Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Parrot Speaks: A Philological Inquiry into the Chronicles of Conan

Relevant passages from Shadows In The Moonlight:

1) Abruptly the bird spread its flaming wings and, soaring from its perch, cried out harshly: “Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!” and with a wild screech of horribly human laughter, rushed away through the trees to vanish in the opalescent shadows.
[...]
“What did it say?” she whispered.
“Human words, I’ll swear,” answered Conan; “but in what tongue I can't
say.”

2) The blacks shrank back before him, their eyes slits of fire. Lifting a hand, he spoke, and his tones echoed through the silent halls in deep rich waves of sound. Like men in a trance the black warriors fell back until they were ranged along the walls in regular lines. Then from the stranger's chiseled lips rang a terrible invocation and command: “Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!

   The exact meaning of the phrase ‘Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla’, which occurs twice in the Shadows In The Moonlight episode of the Conan Chronicles, has puzzled scholars.[1] It has generally been assumed that it is either an incantation or gibberish, and, in either case, untranslatable. It is, in fact, recognisable as an archaic form of Kothian. It is known that Conan was fluent in the Kothian spoken during his day, but it is neither surprising that he was mystified by the more ancient form encountered here, nor that he recognised that what he heard was ‘human words’.
   The word yagkoolan was current in the Kothian of Conan’s era, and occurs during the The Scarlet Citadel episode, where Kothian is employed:
“What year is this?” he [Pelias] asked, speaking Kothian.
“Today is the tenth day of the month Yuluk, of the year of the Gazelle, answered Conan.
“Yagkoolan Ishtar!” murmured the stranger. “Ten years!” He drew a hand across his brow, shaking his head as if to clear his brain of cobwebs. “All is dim yet. After a ten-year emptiness, the mind can not be expected to begin functioning clearly at once. Who are you?”
“Conan, once of Cimmeria. Now king of Aquilonia.”
The verb yagkol means ‘damn’, ‘curse’, ‘shun’, or ‘beware’. Yagkoolan is an admonitory or imperative form. Relevant for comparative interest: the root yag is attested as a loanword in the unrelated Zamoran language. In this context, Yag occurs as the name of a far off planet, home of the alien creature Yag-kosha. Kosha itself is not an ‘alien’ word but a well-attested Zamoran word for ‘cover’, ‘skin’ or ‘membrane’ with an attested Indo-European origin, cf. Sanskrit kośa m.; Russian koža (skin). Properly speaking then, ‘Yag-kosha’ means ‘vessel of Yag’, or ‘embracer of Yag’. Common to most foreign loanwords in Zamoran, yag has no declension.[2]
  Yok meaning ‘you all’ is rare form of the second person plural pronoun which only occurs in archaic Kothian and was obsolete by the time of the Conan Chronicle. The particle tha acts as an intensifier for the verb.  
   Xuthalla is another interesting word. The -la ending indicates the vocative case of xuthal. Some scholars have attempted to find a connection with the Old Kolasa word xu meaning ‘green’, which survives in the names of green stone cities built in the Black Kingdoms by the Kosalans.[3] In fact, this is partially correct, as xuthal must have originally referred to visitors from the city of Xuthal, but in even the oldest Kothian texts, it takes on a more general meaning, referring to anyone of unusual foreign origin, which from a Kothian perspective, would certainly apply to the Cimmerian Conan.[4] The word xuthal was entirely obsolete by Conan’s time.
   All things considered, it is thus possible to render the first occurrence of ‘Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla’ as ‘Beware, you foreigners’ and the second occurrence as 'Be cursed you foreigners'. There is a subtle sense of irony in the shift in meaning of the verb as it moves from offering a warning to a curse.



[1] R.E. Howard, for example, provides only a transliterated text, with no explanation or commentary
[2] H. Gröter, ‘Studien über den Verfall der zamorischen Deklination’, Zeitschrift für hyperboreischen Linguistik, 32 (1901), 414-521 (p.490).
[3] A. Evans, ‘Comparative studies in proto-Kothian with special reference to borrowings with cultural signification’, Journal of the British Archaeological Society of Khoraja, 23 (1977), 211-319 (p.247).
[4] H. Persson, Topografische Wörterbuch zu den Kolasatexten (Cologne, 1954), p.77.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Gamera - the Heisei Series

I've never gotten over the combined chill from childhood of the Canadian autumn, when the temperature drops and nights grow increasingly long. Halloween is just around the corner, and I celebrate my return to blogging here at Triple Bladed Sword with a series of posts on some monstrous fiction, both literary and cinematic.


I was introduced to Gamera, the rocket-powered turtle and Mystery Science Theatre in the same evening, when a classmate from college provided a bootleg VHS tape as entertainment one evening. I was an instant lfan of Joel and his robot companions on the Satellite of Love. For years to come, my friends and I would drop lines from the SF snark of MST3K, eliciting easy, nostalgic laughter. It would take another twenty years before I'd become a fan of the object of their derision: not the film, Gamera vs. Zigra, which was deservedly subjected to the MST3K treatment, but the turtle himself, in his 1990s Heisei iteration through the creative team of director Shusuke Kaneko and writer Kazunori Ito.

 

When I first read rave reviews for Gamera 3: Revenge of Irys (Irys hereafter), I was dumbfounded as to how someone could make the concept of a giant turtle who flies by rocket propulsion, who is the heroic protector of children, something that daikaiju fans would hail as the best giant monster movie since the original Gojira. Unwilling to risk the price of the collected DVD set from Amazon, I rented Irys from iTunes and watched it in installments before going to bed. Thusly, I found myself awake past midnight on a weeknight, while the credits rolled, feeling somewhat awestruck by the ambivalent ending and the stunningly threatening new design for Gamera's suit. I knew nothing about the first two films, but the third was satisfyingly stand-alone. It would be another year before I'd see the perfectly child-friendly Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (Gamera hereafter) and jump-scare laden horror/alien invasion crossover, Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (Legion hereafter).

Irys remains my favorite of the trilogy, but when compared to even the majority of the Millennium Godzilla series, stands as a testament to what someone can do when they aren't hampered by conservative studio interference, and when the expectations are so low that the only direction to head is up. This may sound like I'm making a caveat: the new Gamera movies are only worth seeing when you compare them with the laugh-fests of the original Showa series from the 1960s. This is not the case. That said, I cannot state that these films have "something for everyone," or that Western-viewers with their predilection for photo-real special effects will see the quality of these films. As David Kalat notes in A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series, "Japanese art does not value "realism" as single-mindedly as Western art does. Japanese filmmakers recognize other values as well: beauty, interesting images, and spectacle" (62). The Heisei Gamera films do not have the photo-realistic qualities of contemporary '90s monster-cinema like the groundbreaking digital dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, or their plagiarized cousins in the much maligned American Godzilla of 1998. But while the Heisei Gamera films may not look as real as 'Zilla stomping through downtown New York, they have the beauty and spectacle of the best Japanese daikaiju films.

In Gamera, the night battle between the giant turtle and the Japanese military at the base of Mount Fuji is a beautiful piece of cinema. I can tell the landscape is a model diorama, but it's a gorgeously rendered diorama, lit in the same fashion as black box theater. I am fully aware I am watching an actor in a rubber suit on a soundstage, but I am still impressed by the visuals. As Shiro Sano, who appeared in both Godzilla: 2000 and Godzilla: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (when Gamera's director Kaneko took a stab at rescuing the Millennium Godzilla series), instructed a younger cast member who laughed at early Godzilla films' special effects: "Realism is not the point. It's about style--it's about mood." Kaneko is a master of mood.  In Legion, the image of a defeated, seemingly dead Gamera hunched over in silhouette while children and their parents look on in hopeful anticipation is powerful. And the moment when Gamera faces an oncoming horde of enemies at the open-ended conclusion of Irys is one of my favorite visuals from the series: mutilated, possibly mortally wounded, but unwilling to admit defeat, even in what is likely certain death. I do not love the Heisei Gamera films because their plots are brilliant, or their acting Oscar-worthy. I love them because they generate a stylistic mood: these films paint an impossible apocalypse, a literal reading of the beasts from St. John's Revelation. But instead of a rider on a white horse, the redeemer figure is a giant turtle sharing a symbiotic, telepathic bond with a young woman.

In "The Imagination of Disaster," Susan Sontag stated that science fiction films are not about science. Shusuke Kaneko agrees with her. At his website, Kaneko has stated that daikaiju films can no longer be treated as science fiction. Audiences are too savvy about science to believe in giant monsters. Consequently, these are fantasy films. Kaneko treats them as such. From Asagi Kusanagi's mystical bond with Gamera through a tear-shaped amulet (a more dignified way to handle Gamera's tradition of juvenile sidekicks) to the idea of mana (a concept from the Showa series) to Gamera as a guardian monster (which Kaneko will drag into his Godzilla film), this is the stuff of fantasy. Even the implied origin of Gamera as bio-engineered weapon-of-mass-destruction is still couched in the aesthetics of fantasy: Gamera was built by Atlanteans! Kaneko's daikaiju universe is arguably the same as that of Hiroshi Yamamoto's MM9 with its "anthropic principle" (17), a concept whereby giant monsters can only exist in a universe where we effectively believe they are possible. Or as David Kalat puts it, "a Kaneko kaiju eiga establishes a fantastical premise, but having done so, proceeds from there with logic and emotional realism" (239).

This emotional realism is the other reason I love the series, and Irys as the crowning jewel. For moreso than any other Japanese monster movie, Kaneko considers the ramifications of a giant monster rampaging through Tokyo: buildings are not only destroyed, but the people inhabiting them die. What Gojira and Irys share behind the bombast of the Japanese military giving Godzilla and Gamera the full nine yards, is a pacifist sentiment. We need to stop doing what we're doing, or there will be grave consequences. For Gojira, it was the spectre of the H-bomb. In Irys, the reference is broader. It is the universal propensity to seek revenge when we are wronged. Gamera's opponent mirrors his own symbiotic link with Asagi Kusanagi, with the monster Irys telepathically linked to Ayana, an orphaned girl whose parents were killed in the battles between the winged Gyaos and Gamera in the first film. Her anger has festered, and when she finds the egg of a highly advanced Gyaos, forms a link with it. Her rage against Gamera blinds her to the reality that Irys is an indiscriminate killer. Ayana is inadvertently responsible through Irys for the deaths of her adopted family and other innocent people. She sees that her revenge will not only result in Gamera's death, but has already resulted in collateral damage. Irys is Gandhi's now famous statement, "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind" rendered in daikaiju scale images.
 Some daikaiju fans think Irys is overrated, and I concede that it is inferior in many ways to The Host, Trollhunter, or Monsters. But as a lush, hyperbolic fantasy, it is a glorious mess. And while we're waiting for Gareth Edwards and Guillermo del Toro to reveal Pacific Rim and the new Godzilla to those of us who weren't at Comic-con, these films remain what they were in the 1990s: serious competition for Godzilla's daikaiju supremacy, and proof that with the right crew, even the most ludicrous of concepts can be subverted into something very cool.

Works Cited:

Kalat, David. A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series. 2nd ed., McFarland. 2010.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

“Mirror…MIRROR!” Analyzing Mirroring-Moments in Burton and Nolan Batman Films To Understand Why The Dark Knight Is So Serious

          “Its darker…grittier… Its basically ‘The Dark Knight’ of __________ movies.” This phrase has become a staple for filmmakers and critics alike when describing the countless remakes, reboots and adaptations that have dominated cinema for the past four years. From James Bond to Spiderman, countless action heroes are getting The Dark Knight treatment. Much like the realism movement of stage-theatre during the early nineteen hundreds, Hollywood is now catering to audience demand by giving classic heroes a darker, grittier, more realistic spin. No other




Theatrical release banners for 2012 film releases The Dark Knight Rises, 007: Skyfall, and The Amazing Spiderman, all tease at re-imaginations of classic blockbuster heroes with similarly darker, grittier tones.


person has had as big an influence on the rise of Hollywood’s realism movement as director Christopher Nolan. In his first blockbuster film, Batman Begins, one can see shades of Nolan’s neo-noir and psychology-focused directorial style that presides in his earlier films: Memento and Insomnia. But The Dark Knight changed things. It broke the mold for realistic reboots for years to come. Whereas previous Batman movie directors used art and aesthetics to tell a Batman-story, Nolan succeeded in using Batman as just another weapon in his arsenal to tell a serious, psychological crime-drama.

          Now, one has to be careful when comparing Nolan’s 2008 TDK with a movie like Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman (the first blockbuster Batman movie ever). Different directors, different actors, different scripts, and different production years are all reasons these films are distinct in their own ways. But when Batman, one of the world’s most famous superheroes, fights The Joker, one of the most iconic villains in comic and cinema history, audiences can’t help but compare the two. That being said, the purpose of this paper is not to decide which is a better movie: Batman or TDK, or who is a better Joker: Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger. These are aesthetic choices for each viewer to make. My intent is to acknowledge how differences between the two movies convey the differences in the tones and themes of each film.

          While watching TDK, a keen eye will notice scenes and dialogue that mirror Batman (Zman). Whether these parallels were intentional on Nolan’s behalf or not, is moot. Rather, these scenes can be used to analyze the impact of the differences between Nolan and Burton’s reincarnations of Batman and The Joker. One such parallel moment is Batman’s Joker using a quill to murder a mob boss, and TDK’s Joker using a pen to murder a mob boss. While both scenes are shockingly disturbing, the difference lies in the lack of gore on Nolan’s behalf; although depriving the audience of Burton’s bombastic and graphic imagery, Nolan allots










Batman’s pen-murder is graphic and melodramatic, while TDK’s pen-murder is so quick that before the audience knows what The Joker is doing with the pen, “it’s gone”.


the audience understanding of The Joker’s character while still retaining suspense. This goes hand in hand with what Nolan had to say when asked to compare his movies with Burton’s:

“There are different tones that can be taken with adapting this character to the movies . . . if you assess [TDK] carefully and analyze it with other films, it's not a particularly violent film actually. There is no blood. Very few people get shot and killed, compared with other action films. We tried to shoot it and dress it in a very responsible way so that the intensity of the film comes more from the performances and the idea of what's happening and what might happen . . . There are some extraordinarily disturbing images in [Burton’s Batman movies]. But they're coming at it from a surreal point of view . . . interestingly there are different ways to be disturbing” (Nolan).

          To further investigate the legitimacy of Nolan’s claim, let’s analyze two other scenes that mirror each other: when The Joker vandalizes the Fluegelheim Art Museum (Museum Part 1/Museum Part 2) as compared to when The Joker crashes Dent’s fundraiser party (Fundraiser). These two scenes are helpful because they are





































Whether or not Nolan’s scene was an intentional mirror is not important. Since Batman’s museum scene and TDK’s fundraiser scene have nearly identical structures, they can be used to break down and compare basic elements of cinematic tone.

nearly identical in structure: both scenes have Bruce Wayne’s love interest at an event that The Joker crashes with his posse. The Clown Prince of Crime then threatens the heroine until The Caped Crusader appears and rescues the girl (Perschon). For this reason they are perfect scenes to compare differences in aspects of cinematic tone: setting/décor, sound/music, composition and acting.

          When looking at setting and décor, it’s impossible not to mention Burton’s German-expressionism influence that is evident in all of his earlier films. With this influence Burton adds a dash of ‘nineteen-forties mobster’ as a throwback to the Golden Age of Batman comics, along with a hint of 1980s crime-ridden New York. The result is visible in Batman’s opening shot of Gotham City, as well as both the exterior and interior of the Fluegelheim Museum in this scene. On designing the Fluegelheim Museum, production designer Anton Furst stated, “all the buildings . . . are dwarfed by the geometric savagery of the Flugelheim Museum whose brutal exterior is more akin to locomotive design than an art gallery.” Clearly Burton places a lot of emphasis on his films’ visual aesthetics. Nolan however, bases his franchise in realism. TDK’s opening scene is an attest to that: a sudden, bright landscape shot of Gotham’s modern skyscrapers and concrete structures. Wayne’s penthouse suite, which is the setting for the fundraiser scene, is sleek, shiny, modern – believable. “I suppose there's a sense there that might get under your skin a little more, if it relates to the world that we live in” (Nolan).

          Sound and music is an interesting aspect of Batman due to the inclusion of Prince. As Burton’s Joker is a wildly flamboyant character much like the aforementioned pop star, his music helps incite comedic relief: the basic point of the Joker’s entrance. Burton’s ever-dependable composer, Danny Elfman, clearly marks the entrance of our hero with a crashing, heroic-sounding score. The man behind the majority of Nolan’s film’s scores, Hahns Zimmer, approaches his scene differently. When the Joker enters, there is no music. The shocking silence that follows The Joker’s entrance, broken only the sound of dishes crashing to the floor, adds to the eerie realism of the scene. Zimmer begins by having a single note slide slowly up a scale, gradually reaching a crescendo as The Joker tells the second of two evidently false scar-origin stories. Zimmer does this to make the audience feel uncomfortable, further immersing themselves in the story. As well, Zimmer uses this fear-inducing crescendo to capture an entire theme of TDK: escalation. In his score for Nolan’s directorial follow-up to the TDK, Inception, Zimmer again uses this tactic of doing more to the audience with less (albeit, with a far more intriguing, DNA/cellular-surgery eloquence). Its influence can be seen today in such work as Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

          The camera movements during the two scar explanations are useful to analyze the intensity of TDK’s composition, and how Nolan’s specific framing of each scar-origin story manipulates the audiences acceptations, and thusly, their understanding of The Joker (Fhlainn). When The Joker tells his first story to the mob boss, the shot is framed at an elevated position and consists of mostly close ups, implying an authoritative truth that the audience subconsciously accepts. At the fundraiser, the 360 degree tracking shot is used to instill a realization about the Joker for the audience: he has no true origin. “The 360 degree tracking shot creates disequilibrium in the spectator appropriate to the revelation that the Joker is not really telling the history of his scars. We move from the close-ups, which provide a direct and seemingly veridical account of his history, to the 360 degree tracking shot, which enacts the circumlocution evident as we hear the story a second time with its content changed” (McGowan). Composition in Batman is also apparent, but instead of using framework to underscore the story, Burton uses it to add to his film’s aesthetic. By purposefully tilting the camera frame at odd angles and stressing imperfect architecture, Burton utilizes his German-expressionism influence for which he is now known.

          Acting is yet another aspect of tone that differs between Burton and Nolan’s films. When analyzing these two specific scenes, one can only really look at two characters: the heroin, and The Joker. When comparing the women of each respective film, the most noticeable difference is how the role of the heroin as changed since the late 1980s. Even twenty years ago, the everyday woman, Vicky Vale, was seen as a helpless damsel in distress who has to resort to flirting and seduction to get out of trouble (“I love purple!”). Despite the fact that Rachel Dawes is simply a working attorney with no formal combat training, she is strong-minded and physically able; she’s not afraid to punch a psychopath in the face. Unfortunately for her, having “a little fight in you” is more to TDK’s Joker’s liking.

          Thus, bringing us to the comparison of The Jokers: two Oscar winning actors in two of the most iconic performances in cinema history. Each portrayal is threatening in its own way, and as a result, personifies the differences in tone between the two films. Their actions in these scenes alone display their differences: where Batman’s Joker had the museum pumped full of gas, killing countless civilians before entering, TDK’s Joker kills no one in his scene and still leaves the audience feeling disturbed (again, accomplishing more with less). It’s important to note the radical differences in each Joker’s storyline. Batman’s entire script focuses on The Joker’s character arc: Jack Napier, a high-ranking mobster, falls into a vat of chemicals and seeks to take over Gotham City and confront Batman. TDK’s Joker however, has no character arc. He seemingly came into existence as the personification of a philosophical pole; the unstoppable force to Batman’s immoveable object. So immediately, one can see differences simply with what each portrayal demanded. “Nicholson could afford to be by turns charming and repulsive, since his villain actually felt certain emotions, however perversely: sweet envy of Batman's ‘toys,’ lust for the heroine, frustration at a victim's escape, etc. But Ledger's Joker has only one emotion, the desire to destroy” (Alleva). Jack Nicholson is perfectly cast as an obnoxious, comical, yet threatening character. Although perhaps in the same category as Christopher Walken, Jim Carrey, and George Clooney (all future Batman-movie actors who have been said to have played themselves more than their character), Batman’s Joker is still recognized as one of the most influential villains in cinema. When asked about Nicholson’s influence on his portrayal of the iconic villain in TDK, Ledger stated that “to touch, what Jack Nicholson did in Tim Burton’s world, would be a crime . . . I knew it was open for fresh interpretation and I also, instantly kind of, had something up my sleeve.” Indeed, Nolan has attributed nearly everything about TDK’s Joker’s voice, gait and make-up, to Ledger’s design. Of all of Ledger’s apparent influences, one is of particular interest: British postmodern artist Francis Bacon. Bacon sought to depict human subjects in raw form by painting disfigured and distorted portraits of subjects. “His expressionist style intended to bring out the depth of his subjects in a way a traditional portrait could not” (Bellmore). It’s easy to understand how TDK’s Joker’s derelict make-up exemplifies this train of thought. “The smeared make-up indicates that it doesn’t hide the Joker’s identity but rather expresses it . . . this is why he never seems to worry about his make-up when it starts to come off” (McGowan).

          Interestingly, there is more beneath the surface of this seemingly superficial influence and the connections with Bacon, Nolan, and The Joker run deeper. Bacon is the “post-war British painter” whose work is on display in Saito’s estate during the first dream sequence of Inception. The particular piece, “Study for Head of George Dyer”, has been interpreted symbolically with the film’s story (Bellmore). As well, Bacon was an influence on Hans Zimmer while scoring TDK (Billington). It seems an odd coincidence then, that the only painting The Joker prevents from being defaced in Gotham’s Flugelheim Museum in Batman is Bacon’s 1954 “Figure With













The makeup for Ledger’s Joker (pictured here in a slaughter house alongside cow carcasses) was inspired in part by postmodern artist Francis Bacon. Nolan’s Inception and Burton’s Batman also indirectly feature Bacon’s paintings “Study for Head of George Dyer” and, (again, featuring cow carcasses), “Figure With Meat”, respectively.










Meat.” Despite drastically different interpretations of the character, it seems Burton and Nolan’s Jokers share a common influence.

          There are other scenes in Batman and TDK that mirror each other, and by analyzing the structure of these scenes, its evident that tone is not the only film aspect that sets Burton’s and Nolan’s Batman franchises apart; theme is equally different. One such parallel moment is when both Jokers dispense of a mass amount of cash. In Batman, The Joker throws twenty million dollars into crowds of greedy Gotham-ites during the city’s anniversary parade. In “‘Wait ‘til they get a






Batman’s Joker uses money as a means to both bring out the worst in Gotham citizens, and to bring the Batman out of hiding. In TDK, The Joker sets his, and the mob’s money, on fire, exemplifying his non-goal oriented state of mind.


load of me!’: The Joker From Modern to Post-modern Villainous S/laughter’’, Fhlainn describes how The Joker’s actions in Batman thematically reflect Reagan-era-America’s obsession with public adoration and self-image: “The world of Burton’s Batman is laced with modernist appetite’s for technology and commodity fetishes [‘Where does he get all those wonderful toys?’]”, and that “The Joker also seeks and hopes to attain celebrity, adoration and infamy [‘What kind of a world do we live in where a man dressed up as a bat steals all of my press?’].” Interestingly enough, Fhlainn claims that the feature that most supports Batman’s obsession with beauty is embedded in its script, and “comes from the neat structure of the film’s plot to make Jack Napier, The Joker, and Batman’s fate tie together in an overtly neat fashion.” Conversely, when presented with a cargo-ship full of cash, TDK’s Joker sets the money on fire, proclaiming, “All you care about is money. This city deserves a better class of criminal. And I’m gonna give it to them.” This seemingly irrelevant difference in monetary action by both Jokers conveys not just how different Nolan’s reincarnation of The Joker is from Burton’s, but the difference in themes between the two movies. In “The exceptional darkness of ‘The Dark Knight’ ”, McGowan describes TDK’s Joker as the embodiment of an ethical position in Kantion-philosophy:

TDK’s Joker explicitly denies seeking any object in his criminal activity, which separates him decisively from the other criminals in the film . . . He can burn piles of money or put his life at risk because he doesn’t think of his acts in terms of the ends that they will accomplish for him. . . He values doing evil for its own sake, being ‘a wrench in the gears,’ which marks out an ethical position that Kant believes cannot exist, that of the diabolically evil subject” (McGowan).

          Indeed, if Nolan’s Joker has only the desire to create chaos, than his Batman has only one rule, the same rule The Joker promises to make Batman break: not to kill. This fundamental motivation is one of the main differences between Burton and Nolan’s heroes, and its impact manifests two times in moments that mirror each other in Batman and TDK: each of the Jokers ordering Batman to fatally hit him; and The Joker falling off a skyscraper during each of the films’ climax. In Batman, The Joker eggs Batman on to shoot him via Bat-wing during the city’s parade. Batman fails only because he misses. In TDK, Batman makes a split second decision to not hit The Joker with his Bat-pod, despite The Joker’s pleads for him to do so. The Joker’s attempts to bring Batman down to

























Both Jokers demand that their respective Batman kill them. The fact that one Batman attempts to kill The Joker, while the other decides not to, exemplifies the contrast in themes between the two films.


his level prove futile; Nolan’s Batman refuses to be an executioner. This is the same reason he saves The Joker with his bat-claw after throwing him off a skyscraper, whereas in Batman, the use of his bat claw causes the Joker to plummet to his death. Where Burton’s Batman is a “gruesome son-of-a-bitch”, the lengths that Nolan’s Batman will go to not kill define him, even if the lengths are too far. Many viewers acknowledge the relinquishing of rights and freedoms to fight






















Batman’s hero is directly responsible for The Joker’s death while TDK’s protagonist cannot kill his nemesis because the very act would result The Joker winning.


terrorism in Bush-era-America as a dominant theme in TDK: “Indeed what may turn out to be one of the biggest financial successes in Hollywood history, turned out to be a story about terrorism and the difficulty of combating it without turning into a mirror image of the terrorist” (Alleva). Even Alfred’s monologue of his days as a bandit-hunter in Burma brings forth notions of George Orwell’s imperialism-themed short story, Shooting an Elephant: “When he admits that he only stopped the bandit in question, ultimately, by burning down a forest, he is somehow quintessentially British: We can't go around burning down forests today, of course, and we probably shouldn't have, then. But we did get the job done, didn't we?” (Ragan). McGowan’s Kantion-philosophy analysis of TDK also acknowledges this theme, but offers a rebuttal against those who view the film as pro-Bush commentary. Its interesting to note that such minor differences in the tone of a scene or motivation of a character can have roots in the very theme and message the film is conveying.

          After comparing Burton’s Batman with Nolan’s TDK, one can see how differences in setting, music, composition and acting all affect the tone of a film. As these two movies have different directors, actors, scripts, and were made in different decades, they each have their own distinct aesthetic. Burton’s Batman is set in the entertainingly surreal, while Nolan’s TDK is serious and realistic. By further analyzing other scenes that mirror each other, it is evident that even the subtle, seemingly meaningless differences exemplify the contrast in the film’ themes. At first it may seems odd that, as his Joker terrorizes Gotham City with an under toned theme of cosmetics and materialism, Burton himself focuses more on his hauntingly stylish aesthetic than story. It would be easy to conclude that Burton’s theme is ultimately self-inflicting, and this may be true when analyzing the film today. However, at the time of production, no other director had approached a blockbuster movie with as visually dark and gothic tone. This may be hard to imagine, as Burton is a mainstream director for today’s audiences. Batman’s story thematically reflects on public adoration and self-image because, in 1989, Burton was struggling for the public’s acceptance of his own visual aesthetic. Nolan’s crowning achievement though, is not his aesthetic. His focus is on the timeless, complex and in depth social commentary embedded in intricately written stories that resonate with today’s audiences. By paying homage to iconic scenes from Burton’s Batman, but altering them to align with his philosophical and psychology-focused story, Nolan goes deeper into themes and motifs that Burton’s film merely touches on.

          The fun part is, Nolan isn’t finished. One can see more examples of mirroring scenes and points of social commentary (in the plentiful trailers and television-spots alone) for Nolan’s conclusion to his Batman trilogy: The Dark Knight Rises. For example, Batman Return’s masquerade dance scene gets an homage paid forth in the 2012 Batman film. Selina Kyle warns, “a storm is coming” for the people who thought they could “live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us.” As the political landscape has changed since TDK’s threat of terrorism, TDKR tackles








Batman Returns’ masquerade scene, wherein the irony is that Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne are the only two who show up without masks, appears to be alluded to in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.


2012’s political issues like The Occupy Movement and ‘the one percent versus the ninety-nine percent’. Even more intriguing is Nolan’s involvement with the Superman reboot, Man of Steel. Although being directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, and the misunderstood? Suckerpunch), Nolan and his collaborators came up with the story that conceives “how you would address Superman in a modern context”. In his Kantion-philosophy analysis of TDK, McGowan concludes that TDK’s Batman conveys “authentic heroism” because, by the film’s climax, he dons the role of a villain. Furthermore, had Batman not sacrificed his reputation, than his exceptionality to the law would cause escalation of “a legal civil war and thereby play . . . the key role in the transition from democracy to fascist authoritarianism.” McGowan notes that Superman lacks the moral complexity to be a darker hero, and because if this, Snyder turned down the opportunity to direct a Superman movie in 2008. Something Nolan and company came up with in the years since has obviously caused him to change his mind. Could Man of Steel answer some of these political and social questions that TDK also confronts, but from the view of the Boy Scout of superheroes?

          Furthermore, there is the obvious ode to License to Kill’s airplane heist scene in TDKR. Considering Nolan pays tribute to 007 films all the time (the character of Lucious Fox being influenced by 007’s Q; TDK’s skyhook as compared with Thunderball’s; Inception’s arctic-base as compared to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s), its no surprise that Nolan has expressed interest in directing a James





















Nolan has openly stated that his influences include classic James Bond movies. If a Nolan-helmed 007 film ever does materialize, I guess I’d have to write a paper on that too, wouldn’t I?


Bond movie as long as it is “the right situation and the right time in their cycle of things”. But seriously, wouldn’t it be so cool if he did direct a Bond movie? It would be dark, and gritty, and have a sweet, psychologically consuming storyline…. And now this paper has turned from critical analysis to the thoughts of a gushing fan-boy. That’s my cue.






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