Sunday, August 26, 2012

Systems vs States - The Dark Knight Rises

After hearing coworkers discuss The Dark Knight Rises at lunch on Friday, Sharon and I decided to see the latest Batman movie while it was still in theaters.  (I had some free AMC tickets lying around from my incessant collecting of Coke Reward Points.)

A Movie Rises - Thinking Descends

This film was a tour-de-force of modern american cinema.  Hundreds of professionals worked together for thousands of hours to produce this two hour extravaganza.  Their efforts show in dramatic lighting, exquisite costumes, and numerous extended action sequences.  With all the calculated effort put into the film, it becomes starkly evident what is specifically screwy within the work:

  • Chaotic and Inconsistent Morals
  • Avoidance of Character Development and Motivation
  • Pandering to Symbolism to Evoke Audience Emotions
  • Embracing the Worship of Mythical Benevolent Power
  • Slander Against Anarchy While Demonstrating a Dictatorship

Each of the above items could each warrant a multi-page blog post in in of themselves; but there was one topic where the film completely blanked out which I thought was more powerful than each of the items above, and as such deserves detailed investigation.  There was no use of the concept of systems at all in the entire film.

Systems in Your Life

Let's take a break from the film for a moment and focus on your life.  Stop and think for a moment what in your life is more accurately experienced as a state or as a system?

States are fixed things.  They are questions with fixed answers.  They are what comes up on multiple choice tests.  States are how the vast majority of public education is taught.  Facts, trivia, and correct answers are all state based ways of education.

Systems are dynamic.  Systems grow and die; they are always in flux, composed of inputs and outputs interrelating in a complex and ever changing web of cross inter-dependent relationships.  Systems are exciting landscapes for human exploration.  Systems have depth, and nuance; their ever changing dynamics drawing us in, sparking our curiosity to discover the hidden trends and patters.

So how about your life?  How about anything that matters at all to you?  Look at your relationships, your career, your bank account, your home, your family, your pets, music, dance, films?  Look at your world: economics, education, environment, technology, information, social dynamics.  Look at your experiences: non-verbal communication, emotions, personal history, empathy for others, empathy for your self.  Your life, your world, everything you know and experience, are all part of systems. (Why states were drilled into you for 12 years is a topic for another time.)

If the whole of reality and human experience is system based, how or why does one make a film completely removed from the idea of systems?

The Suppression of Systems

It takes a whole lot of work to avoid systems in a film as grand as this one.  Let's take a look at just a few of the major plot relevant systems which were specifically avoided in this film.

Passage of Time - This movie spans a six month time period.  Given that this film is fictional, the choice to set the story over this long a time period must be deliberate.  With such an important plot element, it is remarkable how loosely the movie plays with time.  Scenes jump day to night, night to day, without any reorientation for the audience.  Time periods jump weeks and months, with nary a mention from any characters, or any significant changes in their behaviors or psychologies.

Infrastructure - Systems require supply chains, they require input and management of resources and people.  The antagonist (Bane) brings thousands of armed mercenaries to a major city and hides them underground for months.  The antagonists plant explosive concrete in thousands of locations across the city, as well as every bridge and tunnel.  Where did all of these supplies come from?  Who managed the labor, who sent out the checks? Who balanced the books?  Where did all of these men go when not on duty?  Where did they eat and sleep?  How did they relieve their sexual frustrations?  How do you keep 1000 armed men underground for months and not have them mutiny?  (The movie vaguely hints that one lackey thought he was doing some religious thing in the first scene, but then the topic is dropped, and never referenced again.)

Social Systems - The fact that individuals are social creatures who feed off of their past experiences and their interactions with those around them is completely shut down.  A few million people are trapped on an island for five months, and no specific psychological consequences manifest.  Three thousand armed men are trapped underground for five months, yet come out of the tunnels ready to fight, and stand together as a disciplined unit against a well exercised army.  (I guess none of these men had any families or friends they wanted to see first.)  A masked man tells millions of people that he is giving the "power" back to them while he holds a machine gun and threatens to kill them all if they do not follow his will.

Financing and Taxes - The Bane and his impossible army were supposedly financed by some shady business man who was greedy for money and power.  The obvious problem here is that violence is not good business.  This is because violence is expensive, wastes resources that could be generating profit, and destroys capitol.  In every case where violence is used to promote a business interest, there is always a government involved.

The truth is that the only way violence can make any sense at all, is if the large costs are off-loaded to many (usually tax payers) while the small benefits are consolidated to a few.

It is very important to this film at characters not be developed, for if they were the absurdity of the plot rears its head every other scene.  In one powerfully silly moment, the greedy capitalist asks Bane what his construction crews have been doing for months.  Did that sink in?  The greedy guy, who is all about controlling money and power, has been freely giving money, labor, and equipment to some wacko without knowing exactly what it is being used for.

This is not how greedy capitalists work.  Greedy people have very tight fists on their money.  Character development would have forced this capitalist to be a government insider, since spending money on projects of which you have no understanding, only makes sense if the money you are spending, you did not earn.

Cause & Effect - Actions have both consequences and precipitating contributing factors.  This film stands proud and tall to extol the virtues of actions and events as pure states occurring in a vacuum. Bullets did not make holes, violence created no blood, injuries did not incite ambulances and hours, days, and months, in a hospital.  Stock trades during a violent siege are not automatically nullified.  Explosions create no deadly shrapnel.  The destruction of private property in which people invested their finite time and capitol had no effect on any individuals.

Police forces, who throughout the entire movie, follow orders without question showing no independent judgement and are led like cattle into countless bad situations, somehow are the farms from which sharp thinking protagonists rise who can "fight against the system."  Individual police are so full of hatred and rage that they are willing to go into bloody battle with only hand guns against a mercenary army armed with tanks and machine guns.  So full of unwavering determination, that they do not go to see their families after five months, but run towards certain death with the hope of killing as many "bad" guys as they can before being cut down. Yet at the end of all of this chaotic violence these same men have suddenly become reasonable, full of self control, they hold mercenary prisoners at gunpoint in a calm and dignified manner.

Relax - It's Just A Movie

Yes, this is just a silly mindless movie.  Its incoherent plot, self contradictory situations, and hollow, for convenience only characters, are just that: a mindless romp through some director's chaotic unresolved fantasies and fears.

What truly hit home with this film, is not the film itself.  No, the power for myself was the  intellectual and moral depression of the general population.  My office is full of highly educated creative professionals, yet the discussion being had was at the level of "it was really hard to understand Bane's dialog with his accent combined with his mask's voice distortion."

There are some people in my life who would put me down for the level of thought I have put into the work above.  I am weeding out those people one by one.  Thoughts and morals are the engine that drives all of the real horrors of the world.  These items are also, incidentally, what can save the world.  To diminish the value of critical thought is to diminish your own humanity.  Do not be ashamed of your mind.  It is the one thing which is yours forever, and it is the most powerful tool on the planet.

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