Sunday, July 03, 2005

'Batman' and Straw Man (spoiler alert)

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of watching Batman Begins and I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The acting was great. The effects were great and there was originality throughout. Granted, the music was unimpressive, contributing little beyond dark bombasticity--which is disappointing, since I heard Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer collaborated to compose it. It's one of the few movies from which I've come away without recalling one memorable bar.

But there's plenty more to say, as became evident when my friends and I left the theater and had a "parking lot philosophy" discussion about some of the themes which turned us to capital punishment and similar topics. I decided I needed to explore some of my negative reactions to the movie and the way it deals with the issues we discussed.

First of all, there's the portrayal of bad guy Liam Neesen's character. The taste left in my mouth is not just a fantastical bad guy striving with a clear conscience for the destruction of a city. I see also a bad guy who is simply striving, according to the film maker's view, toward what is the logical conclusion of a conservative (Texan? Cowboy?) sense of justice. Let me just say that the early introduction to Liam Neesen's character made me want to stand up and cheer. Quotes like, "criminals thrive off the understanding of society" really animated my sense of justice and got me initially on his side. I was impressed.

Perhaps my surprise when our hero turns his back on him was not the intended emotion of the director. At a scene where it is a simple matter of executing a murderer, our hero suddenly starts insisting on a litany of extra hurdles like a full-blown trial.

Now before I get too far along, there is no doubt that--looking at the big picture--the "league of shadows" is a twisted bunch. They have a huge self-importance complex, along with a Godless philosophy. Also, my judgment of Bruce's insistence on refusing the "executioner role" changes when he is back in Western society (explanation farther down). But I can't ignore the minor fact that the bad guys look, at one point, like Lockean purists. Is this just an accident? I don't know. If it isn't, I can't help but think the director has painted a picture that initially looks like what I saw (the Lockean purist) and then makes the case that there is only one logical conclusion to that way of thinking (the twisted blow-up-cities conclusion).

Finally, if I were to pick apart the specific situation facing Bruce at his botched initiation into the "league," I would have to say he made the wrong decision. Here's why:

His primary argument against following through seems to be about due process. With all due respect to due process, I must say this is an admirable impulse--albeit misplaced. For here he is in the middle of nowhere (the Himalayas!) with the closest thing to established government being the league he is joining--what kind of due process can he expect? I'm reminded of a memorable John Wayne quote from The Green Berets: "Out here, due process is a bullet." Even more importantly, I'm reminded of John Locke when he says in his Second Treatise of Government:
And thus it is, that every man, in the state of nature*, has the power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury, which no reparation can compensate...(*Note: Locke's state of nature is one with no government, where the laws of nature, and I would add, nature's God, are the only rule, and all men are free, equal, and independent within the bounds of the law of nature.)...and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal, who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure God hath given to mankind, hath by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind; and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or a tiger, one of those wild savage beasts, with whom men can have no society nor security: And upon this is grounded the great law of nature, "Whoso sheddeth mans blood, by man shall his blood be shed." And Cain was so fully convinced that everyone had a right to destroy such a criminal, that after the murder of his brother, he cries out, "Every one that findeth me shall slay me;" so plain was it writ in the hearts of all mankind.

If someone has any doubts about how influential was Locke's thinking on our founding documents, especially the Declaration of Independence, just let them read the complete Second Treatise and the Declaration and see if they can come away thinking Locke was just a crock.

I don't have the knowledge or credibility to claim the 'Batman' directors tried to denigrate Lockean justice using a Straw Man argument. So for now I guess I'll just be content with pointing you to the potantial.

I'm sure Robin will replace Straw Man as the sidekick in the next one.

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Blogger Kristi said...

Okay, thanks, that shed some light on some things...some things are still debatable though. I still say that it makes sense that you would want to know just what crime the criminal had commited and find out more about "the case" (that you had no part in and were not a witness to) prior to being asked to execute the man!
You already hear me on that one though. :)
Great stuff from Locke!

5:13 PM, July 03, 2005  
Blogger Kat said...

I agree with Kristi on that one, Mark. But don't you think it's interesting that the Scarecrow - essentially a straw man - is the villain in this? And his schtick is distorting reality...

1:28 AM, July 04, 2005  
Blogger Mark R said...

Kristi, someone who opperates a gas chamber or electrical chair in a Western country hardly feels obligated to know the specifics of every murderer who he puts down. He takes it on good faith that the executed is justly put to death--having been found guilty in a court of law. So essencially, your objection is the same as Bruce--where is the due process...and again my answer is the same: how can you expect that much when whatever "government" exists is not designed for such a thing. If his goal was to design a perfect court of law right then and there (which is wasn't) I'm sure he could have attempted as much with the predictable lack of success. Instead he does something even more puzzling--he blows up the building, killing more good guys than you can shake a sword at. We don't know any difference at this point--be sure to understand that I'm working within the beginning of the movie... So forgive me if I think his response--taken as an isolated action--is a bit hypocritical. Unrealistically so, he come close to justifying his decision later on when you learn the truth about the league.

Kat, ...scarecrow...I'm not sure I can put that much weight it. I'm not sure I understood it to have much significance beyond demonstrating the power of the league's wonder-drug. If you are refering to the doctor, I'd have to say he was just a pawn.

Actually, I think you are going deeper than that. :)

8:27 AM, July 04, 2005  
Anonymous Nathan said...

Excellent stuff, Mark. By the way, whatdya think of "Batmobile"?

11:14 AM, July 05, 2005  
Anonymous Nathan said...

I agree with you 'bout the music issue. In fact, I don't remember any of it.

11:50 AM, July 05, 2005  
Blogger Gloria said...

Nice review Mark. I have never seen this batman movie. And I really don't care if I ever do.

8:47 PM, July 05, 2005  
Blogger Chris said...

I didn't read the whole post but I am wondering if you mean the drug guy/lawyer/Marconni worker when you say "strawman". I just saw the movie today and also thoroughly enjoyed it.

10:59 PM, July 06, 2005  
Blogger Mark R said...

Hey Chris...use the link at the bottom of the post in the text to find the definition of a "straw man argument."

11:40 PM, July 06, 2005  
Blogger Chris said...

Wull that was confusing. Sounded like a big arguement getting off the subject of what they were talking about. I don't get it, lol.

11:22 AM, July 09, 2005  
Blogger Gloria said...

I'll have to agree with Chris on this one. It is very confusing.

9:11 PM, July 09, 2005  

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