Monday, December 31, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Well, I finally got around to seeing the last of Nolan's Batman films. This isn't particularly a review of the film, which I'm sure has been done elsewhere very well. As far as I was concerned: Pretty good. Not bad. Can't complain.

Spoilers follow. Though frankly, I anticipated the big reveal from very near the beginning of the movie. (And I am not so attuned to Batman lore to have known it in advance).

What really interests me is the odd paranoia on the Right that the villain was named Bane, a homonym for Bain Capital, and that somehow this was a Hollywood liberal slam against Mitt Romney. Neither the difference in the spelling, nor the fact that Bane has been part of the Batman mythos since long before Mitt Romney was actively running for the presidency caused them to doubt for a minute that this was a conspiracy, an unfair conspiracy, against them.

But you might think that the nature of the plot would have given them pause, suggested, just perhaps, this wasn't an attack on the values of the Right. The movie is really quite conservative in its thrust. The police are noble, self-sacrificing, and in this film completely incorruptible. The acting commissioner, who has a moment of temporizing doubt, pays for it in the end, willingly, by sacrificing his life in a charge against an armed throng of anarchists. Bane, who seems at first the chief bad guy, is anti-capitalist and resentful of wealth and privilege in a way that's clearly disapproved of by the story. If that weren't bad enough we learn that his anti-capitalism and anarchy are just a cover for the nihilism he learned from R'as al Ghul and The League of Shadows. And finally Miranda Tate, a possible love interest for Batman, at first appears to be a liberal do-gooder who takes Bruce Wayne to task for not doing enough to help the poor, but then turns out to be the chief proponent of R'as al Ghul's nihilism (and also his daughter).

There's more, of course. Bruce Wayne's de haut en bas philanthropy is, of course, effective and only inadequate when he doesn't pay sufficient attention to making money. That's been true of all the Batman movies. There's the whole notion that vigilanteism works, and the future Robin leaves the force at the end of the movie because he, too, now knows that taking the law into his own hands is the only effective approach. Batman says no guns, but Selina Kyle, the Catwoman, has a pretty effective retort to that.

The movie, despite showing Gotham as an almost unmitigated hellhole, does retain some fondness for the city. Only in its (pretty slight) urbanism is the movie in any way opposed to contemporary conservative values. And I have to imagine that seeing the Lord of the Flies chaos that ensues when Gotham/Manhattan is isolated (islanded) is perfectly reassuring to the small-town idealism of the modern conservative.

If anything, the movie should be an offense to my urban, liberal politics. And it is, though, I can't take it that seriously. But the fact that it sends the Fox News crowd round the bend is worth a laugh at least.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Dance With Dragons

Of course, not every long narrative makes equally good use of the space. Though A Dance With Dragons was better than A Feast For Crows I thought, aSoIaF is beginning to remind me of Microsoft: anything that starts out good or useful turns into bloatware.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Raj Quartet

"Was there ever anything yet written by mere man that was wished longer by its readers, except Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and the Pilgrim's Progress?" - Samuel Johnson
I'm now willing to add The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott. I've finished it, and that's left me a little sad.

The four volumes are already 2000 pages in my Avon paperback edition. Scott makes good use of all that space. One of the things that long novels allow the novelist to do is complicate our understanding of character, to build up one picture of who someone is, and then in a moment tear it all down again. This happens repeatedly to Ronald Merrick. But a good example are the sisters Sarah and Susan Layton. Sarah Layton is the older sister, dutiful, pragmatic, pretty but not as pretty as Susan. Boys who are possibly interested in Sarah at first later are put off by her intellectuality and then become interested in Susan. This is, in the popular view, how Susan got her husband Teddie, who was first interested in Sarah, but later proposed to Susan. It's a believable, if somewhat conventional, portrait of older and younger siblings. We know this to be true.

But then Susan's new husband dies in battle. Susan is pregnant and widowed just months after her marriage, and two thirds of the way into the second volume, there's this, a conversation between Sarah and Susan:

"You won't be alone, Su--"
"But I am. I am alone."
Abruptly she sat up, doubled herself over her folded arms and began to move her body in a tight rocking motion. "Just like I was before, just as I've always been, just as if I'd never tried. But I did. I did try. I did try."
"What did you try--?"
"You wouldn't understand. How could you? You're not like me. Whatever you do and wherever you go you'll always be yourself. But what am I? What am I? Why--there's nothing to me at all. Nothing. Nothing at all."
Sarah sat quite still, watching that rocking motion, held by it, and by the revelation, what seemed to be the revelation of what had lain behind the game that seemed to have ended, the game of Susan playing Susan. Susan nothing? Susan alone? She pondered the meaning of: Whatever you do and wherever you go you'll always be yourself: and recognized their truth.
What we have here is the amazing double-whammy revelation. Not only is Susan more complicated and more self-aware than we had realized, but Sarah is less so. Up until this point, what we see of Susan is mostly the idea of her in local society. The flirtatious, fun girl, and Sarah, who's fond of Susan in a close, older-sister way, is perfectly capable of disapproving. The revelation is Sarah's, who was supposed to the sensitive, aware sister.

And this happens again and again. Mildred Layton, Barbie Batchelor, Mabel Layton, Ahmed Kasim, Nigel Rowan. And particularly Ronald Merrick.

Clearly Paul Scott also felt the Quartet ended too soon: it comes with a fifth book, Staying On. One last chance to change around again who these people are.