I saw The Dark Knight on DVD the other day. Although I think it is a very good action movie, one of the underlying messages in the movie really left a bad taste in my mouth. For those of you who have seen the movie or do not mind plot spoilers, I invite you to read my reflections below.
::::::::::::::::::::: Plot Sequence Spoilers below ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Blaming Batman for that which he is mitigating
I did not like how Batman accepted blame for much of the mayhem that The Joker waged. Recall from the movie that the Joker demands that he will continue to kill innocents until Batman reveals his identity. While it is fairly obvious that the Joker is not going to relent in his nihilistic and sadistic on Gotham if he is appeased, Batman is nevertheless blamed by civilians, law enforcement, news reporters, the Joker and even his loyal butler Alfred for the civilians casualties and the chaos that ensue at the Joker's hand.
As a plot element, it is perfectly fine if Batman initially accepts such guilt only to later realize his error and to properly refute these unjust charges by the end of the movie. However, this realization never occurs. Instead, the movie ends with Batman accepting that he is responsible for much of the chaos in Gotham and concludes that it is his duty to continue to fight crime anyway even though much of the city blames him.
Harvey Dent does seem to protect Batman from these charges to some degree, largely through his actions of literally claiming to be Batman, resulting in his immediate incarceration. However, since Harvey Dent breaks down by the end of the film and embarks on his own killing spree, his moral defense of Batman is not portrayed as solid. After all, who is he to say anything on this matter? He literally transmogrified into a monster and starting slaying people in the name of a perverse concept of justice that is detached from reality.
Who is really responsible for the crime in Gotham city?
Batman is not responsible for the people who the Joker has killed. The Joker and his thugs are responsible for their own murderous actions. In fact, Batman was Gotham's only hope to stopping the Joker. Furthermore, blaming Batman is self-defeating for the residents of Gotham city, since the extent that Batman is blamed influences the extent that he has the incentive to stop protecting them from the ruthless criminals who used to run their city.
The movie suggests that Batman's existence "forced" the fearful mobsters to turn to a monster such as the Joker, since they had no other alternative to combat Batman. However, this ignores the fact that these mobsters want to exert just enough power that they need to bring Gotham city to its knees. Batman's existence certainly required that they accumulate even more destructive power to pursue their vicious ends. However, the goal of the mobsters never changed. If anything, this illustrates why organized crime should be eradicated swiftly and completely. Such crime families should never be allowed to fester, lest they seek to escalate their offensive capability.
If only Batman could also intellectually defend himself
I think The Dark Knight would be a better movie if Batman eventually realizes that he does not deserve the guilt that is imposed on him. Batman could have taken a defiant and principled stance, explaining to the world how he is not the cause of the crime but the exterminator of it. He could remind Gotham city's residents as to how miserable and crime-ridden the city was before he embraced the role as a crime-fighter. Batman could have identified the inspiration that he has given the city, including how even common police officers disguise themselves as batmen so as to both boost their courage and strike fear in the wicked. Unfortunately, none of this has happened, which makes the ending of the movie depressing rather than uplifting.
The world needs more heroes
Unfortunately, we live in an age where politicians are devoid of principles. If Barack Obama were running for mayor of Gotham City, he would insist on meeting with The Joker with no "preconditions" and leaving all options (e.g., appeasement, compromise, freezing his assets or a law enforcement crackdown) firmly on the table. John McCain, being no better, would saunter around as if he is somehow a tough guy since he would meet with The Joker with a few nominal preconditions. Furthermore, John McCain would probably divert millions of tax dollars to crackdown on some lesser crime family so that he can boast of his crime-fighting success because he is preventing that particular family from falling under the influence of the Joker.
Given these depressing realities, we can use definitely more movies where honest and incorruptible heroes triumph over evil while refusing to accept any unearned guilt. Overall, I still recommend seeing The Dark Knight as it is a very good action movie qua action movie. However, this theme of accepting unearned guilt is a stain on the movie that cannot be ignored and it did detract from my enjoyment of the film.