'New York Times' Rips Nolte's 'Dark Knight' Review

Ross Douthat is a conservative columnist at The New York  Times, and a very good one.  Today, he took issue with the "Dark Knight Rises" review I published over the weekend, calling it "equally preposterous" to a Salon review that declared Nolan's masterpiece "evil" and "fascist."

Really, my review was THAT preposterous?  

For whatever reason, Douthat's "equally preposterous" remark in reference to my review is an obvious piece of hyperbole. After all, Douthat agrees whole-heartedly with the over-arching point of my review. His general take on the film is little different than mine:

[A]fter watching the final movie’s faux-revolutionary villain appropriate the themes and exploit the grievances of the Occupy Wall Street movement in order to launch a 21st century Reign of Terror, I don’t really think the saga’s rightward political tilt can be denied.

Douthat's grievance with me is based on a few small points of fact which, by the way, he gets completely wrong. Here's how he took me to task:

For an equally preposterous reading of the movie from the right, meanwhile, I give you Breitbart.com’s John Nolte, waxing enthusiastic about Nolan’s political themes:

[In "The Dark Knight Rises"], Gotham is going about the business of letting down its guard — a weakness that always invites aggression.

Aggression has already arrived in the form of Bane (Thomas Hardy), a hulk of a man burning with resentment against a society whose only provocation is being prosperous, generous, welcoming, and content — instead of miserable like him. In Gotham’s sewers, Bane recruits those like himself — the insecure thumbsuckers raging with a sense of entitlement, desperate to justify their own laziness and failure and to flaunt a false sense of superiority through oppression, violence, terror, and ultimately, total and complete destruction.

No one in Gotham even suspects the cancer of dangerous childish resentment growing beneath their feet …

Douthat continues:

Actually, the Batman movies pretty consistently portray Gotham as corrupt, chaotic, unequal and unjust, not “generous, welcoming, and content.” In “The Dark Knight Rises,” the corruption and chaos have been reduced through the mass incarceration of gangland figures, the city’s basic inequities seem to have increased, and the movie gives every appearance of endorsing all of the nasty digs that Ann Hathaway’s Catwoman character takes at the Gotham elite. What’s more, the only time that we learn why a specific Gothamite has joined Bane’s underground army, the volunteer is a teenager who’s graduated out of an orphanage that lacks the resources to care for kids past the age of 16, and we’re specifically told that young men like him are going down into the sewers because there’s no work to be found up above — which suggests that something other than “laziness” is creating would-be revolutionaries. (Bane himself has been even more ill-used by the world, if not by Gotham itself.)

I'm going to back up and take these one at a time… THERE BE SPOILERS:

Douthat writes:

Actually, the Batman movies pretty consistently portray Gotham as corrupt, chaotic, unequal and unjust, not “generous, welcoming, and content.”

Well, we're not talking about "the Batman movies," we're talking about "Dark Knight Rises" and in "Dark Knight Rises" the whole point of the film is that Gotham is so fat and happy no one suspects anything could go wrong. Moreover, unlike Tim Burton's first Batman film, there are no scenes of homelessness or ghettos. In fact, our one true look at Gotham's everyday population is at a football game which is portrayed like something out of a wistful Frank Capra film.

"Rises" Gotham City is a clean, gleaming, gorgeous place where we don’t meet a Selina Kyle/Catwoman starving and desperate, but someone who's employed (a waitress) and living in a world prosperous enough where she knows there's a future for her.

Selina's criminal activity isn’t about putting food on the table. On the contrary, she's looking for a clean slate so she can embrace opportunities not available to someone with a criminal past, but opportunities nonetheless. In other words, things are good enough in the world and Selina knows she can now live a good life through legal means.

This is not a small point Nolan makes.

When we meet her,  Selina is already starting to grow up and beyond her childish class resentment. Right now, though, because of her criminal record, she can't move on. But according to the movie whose fault is that? Her own. Selina is not portrayed as a victim. She's selfish and childish. That is also not a small point made by Nolan.

Douthat continues:

In “The Dark Knight Rises,” the corruption and chaos have been reduced through the mass incarceration of gangland figures, the city’s basic inequities seem to have increased, and the movie gives every appearance of endorsing all of the nasty digs that Ann Hathaway’s Catwoman character takes at the Gotham elite.

How can Douthat say in his opening paragraph that my take on the film is wrong because "the Batman movies pretty consistently portray Gotham as corrupt, chaotic, unequal and unjust" and a couple of sentences later admit "the corruption and chaos have been reduced through the mass incarceration of gangland figures[.]"?

As far as Douthat's assertions that Catwoman's digs at society back his belief that "the city’s basic inequities seem to have increased," this show's a stunning lack of understanding for how filmmakers' telegraph what a film is trying to say.

On top of what I wrote about Selina above, you also have to look at her overall character development. If Nolan was telling us that the resentful, class warrior Catwoman were The Point, her character arc and personal growth wouldn't have her maturing to a point where she ends up helping Batman save the city. If Douthat was correct, it would be the city forced to learn its lesson by becoming more equitable, not Selina learning that the city is worth risking her life for.

Furthermore, Douthat must have taken a potty break or completely missed the point of one of the most important scenes in the film, which my colleague Ben Shapiro describes perfectly:

By the time Bane takes over the city with his communist-fascist regime, [Selina is] looking on in horror at the anti-capitalist show trials (straight from the French Revolution, including summary sentencing) and destruction of private property. When she walks into an upscale house and sees how it’s been destroyed, she says that the house used to be beautiful. Her friend replies, “Now it’s everybody’s house.” In other words, communism destroys rather than building. …

The great moral arc of the film belongs to Catwoman, who transitions from a thief – she sees herself as Robin Hood, and hilariously tells Bruce Wayne that she does more for the poor than he does – to a defender of the cops. She allies with Bruce Wayne to help take down the Occupy Army after learning the evils of the communist/totalitarian Bane system.

Selina's arc is growing out of being Ms. Social Justice. It's who Selina eventually becomes that telegraphs the film's message, not who she is in the beginning when she's mocking Gotham's elite. This isn’t even a subjective point. Douthat is just plain wrong and even more wrong here:

What’s more, the only time that we learn why a specific Gothamite has joined Bane’s underground army, the volunteer is a teenager who’s graduated out of an orphanage that lacks the resources to care for kids past the age of 16, and we’re specifically told that young men like him are going down into the sewers because there’s no work to be found up above — which suggests that something other than “laziness” is creating would-be revolutionaries.

This is Douthat being forced to read my mind in order to criticize me.

First off, why does the orphanage lack resources? Not because of inequality or elite selfishness. In one of the film's most delicious pieces of irony, it's because Wayne Enterprises went all in on a Solyndra-type investment in green energy and lost its ass. 'Twas a billionaire falling for the left's utopian vision of clean energy that slayed the orphanage, not "the city's basic inequities."

Secondly, I had completely forgotten all about the 16 year-old orphan Douthat mentions. The "recruits" I spoke of specifically reference one of the film's most critical scenes, where Bain's recruits  -- those "insecure thumbsuckers raging with a sense of entitlement, desperate to justify their own laziness and failure and to flaunt a false sense of superiority through oppression" I mentioned in my review -- put on, cheer on, and enforce horrifying show trials and executions that are obviously based on the French Revolution.  

In order to make his point, Douthat points to a SINGLE recruit.

To make my point, I'm pointing to an army of recruits.  

Methinks someone needs to watch the movie again.

 

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC


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