All this talk of "Civil War" has naturally got me thinking about superhero movies. More specifically, it's got me thinking about whether "Civil War" will be the best superhero movie to date? The fact that I consider "Captain America: Winter Solider" to be the second best superhero movie of all time is a good sign. However, For "Civil War" to become the best, it'd have to be better than 2008's "The Dark Knight". Despite being 8 years old, and being released before the golden era of superhero films, I would go so far as to say it is not just the best superhero movies of all time, but may be one of the best movies ever made - period. This is because it takes the superhero genre and uses it to explore big ideas. Ideas such as who are we really? How do we define society? And what does this definition tell us, about us? Is society a representation of our elevation above the animal realm, into a new, better, more moral existence? Or are we just animals with delusions of grandeur, mistaking intelligence for enlightenment? Bare with me, all will be revealed.
"I'm Not a Monster, I'm Just Ahead of The Curve"
Ironically, of all the speeches given by Joker in this film, the most illuminating speech to explain The Joker's motives may come from Micheal Caine's Alfred. In his speech, Alfred famously claims that some people do bad things, not for money, or power, but "just to see the world burn". The Joker represents the anarchism of the animal spirit present in all of us. Who hasn't gotten a little excited by the sound of death and destruction blowing in their eardrums when they go and see the latest action thriller? I know I have!
Nolan takes this feature present in all of us and expands it into monstrous proportions by letting it culminate into one entire person. The Joker is more of an intelligent animal than a conscious being. Closer to the likes of Alien or Predator than any human villainous predecessor in cinema. He hates the order and civility represented in society not because he thinks it's wrong, but because he sees it as a lie. The Joker doesn't think he uniquely evil, just honestly truthful. A true reflection of society. "I'm not a monster, I'm just ahead of the curve" he explains to Batman. Just like a murderer wearing a nurse's outfit, The Joker sees society's 'moral code', as a "bad joke", or a lie.
The Silent Knight
Batman is, of course, the antithesis of all of this. The Ying to Joker's Yang. The Joker will give his life to anarchy and chaos, whereas Batman will give his life for order and justice. He basically represents society's best ideals. Moral, selfless, restrained, humble, strong and brave. All of society's best bits. What separates us from the animals.
His one rule, the rule not to kill, is the embodiment of his moral code. Many criticise Bale's performance in this for being too lacklustre, allowing the Joker to steal the show, but I personally feel it was a bold step. Bruce Wayne is a hero being tested to his limit, being deconstructed, silently. He is proven inadequate and unable to protect those dearest to him. His suffering is untheatrical and therefore genuine and poignant. Once again, it is Alfred that best illuminates Batman's representation in the film.
"The point Mr Wayne, is to endure".
This is what retains Bruce Wayne's hero status however, even in a movie that is ultimately about the deconstruction of one.
So this leads me onto the question: who are we, really? Is Nolan saying we are a species that only acts selfless when it's in our best interests to do so, or do we endure, retain our heroic nature even in the most unheroic of times? When the times get rough, that's when our true selves are shown. And is this side the heroic Batman, or the villainous Joker?
The Happy Ending?
It would naturally follow that the ship scene as shown above would symbolise both the crux of this question, and its answer. In summary, the Joker puts explosives on two ships. One ship is filled with law-abiding civilians and the other is filled with supposed immoral convicts. They both each have detonators to blow up the others ship. They are told that if they don't blow up the others ship within a certain time limit, then both ships will be blown up. It's basically game theory. The supposed fact that neither ship blows up the other despite their own lives being at stake proves the inherent morality within society. However, whilst interesting, I personally found this sequence more of a crowd pleaser than to necessarily mirror Nolan's true feelings on such a complex subject.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
What I find more interesting in the third act, however, is the story arc of Harvey Dent. Harvey Dent turns from the heroic "White Knight" to the villainous "Two Face". The fact that in the film, Dent's character changes so drastically due to the experiences he has in the movie itself, perhaps tells us more about what Christopher Nolan feels about human nature than the ship's dilemma. This is because, much like Bruce Wayne, Harvey has a traumatic loss. The exact same loss in fact; they both lose the love of their life. However, whereas Dent cracks, both metaphorically and physically, Bruce endures. Therefore with this in min Nolan's true answer can perhaps be found in the idea that maybe there is no human nature at all.
The fact that two humans can act so dramatically different from one another having experienced the exact same trauma shows there is no human nature - only choice. We are neither inherently good, nor inherently bad. We are instead simply a conglomeration of the experiences we have had and, maybe more importantly, how we choose to interpret and deal with these experiences. We can either choose to cast aside our responsibilities and act chaotically with little apprehension for consequences like Two Face, or we can choose to endure. Remain fair minded, with consideration of others in the name of fairness and justice. To understand that we all live in a system that affects us all, equally. If we live in a society filled with crime and anarchy, we may all suffer from that anarchy. Even a rich little boy who loses his parents to a thief with a gun in a back alley, greed and anarchy effects us all, equally, but so too does justice. The one we choose to pursue, however, is exactly that - a choice.