Bible is just a cute collection of bedtime stories that have never mattered in the real wold to real people.

    The formation and perpetuation of a cultural mythology, the symbols that mythology uses and supports, and how people think using those symbols, absolutely matters to millions of people in that culture.

    Obviously it very rarely reaches the level of “more important than food and shelter” important, but then again, look at the Bible.

  59. Also, does anyone know why Batman never tells Harvey that the intention was to save Rachael?

    Did I miss something?

    I completely missed that the Joker played the ol’ switcheroo on him. I didn’t hear the Joker reverse the addresses and I thought he was intentionally going to save Dent because he (Batman) saw him as his last, best hope to retire Batman. His faith and desperation transcended his love.

    Then the friend I saw it with, saw it again last night, and told me about that. Which is too bad, since I like my version better.

  60. I was a bit disappointed that neither ferry pushed the button, I will say. In an excellent movie, that seemed like a “all people are basically good” cop-out.

    I don’t agree. Even I’m not so cynical that i can’t accept the fact that yes, people *are* basically good. Had one of them pushed the button, THAT would have been cheap and a cop-out (and pointless).

    But yeah, I wanted him to off the Joker, as he did in the “The Dark Knight Returns.”

  61. But yeah, I wanted him to off the Joker, as he did in the “The Dark Knight Returns.”

    The Joker kills himself in DKR to frame Batman.

    I will disdainfully point to this thread the next time someone calls us all geeks. Apparently, only some us are…

  62. The people in the boat refusing to detonate is the only victory over the Joker in the movie. He kills Rachel, destroys Dent, and gets most of the chaos he aims for despite Batman trying to stop him, but he loses to the people in the boat. It’s also a moral victory rather than tactical, which is more of a defeat for him than getting arrested.

  63. I blame, BTW, my not hearing the the Joker switcheroo on the seeming inability of Hollywood sound designers to make speech inteligable over background effects.

    This has been going on for about 10 years or so now, where when there is music or loud effects on screen and an actor is speaking, sometimes screaming, all I get is BAM! BOOM! BADAOW! MUSICMUSICMUSICMUSIC and the actor going (imagine 2 point type here) elgntoomba doriftow spoongetamoon…. Is it just too fucking much to ask to have spoken word *and* background mixed so you know what the fuck they are talking about? Hmmmmmm? It kinda helps.

    (It ain’t age that’s doing this either. The person I saw the film with is about 15 years younger than me and heard, or rather didn’t hear, the same thing I did. And she’s a chick; they hear *everything*.)

  64. The Joker kills himself in DKR to frame Batman.

    Shit, you’re right. Forgot about that.

  65. I have that same problem. One way to overcome it is to turn your subwoofer way down if you have one. Low bass seems to be their magical “Look, this is supposed to be exciting!” button.

  66. It was perfectly audible and obvious to me, JW. Maybe you just suck at movies.

    (j/k)

  67. Maybe you just suck at movies.

    I prefer that my dates be the ones…well, you know.

    Old Bull–When I ask that, the usher just looks at me funny.

  68. I prefer that my dates be the ones…well, you know.

    OK, when she’s taking a piss for the ninth time, cut a small hole in the bottom of the popcorn tub and then…

  69. It’s funny that anyone thought of the Alec Baldwin quote as pro-Patriot Act. Knowing Alec’s politics, I laughed when I heard that line. Look at his face when he says it, the subtext of the entire piece is “this is a totally inappropriate (according to the stated intent of the Act’s writers) use of this tool and I’m going to abuse it and enjoy doing so!”

    It was brilliantly anti-Patriot Act and I found it beautifully subversive.

  70. The whole network of sonar phones business seemed to be irrelevant to the main story. Finding the Joker and fighting off the henchmen (and the SWAT team) once the scene was set really could have been done without this.

    I suspect this little sub-plot was put into the film to give Morgan Freeman more to do in the film. I think that it would have been better to involve him more by expanding out the story of the accountant who was going to ‘out’ Bruce Wayne.

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