Whatever Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stranger

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Writing in the London Review of Books, Princeton's Michael Wood has a long and interesting take on the Christian Bale/Heath Ledger blockbuster The Dark Knight, placing the film not just alongside its predecessor, Batman Begins, but also next to Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, the extraordinary graphic novel that literally reinvented Batman as the vigilante anti-hero we're watching today. There's a bunch to chew on here, though Wood's take on Bruce Wayne's moral code is particularly intriguing. As viewers are already aware, Batman refuses a perfect opportunity to kill the Joker, crashing his Batbike (Batcycle?) rather than running the psycho clown down. As Wood notes:

The distinction between law and lynching, to say nothing of life and death, always matters. But you can't make lynching OK by stopping it short of murder, and the scene in which Batman, enraged by his own helplessness and incomprehension, batters away at the Joker in a police cell, tells us the whole story. The amoral villain has won this moral round, and perhaps the whole fight.

I won't spoil what happens next, though those of you who've seen it know just how effective Batman's interrogation methods ultimately turn out to be.

Whole thing here.

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  1. The Dark Knight, beyond just being a good movie, also served a purpose for ethicists the way The Matrix Trilogy did for epistemologists:

    It allowed them to to write interesting articles that were actually, um, readable. And accessible to a wider audience, too.

  2. The law protects the weak. It only understands logical ORs, because it is linear.

    Often people are both weak AND criminal.

    Sometimes people are both minorities AND incompetent.

    Sometimes someone can be both guilty AND not guilty.

    Laws are essentially dysgenic as a result: they help the insane and criminal survival alongside those who just got a raw deal, once.

  3. Anti-globalism, I have to wonder how many times you have taken antibiotics in your life. In the state of nature that you seem fit to proclaim would be better (a world without law, social darwinism, etc.), your “weakness” at getting strep throat would have killed you stone dead, rather than being a minor nuisance out here in the real world, where law provides a society with stability so we can produce things to allow us to survive past our thirtieth birthday.

  4. LMNOP,

    I dunno, I thought most of the epistemologicophilia that came out of the Matrix seemed pretty thin from the the beginning. Well, maybe not right at the beginning, I think I was in junior high when it came out, so my mind was probably blown by the extremely subtle theological/philosophical themes. [/sarcasm] But, really, was there anything to say about epistemology from the Matrix that couldn’t be found in Descartes’ first 2 meditations?

    I think The Dark Knight is a bit better in terms of investigating ethical problems, but it’s still a bit too in-your-face for my taste. The Joker’s diabolical vacuity was intriguing: Batman’s personal, and ultimately mundane, moral struggle was boring. (Disclaimer: I was very drunk during TDK, so my memory’s fuzzy.)

  5. Am I the only one who was always unimpressed by Jack Nicholson’s Joker? I have a history of not “appreciating” older films and performances the way I should, but after seeing (perfectly) in The Dark Knight what the character is supposed to be, why do people still insist on giving Nicholson so many props?

  6. Regis —

    I agree that the Joker’s moral nihilism was more interesting, but bad guys are in general more interesting than the straight-laced fuckers who have to deal with them. 🙂

    As far as The Matrix trilogy goes, yes, there actually was a great deal of depth (not epistemologically, necessarily) in explicating problems of causality, existntial dependence (is the virtual world parasitic on the real, or are they both equally real?), existentialism, and the co-dependence of morality (are good and evil separate or codependent modalities?). As far as epistemology, it actually hearkened more back to Plato (Allegory of the Cave), and I thought it was a cute and accessible modern explication of Plato’s point.

  7. LMNOP,

    Well, OK, I see some of your points (I’m confused about the codependence of morality, though I didn’t see all the Matrix movies). I guess I get turned off when movie philosophizin’ gets too “obvious,” or when the film states its case too plainly. (This was one of the reasons I remember hating Garden State.) With the Matrix, maybe I just need to rewatch it, and watch for the subtlety behind the adolescence. Maybe.

    And do you really see more Plato than Descartes in the Matrix’s epistemology? I mean, I sorta see where you’re coming from, but the robot overlords seem like pretty clear stand-ins for D’s “malevolent demon.”

  8. bad guys are in general more interesting than the straight-laced fuckers who have to deal with them.

    In general, yeah, but in noir-ish films I like my good guys to be the ethically fucked up, interesting ones. I’m thinking Dirty Harry, here. Way cooler and more complex than Scorpio.

  9. For moral codependency, yah, you do have to see all three (it becomes blatant in the third).

    Also, the original arc of the first movie can be read as either Decartes or Plato, but again, in the third movie there is a visual scene that nails it as the great big metaphor for the Allegory of the Cave (*spoiler* where the Logos momentarily breaks through the clouds and Trinity sees the real-world sun, right before crashing to Earth, killing Trinity in the process), just like the journey of the man in the cave having used reason, logos, to figure out he was being snookered by the puppet-masters, emerging to see the sun and then re-entered to be killed by his chained compatriots.

  10. Holy Egregious Epistemological Enigma!

  11. I get you on it being too blatant, but for some reason for that film it did not bother me. I heart Huckabees was similar in that respect. However, Stranger than Fiction was similar but I thought was horrible.

    I think the breaking point for me is that a movie must also be *entertaining* on it’s own merits (performances, witty script, or heck, even some good explosions and/or wire fu). Matrix and Huckabees had it. Fiction didn’t.

    And as far as moral murkiness in heroes goes, I also agree. Anti-heroes and noir heroes are usually more fun than straight-up stick-in-the-muds.

  12. LOL, libertymike.

  13. LMNOP

    OK, I haven’t seen all three, but HOLY SHIT! Trinity really flies a ship called the Logos?? It could only be better, er, sillier, if at some point the humans fled from the earth on a ship called the Arkhe, taking samples of all remaining life forms with them.

  14. You know, mixing up Noah, the Gospel of John, and Aristotle all for good fun.

  15. FWIW, Drudge says Obama is picking Evan Bayh.

  16. Elemenope and Regis-

    A different genre, but how about John Wayne’s character, Tom Doniphon, in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance?

  17. Regis —

    Heh. There’s also a ship that gets name-checked caled the Gnosis. My two personal favorite philosophy jokes of the three movies are

    in the second movie, when Captain Soren of the Vigilant , er, leaps up to take what is likely to be a suicide mission, in the name of faith. Making him a fun reference to Soren Kierkegaard.

    The other is right near the end of the third movie, where Smith relates to Neo that he believes “the purpose of all life is to end”…’purpose’ and ‘end’ being of course the same word in Ancient Greek, telos, thus neatly describing his born-again nature as a nihilist who believes that life is circular and meaningless.

    One of my friends commented that with the Logos crashing, it was meant to indicate the end of “reason” in the movie, the point where logic must give way to existential choice. I always thought that was a good way to put it as well.

  18. It’s sad for this American to admit it, libertymike, but I’m not up on all my Westerns.

  19. Come on libertarians! The Matrix’s philosophical basis is much more closely linked to Robert Nozick’s article “The Experience Machine” than Plato or Descartes. http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_experience.html

  20. Elemenope-

    If you haven’t seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, do so. In addition to presenting its viewers with multi-dimensional heroes, it masterfully depicts the conflict between rugged individualism and law and order with John Wayne brilliantly embodying the former and Jimmy Stewart capturing the essence of the latter. Lee Marvin’s Liberty Valance is also nihilistic, but more nuanced than Heath Ledger’s Joker.

    IMHO, the movie is a great metaphor for Reason Hit/Run posters. For example, where we have disagreed, you have played the role of Ransom Stoddard to my Tom Doniphon.

  21. josh —

    Anarchy, State, and Utopia grows on the already fertile ground plowed by, among others, Plato and Descartes. Credit where credit is due, and all that.

    That having been said, Nozick’s experience machine thought experiment is closest on the technical details to what is shown in the films, I’ll readily grant.

    libertymike —

    I shall have to check it out, then!

  22. “The Dark Knight” ain’t that great anyway. A little too long and kinda boring at points. Give me Tim Burton’s “Batman” any day. C’mon, Jack Nicholas as “The Joker”. What more could you want!

  23. Never mind, Drudge now says Bayh and Kaine are not it. Intrade has Biden at 71.4% likelyhood.

  24. I’ve always thought Batman’s unwillingness to just kill the Joker is a bit insane. I mean, in the comics he has caught this guy literally dozens of times only for the guy to get out and murder literally hundreds of people. Batman could have saved so many lives if he just snuffed the Joker after the first two or three escapes. That kind of deontology, that much indifference to the consequences of actions as determinative of the moral classification of the act (wrong or right) strikes me as nuts…

    I had several problems with the Dark Knight which I’ve discussed on H&R before. I actually liked the Hulk better (sneaking n the super solider serum was pure gold).

  25. There is a scientific word for
    “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes your stronger”

    Will someone tell me what it is?
    Thanks.
    (I’ve been trying to think of it for several months now. I have destroyed most of my brain cells, but I don’t care. So long as there is this H&R tool, I’m still way ahead of the typical consumer of MSM.)

  26. Your mom’s a tit.

  27. Ruthless,

    Anything here help?

  28. That kind of deontology, that much indifference to the consequences of actions as determinative of the moral classification of the act (wrong or right) strikes me as nuts…

    It’s supposed to, I thought. Isn’t the Batman supposed to be a few short of a full deck in the moral compass area?

  29. John-David,
    You are a prince among men for reaching out to the likes of me.
    What you linked was interesting, so interesting I hope everyone will link, but it didn’t supply “the” word, which is in Funk and Wagnalls somewhere.

  30. C’mon, Jack Nicholas as “The Joker”. What more could you want!

    A sensible script and less Prince?

  31. C’mon, Jack Nicholas as “The Joker”.

    “Nothing in his pockets but golf clubs and lint.”

  32. C’mon, Jack Nicholas as “The Joker”. What more could you want!

    A golfer who can act? Wow.

  33. The first Matrix movie also had strong currents of both Marxist and Buddhist interpretation open to it. What I liked about the sequels (perhaps the only likable things about them) are their peeks into metaphysical and meta-ethical questions about the nature of life and what constitutes personhood and what merits moral consideration.

    Most of the ethical dilemmas in tDK seemed like they were right out of Ethics 101 trolleycar thought experiments. But those have been the questions people have been grappling with for millennia without satisfactory answers. I admired how they were played out and left unresolved in this movie.

    Nicholson and Ledger were different Jokers for different eras. Nicholson’s delivery was impeccable in Batman. But Ledger had a more substantial character in tDK.

  34. What I liked about the sequels (perhaps the only likable things about them) are their peeks into metaphysical and meta-ethical questions about the nature of life and what constitutes personhood and what merits moral consideration.

    Unfortunately, all of that philosophizing in the sequels is delivered with all the elegance of stereo instructions written in Engrish.

  35. Come on libertarians! The Matrix’s philosophical basis is much more closely linked to Robert Nozick’s article “The Experience Machine” than Plato or Descartes. http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_experience.html

    Nozick’s “experience machine” and Nozick’s and Derek Parfit’s ideas about identity make them the most fertile philosophers to cite when discussing science fiction tropes. You can’t talk about Star Trek’s various transporter mishaps without bringing in Parfit and/or Nozick. They’re also relevant whenever you talk about mind transference.

    Frankly, this is why I find even the most hackneyed sci-fi to be more interesting that most “literary” fiction, which rarely strays from the fallow fields of Marxian class analysis or shallow existentialism.

  36. Frankly, this is why I find even the most hackneyed sci-fi to be more interesting that most “literary” fiction, which rarely strays from the fallow fields of Marxian class analysis or shallow existentialism.

    Well, replace “hackeneyed” with “mediocre” and I agree completely. I can’t quite get behind writing that’s so bad it makes me want to forget my native language. Some sci-fi is *that bad*. Sturgeon’s Law, and all that.

  37. Unfortunately, all of that philosophizing in the sequels is delivered with all the elegance of stereo instructions written in Engrish.

    You do realize that the movies were intended for the mass American audience, right? Like, people who by-and-large wouldn’t know a Nozick or Plato reference for that matter if it sat on their faces?

  38. Due to Weigel being AWOL, the IOC has declared this an open thread.

    So, I’ll point out that here’s Obama sounding like an extremist (even more like one than he usually sounds in public speeches that is) and here’s a roundup of COLBGate.

    There’s much more – all of it better than most of the stuff you see at Reason – so just keep scrolling and scrolling.

  39. LMNOP,

    The Dark Knight has taken in more than the Matrix sequels combined. The moviegoing public in this country may not know a good Phaido reference when they hear one, but they can sniff out bad movies a mile away.

    I hope I never get as grumpy and cynical as you are.

  40. Ah, Theo. Sturgeon, one of the bases for “Kilgore Trout”.

    The Dark Knight is just good fiction and I like the way good fiction can actually encourage people to think about ethical and philosophical problems.

    Jack Nicholson was good as the Joker, but Heath Ledger’s performance ranks easily as one of the top 10 portrayals of bad guys in film history.

  41. I hope I never get as grumpy and cynical as you are.

    Whatcha talkin’ bout? I’m an optimist!

    The Dark Knight is just good fiction and I like the way good fiction can actually encourage people to think about ethical and philosophical problems.

    I think bad fiction with a good core of ideas can too, but good fiction goes down smoother.

    Jack Nicholson was good as the Joker, but Heath Ledger’s performance ranks easily as one of the top 10 portrayals of bad guys in film history.

    I’m trying to think of a better one…I haven’t seen No Country yet, and I hear that Bardem belted out a keeper. Maybe Jack D. Ripper from Strangelove. The DEA agent from The Professional played by Gary Oldman. Christopher Walken’s walk-on in True Romance sure was memorable, but that was an ensemble scene. Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs. Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate. Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List, if that even counts, as he was portraying a real guy.

    My S.O. would like to throw in Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects (she sez it captures evil as the facade of normalcy, indicating a deeply disturbed and malevolent persona), and Al Pacino from The Devil’s Advocate (just plain fun).

  42. Shit, how could I forget Denzel Washington’s awesomeness in Training Day?

  43. Why do people keep taking my name.

  44. Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York.

    Fucking what’s his name from Rob Roy.

  45. OT, but check out North Carolina at pollster.com.

    Bob Barr has more support right now than the difference between McCain and Obama. We’re fucking relevant in a swing state!

  46. The DEA agent from The Professional played by Gary Oldman.

    Oh yeah. This is a great one. And Sen. Palpatine might not be completely “realistic” but the guy is just so damn immoral.

  47. Orange Line Special | August 23, 2008, 12:07am | #

    Due to Weigel being AWOL, the IOC has declared this an open thread.

    So, I’ll point out that here’s Obama sounding like an extremist (even more like one than he usually sounds in public speeches that is) and here’s a roundup of COLBGate.

    There’s much more – all of it better than most of the stuff you see at Reason – so just keep scrolling and scrolling.

    Well, I must admit the spectacular irony and lack of introspection in this statement is vastly more entertaining (albeit inadvertently) than most of the stuff in Reason.

    But, sure, I’ll keep scrolling down whenever I see another OLS invitation to visit his crap site.

  48. And Sen. Palpatine might not be completely “realistic” but the guy is just so damn immoral.

    Crossed my mind. McDiarmid’s performance was the high point of Episode III (well, that and the climactic bad-ass battles).

  49. Many of the best villains are pure or “nigh-pure” sociopaths. These individuals fascinate me. And even though he’s more or less unbalanced in both movies, Christian Bale’s performance as Batman is more or less the opposite of his Patrick Bateman. (American Psycho for those keeping score at home). Bale is really good at playing somebody who is trying to be comfortable in his own skin but not really succeeding. But Heath Ledger. Wow.

  50. Hey so,
    It Yahoo is saying that Biden is Obama’s VP.

  51. OLS, what real difference does Obama’s birth certificate make?

    Srsly.

  52. Anti-globalism, I have to wonder how many times you have taken antibiotics in your life. In the state of nature that you seem fit to proclaim would be better (a world without law, social darwinism, etc.), your “weakness” at getting strep throat would have killed you stone dead, rather than being a minor nuisance out here in the real world, where law provides a society with stability so we can produce things to allow us to survive past our thirtieth birthday.

    Was this supposed to be a collection of logical fallacies?

    How do you even hope to talk politics when you can’t manage a logical argument?

  53. Ruthless – is “resistance” (definition 2) what you’re looking for?

  54. The choice of Biden is the moronic cherry on top of the craptacular Sundae that has been the Dem’s Presidential try this year. An older, combative, institutional Democrat paired with a young guy running a “change” and “clean politics” campaign. A guy who has singularly been unable to muster any popular support in his out of Delaware runs, a man from a tiny inconsequential electoral state that was going to go Dem anyway.

    McCain will win now. Four more years of war (the neocons couldn’t have asked for more to restore them), crapping on civil liberties, no accountability for the crap that the Bushies did, and a SCOTUS with a GOP stranglehold for generations. And it’s the Dems fault. They’ve stupidly and arrogantly continue to assume the White House is theirs and they can crap on electoral strategy. It’s Mondale/Dukakis/Kerry over again. The Stupid Party moniker has a new home.

  55. Who, I ask you, who, will hear the name “Joe Biden” and go, “hell yeah, that’s great?” I imagine even the voters of Delaware don’t get enthusiastic about Joe Biden.

    Biden’s big thing is: he’s been in the Senate for a long, long time. Does that excite any voter bloc? Hell, even Dole could add he was a genuine war hero from the Greatest Generation.

  56. It all comes down to Pennsylvania… Pennsylvania…Pennsylvania.

    Look for McCain to go with Tom Ridge.
    The Keystone State is the battleground.

  57. Shit, how could I forget Denzel Washington’s awesomeness in Training Day?

    Ha ha ha, you suck, liking an Antoine Fuqua movie. Silly rabbit, music videos don’t make good movie practice.

  58. MNG,
    No Dem excites me, but Biden doesn’t seem particularly bad. Srsly who does excite voters?

    Who would your choice have been?

    Corpse,
    Wasn’t Tom Ridge the guy that fucked up homeland security? Would that really be a prudent move?

  59. Who, I ask you, who, will hear the name “Joe Biden” and go, “hell yeah, that’s great?”

    Joe Biden – it’s probably his morning routine. Afternoons are for plagiarism.

    Also, John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

    I can’t wait to hear joe put the happy spin about hope and change on this one. Or did Obama steal a page from the Bush playbook with this one, “Mwahahaha, no one will dare to assassinate me now!”?

  60. Anti Globalism,
    You should go on and explain why all those are fallacies.

  61. Damn, I tried to post this last night, but apparently reason.com hates the Opera browser. But:

    LMNOP:

    I like the philosophy jokes from the Matrices you mention, especially the Smith bit at the end. Bilingual philosophy puns are the bee’s knees. I’ll have to finish the trilogy.

    libertymike:
    Haven’t seen Liberty Valence. The only Wayne movie I’m at all familiar with is The Searchers, and I think his character in that film fits the bill I’m describing pretty well. I really need to catch up on my Westerns, too.

  62. I had my fingers crossed for Obama’s pick being Jim Jones, my classmate in the class of 5-67 of The Basic School in Quantico, VA. He went on to become Commandant, head of NATO and head of the Chamber of Commerce. He would have been seen as the same sort of change Obama represents, just older, and with a different range of experiences. Biden is a nice guy but a sign of same old, same old. Jones has known McCain for years, and could have put him down just by outshining him.

  63. As far as I’m concerned, the greatest movie villain of all time has to be the Kurgan, from Highlander! A friend and I watched the movie and decided that he was the full embodiment of Aristotle’s vicious moral agent. He’s really the complete opposite of the phronimos or practically-wise man. Not only is he thoroughly malificent, it’s as if he takes time to think before he acts, along these lines:

    “What would the practically wise man do in this situation? OK, now, how can I do not that?”

    Think, leering pruriently at nuns, or stealing Grandma’s car, or just generally being a stupid, stupid, jerk. (Many more examples I’m too tired to think up.)

    Oh, Highlander. How it made my life full again.

  64. BakedPenguin,
    Thanks for the effort, but it is a more “medical sounding” word. But, yes it builds on “resistance.” It suggests that “resistance” actually makes you physically stronger.
    If anyone comes up with it, feel free to e-mail me.
    I know there is the word, “mithradatesism??”, but I think the word I’m seeking goes even further.

  65. It’s Mondale/Dukakis/Kerry over again.

    Obama could have done worse. Biden is an adult and acts like one. As long as Biden hasn’t been in treatment for mental/emotional disorders he won’t kill the ticket. Let’s face reality. The VP had to be a white male with more experience (senator or governor) than Obama.

  66. Think, leering pruriently at nuns

    Three-ways with nuns are the fulfillment of God’s will.

  67. Oh yeah, the Kurgan. Shit, it’s been a while since I’ve seen Highlander. That’s a really interesting take on him. Kind of like Homer Simpson, but with different appetites and a really big sword. I’ve always like Clancy Brown, too.

    I like the philosophy jokes from the Matrices you mention, especially the Smith bit at the end. Bilingual philosophy puns are the bee’s knees. I’ll have to finish the trilogy.

    It helps (I swear) to watch them all back-to-back. Sounds like a project, but they really flow together well. (And, heck, at least it isn’t like trying to watch the extended LOTR films back-to-back. Yeech.)

  68. Three-ways with nuns are the fulfillment of God’s will.

    It’s the only way Jesus can get action anymore.

    Anti Globalism,
    You should go on and explain why all those are fallacies.

    Yah! Would be fun.

  69. TDK was a good movie, despite some plot weakness. A good DA goes nuts, killing a few people after being burned and mentally tortured. The idea that the public needs to be protected from knowing this merits throwing (the) batman under the bus (ha!), where he will be less effective at fighting crime and further erode the public’s confience in heros…it just doesn’t add up. Had the DA not died, but rather recovered his sanity and wanted to continue the peoples work, this might have made some sensimilla. Or is that not a plot weakness, but part of the batman’s abnormal psychology – that it made sense to him?

  70. The idea that the public needs to be protected from knowing this merits throwing (the) batman

    Slight spoiler for TDK:

    I had to cringe when Harvey said “Take the batman into custody” and “I am the batman.” It just sounded horrible, like “the superman.”

  71. Or is that not a plot weakness, but part of the batman’s abnormal psychology – that it made sense to him?

    Batman’s logic was that the public needed a legitimate hero, even in Dent’s death. He’d rather an illegal vigilante take the flack than the “golden boy”.

    It’s sort of a Platonic “noble lie”.

  72. Shit, how could I forget Denzel Washington’s awesomeness in Training Day?

    His worst performance, imho.

    And the character was played better by, of all people, Richard Gere in Internal Affairs

  73. * – I should note that I don’t believe Dent is actually dead, just that is the widespread perception.

    And oh yeah, I’m not worried about the SPOILER warning.

    It helps (I swear) to watch them all back-to-back

    Oh I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. As you’ll note, trying to watch LOTR back-to-back is the only thing more painful.

  74. His worst performance, imho.

    It is a performance that divides people, for sure, I’ve found.

    I found his charismatic and conniving narc mesmerizing. Some people just found it flashy and corny.

  75. I should note that I don’t believe Dent is actually dead, just that is the widespread perception.

    I *think* the character is dead, but I *hope* he isn’t, because he made an seriously interesting villain.

    Oh I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. As you’ll note, trying to watch LOTR back-to-back is the only thing more painful.

    Everyone always whines about the sequels, but I thought they were fine. No *more* clunky and no *less* subtle than the first. Then again, a movie has to really try hard for me to hate it.

    My thing about LOTR was that the first one was *by far* the best, the fastest-moving, and the most interesting. The others were OK, but they weren’t as punchy.

  76. My thing about LOTR was that the first one was *by far* the best, the fastest-moving, and the most interesting. The others were OK, but they weren’t as punchy.

    Really? In contrast to the Matrix movies, which I thought got progressively worse (even though I stopped after the 2nd, so can’t talk about the 3rd), I thought the LOTR movies got progressively better. Sure, flashier and more violent, and the Return of the King was an hour too long (even without the scathing of the Shire or whatever it’s called), but I was never looking to Tolkein (or Peter Jackson) for any kind of philosophical depth to begin with. Light vs. Darkness is about it, as far as I can tell.

  77. My biggest complaint about LOTR (at least, the third one…all the movies are too goddamned long) was the deus ex machina of the ghost pirates. How. Lame.

  78. My biggest pet peeve was that Legolas was apparently Tony Hawk.

  79. My biggest complaint about LOTR (at least, the third one…all the movies are too goddamned long) was the deus ex machina of the ghost pirates. How. Lame.

    Lots of things in LOTR (books and movies both) were pretty lame, to the jaundiced hypermodern eye. Doesn’t make it *not fun*.

  80. My biggest pet peeve was that Legolas was apparently Tony Hawk.

    That irritated me too.

  81. Elemenope,

    Re. the best performances, have you seen There Will Be Blood? Daniel Day Lewis was staggeringly good.

  82. have you seen There Will Be Blood?

    Not yet, but it’s on “my list”. I was very impressed with Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York…more so than usual I think because he made that otherwise shitty film watchable. He’s like Oldman in his ability to completely disappear into his parts.

    Corny as it is to admit, I really want to see what Fiennes does with Voldemort in Deathly Hallows. For that matter, Brendan Gleeson was a spectacular mad-eye, and a good Menelaus.

  83. Ruthless,
    You were an officer? And you knew Gen Jim Jones?

    Cool.

  84. kwais,
    Thanks for recognizing Jones.
    Actually he was below my radar until I went to our class reunion up in Quantico and DC this past May. 41 years! Jones stopped by for the little class memorial we staged at the Vietnam Wall.
    Most of us had completely lost track of each other and considered our service time a “previous life.” But a few of us–not I–went on to become generals, etc.

  85. [the second two lotr movies] were OK, but they weren’t as punchy.

    at least, the third one…all the movies are too goddamned long)

    I’m normally of the less is more crowd but the extended version of two towers makes so much more sense, has better balance, and doesn’t make it drag – it manages somehow to do the opposite. This version of the LOTR II is the best of the lot, and should have got the oscar, and imo is one of the top 10 best movies ever made.

    The main weakness in ‘king’ is that the second movie was so well done, for example how they portrayed the battle of helm’s deep, they really had to go over the top for the final movie, which made parts of it seem rather silly. (and, at least in the second movie, I thought ‘Legolas as Tony Hawk’ was a homage to what Spielberg has Micheal J Fox do in the Back to the Future movies.)

    Otoh, they should have trimmed tDK a little.

    *****************************
    ***minor spoiler about tDK***
    *****************************

    tDK is one of the few movies that would have benefited from the crass capitalist decision (and thus normal for the studio) to split it up into two movies – put all the Harvey Dent post-Joker hospital visit stuff in a separate movie. It’s not hard to make an entire movie about revenge. As it is, it was a far more convincing ‘turn to the dark side’ portrayal than Lucas pulled off.

  86. The extended version of The Two Towers did make a serious improvement, I agree. I think for the most part I liked most about FotR was Ian Holm’s Bilbo and Sean Bean’s Boromir, who I thought were just fantastically good takes on those characters.

    The only other character that was as well realized was Gandalf.

  87. Ditto on Gangs of New York. DiCaprio was characteristically weaselly.

    He’s like Oldman in his ability to completely disappear into his parts.

    You’ll definitely like TWBB, then.

  88. The Dark Knight has taken in more than the Matrix sequels combined.

    That was aided by the *farcical* PG-13 that the former garnered, as compared to the R rating the the latter films had. Ask any film producer: R rating will cut receipts almost in half.

    Not to mention ticket prices are about $2.50 higher than when Matrix Revolutions was released.

    The number of 5-9 yr olds that were at the TDK showing I attended blew my mind. Either the parents didn’t know what they were getting into, or didn’t care.

  89. I have problems with Batman not killing the Joker. I understand why he doesn’t want to, but he should overcome his feelings. The Joker had already killed a good number of people and because Batman lets him live, he will kill more.

    What does Batman say to the parent whose child was killed by the Joker after Batman let him go? “Er, sorry, but it was more important that I uphold my principles.”

  90. JB —

    Because, much like the Joker, Batman strives to become something that is not human. “An ideal” or whatever claptrap is said in BB, cannot be destroyed…unless it is betrayed by the person who carries it. I thought that the Joker summed up how Batman was morally demented rather well at the end, with the “Unstoppable force/Immovable Object” speech. They really are two peas in a pod; just one has more affection for “society” and as an almost accidental byproduct, seems for the most part “more moral” than his adversary.

    He doesn’t say *anything* to the grieving mother of the child, because pointedly he is not answerable to her, though undoubtedly she would like him to be. One of the reasons TDK was fun was because it was an exploration of the extra-ethical space normally confused with simple amorality. TDK was able to separate it out well. Kierkegaard wrote some interesting things about suspending the force of the ethical (though his was in the context of religious faith), and the movie reminded me a lot of the story of Abraham in that respect.

  91. the deus ex machina of the ghost pirates

    Actually, as deus ex machinas go, this is as good as they get.

    And The Kurgan is a great choice for villain. I especially like how you broke him down with Greek philosophy (!), Regis.

    Damn David E. Gallaher, that’s quite a “past life”!

  92. Elemenope, the story of Abraham is a nice parallel.

  93. should be a comma after, “damn”, BTW. and is it “machinae”?

  94. My thing about LOTR was that the first one was *by far* the best, the fastest-moving, and the most interesting. The others were OK, but they weren’t as punchy.

    They’re a lot punchier when you chapter skip the Frodo/Sam bits.

  95. They’re a lot punchier when you chapter skip the Frodo/Sam bits.

    True. My thing is, a movie you have to fast-forward thought to the good bits, uh, *isn’t that good*.

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