The Dark Knight and Bangladesh
The reader is almost certainly aware that The Dark Knight is the movie of 2008. It is breaking all box office records. The IMDB is calling it the best movie of all time. Pundits are calling it the first film of its type to be considered a genuine piece of art.
We watched it on Friday night. You know it’s a great movie when despite its length of 152 minutes, you never wonder about the time. I didn’t think it was as great as, say, Casablanca. But it is not that far behind. Action sequences rival anything I have ever seen. Heath Ledger’s Joker is right up there with Gabbar Singh. If you haven’t yet, please watch it in the big screen (but don’t take your kid – it shouldn’t be a PG movie).
In addition to being great entertainment, The Dark Knight (and to a lesser extent, Batman Begins, its prequel) is a study in politics. Its politics has been discussed enough in the blogosphere for the New York Times to notice. American bloggers discuss Batman’s relevance for the so-called war on terror, but the underlying political philosophy holds great relevance for contemporary Bangladesh.
It’s this grim world where Bruce Wayne seeks to find a purpose. He meets Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows. Ghul’s aim is to destroy Gotham, much like Rome was destroyed. ‘Gotham cannot be saved, it must be allowed to die’, he tells Bruce.
Does this sound familiar? This society has to be destroyed, a new one must be created – এই সমাজ ভাংতে হবে, নতুন সমাজ গড়তে হবে – have you ever seen graffities like this in Dhaka? How different is Ra’s al Ghul from Dr Mizanur Rahman Tutul or Siddiqul Islam?
Bruce Wayne chooses a less radical path. He believes that Gotham can be saved. He wants to clean up city. To achieve this, he dons a cape and becomes Batman. Batman doesn’t want to replace or overthrow the system. He doesn’t act as an executioner. He delivers the criminals to the justice system.
But he doesn’t exactly work within the system. He is not above torturing or spying on citizens to get the job done. He does ‘what needs to be done, especially when no one else will to them’. And his methods sometime receive sympathy from unexpected corners. Even the Republican Rome gave their leader extraordinary powers in times of emergency, we are reminded.
A thorough clean up is needed, and we will do what needs to be done – does this sound familiar? There are unmistakable echoes of 1/11 here. Let me recall a conversation with Amader Shomoy’s Nayeemul Islam Khan. Replying to a question on the due process under emergency, Mr Khan quoted Gen Moeen thus: if we don’t do it this way then nothing will get done, and the nation can’t afford it.
Does this make Gen Moeen like Batman?
Perhaps not. Bruce Wayne doesn’t want to be Batman. He is worried about the copycat vigilantes. He wants to take his cape off. He wants Gotham be cleaned up by someone within the limits of the law. He wants a hero with a face. Can we confidently say the same about the powers behind 1/11? Do they believe that we need heroes with faces? Do they worry about the consequences of their actions? In the movie, it is Batman that makes a fiend like Joker possible. What will the blow back from 1/11 be?
But we need to ask a more fundamental question – do we really need a Batman? At the end of the movie, it’s not even clear that Gotham needs Batman anymore, even though its need for a hero is stressed.
But to we need a hero? The cult of hero arose as a reaction to modernity in Europe. It was a part of the romantic movement. Its evolution can be traced from the French revolution to the totalitarianism of the 1930s via Nietzche and Lenin. In Bangladesh, we don’t really have a shortage of heroes. Do we really need another one?
We could be heroes
Let’s get back to the movie. Joker challenges the notion of civilisation, of order. He stands for nihilism and anarchy. He wants to prove that under the thin veneer of civility, we are all like him. That the society is one short step away from a Hobbesian world where every man is for himself, where life is nasty, brutish, and short. Without giving away the ending, Joker is proven wrong. People of Gotham do the right thing when it counts. They were the true heroes.
And I believe that is true for Bangladesh too. We don’t need another hero, because we could all be heroes.
(Crossposted at UV).