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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 14:17 | SYDNEY
Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 14:17 | SYDNEY

The Dark Knight

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11 August 2008 14:40

There's been exhaustive commentary on American blogs about the political subtext of the new Batman film, which I got around to seeing last night. Much of this commentary has revolved around the merits of this op-ed, equating Batman to George W Bush, the argument being that Bush, like Batman, has made himself unpopular by doing unpalatable but necessary things in the defence of liberty.

It's a reasonable reading of the film, but also presents some problems for Bush supporters, if you take the argument to its logical conclusion. I'll continue this discussion below the fold, as some minor spoilers follow.

The Dark Knight ends with Batman taking the blame for several crimes he did not commit, sacrificing his reputation to save that of the city of Gotham. But it's notable that Batman never takes the rap for the crimes he did commit, several of which are similar to those the Bush Administration is accused of: he kidnaps an underworld figure in Hong Kong and returns him to Gotham (extraordinary rendition); he builds a vast electronic surveillance system in order to catch The Joker (NSA terrorist surveillance program); and he roughs up The Joker during an interrogation (enhanced interrogation techniques).

Those who defend these Bush Administration practices (and torture generally) will often cite the 'ticking timebomb' scenario: if we have someone in custody who knows where the nuclear device that's about to destroy Manhattan is hidden, it would be right to torture this person in order to save untold thousands.

But even if you think that argument has merit, it does not follow that the practice of torture therefore has to be legal or even morally acceptable. Why not, instead, maintain the legal and moral prohibition on torture while acknowledging that events may, in extreme circumstances, necessitate the breaking of the law? Those who authorise this action and carry it out would then be punished for it, meaning that, once the bomb is defused, the torturers and their superiors would face the full weight of the law.

To authorise and conduct torture in the face of this legal sanction would therefore demonstrate a kind of courage. And it is this test of courage that Batman fails at the end of The Dark Knight. Having broken the law in order to defeat his enemies, Batman should have turned himself in and faced punishment for doing the right thing.

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