Dark Knight inspires controversy and a death threat


by Sadat bin Anwar

Beginning today, millions of Muslims will not only be beginning their Ramadan fasting from food and drink, but some like me will also have to fight the temptation of sneaking a peek at Christopher Nolan`s latest and final installment of the Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, in order to hopefully engage that time in higher spiritual pursuits.  The films` socially relevant themes of chaotic anarchy and recurring terrorist threats facing the city of a major metropolis (Gotham City) caught my attention and imagination ever since its first installment, Batman Begins, released in 2005.  If the post-9/11 political undertones of that first film were not apparent enough, the main villain`s name also happened to be “Ra`s al-Ghul”, Arabic for “The Demon`s Head” (the English word “ghoul” actually derives from the Arabic).  In the Batman comics, this scoundrel is described as a “700-year old terrorist.”  At least this time round, the villain in the latest film, who is named Bane, allegedly has more in common with U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney than any connection he may have with Islam. (Right-wing political commentator Rush Limbaugh has recently suggested that the Obama team may have influenced the name of this villain which sounds just like Bain Capital, the financial services company that Romney once managed).

Films as big as this invariably take on an almost religious fervour and following.  I remember how shortly after the release of James Cameron`s Titanic in 1997, there were fanatical addicts of that film who had become completely obsessed with it, with some of them actually falling into deep bouts of related depression.   There appears to be something intrinsic to human beings that makes us want to dedicate our all and everything to a certain brand, object, cause, issue, symbol, ideology, or personality.  Perhaps it is a modern mutation of the “God gene” that leads the empty modern man or woman to fulfill his/her need for submission and the desire for mystical and spiritual experience though any arbitrary, misguided or hollow means, be it a song or the latest blockbuster film.  The search for something that can supplant the power of True Religion and Perfection continues on, as remote and unlikely of a goal as that may seem.

The latest and most outlandish of such a “religious” expression in regards to The Dark Knight Rises has come from user comments on the review aggregate website, Rotten Tomatoes.  In response to some negative reviews of the film from critics like Christy Lemire, users had called for her and others to be beaten up “with a thick rubber hose into a coma” and left to “die in a fire”.  (That puts a whole different spin on one of the film`s main promotional mottos, “A fire will rise.”)  In response to such threats, Rotten Tomatoes decided to temporarily put a freeze on user comments until the hopefully-just-proverbial fire dies out and the temperature of the violent rhetoric cools down.

Whether the issued threats emanated from “worshipers” of the fictional character of Batman, or those of the director Christopher Nolan, or both, is unclear. What is apparent, however, is that this speaks of an undeniable aspect of the human psyche and spirit which longs to deify something or someone, and the new idols are often no less fantastic and absurd than the ones that they replaced.  Modern, “rational” agnostic types who have foregone organized religion and “evolved” beyond such “primitive” emotions as the ones displayed by Muslims are apparently not immune from spiritual relapse.

In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne is told that in order to accomplish his mission, he must become more than just a man; he must become a symbol.  For a minority number of extreme fans of the film franchise, Christopher Nolan`s Batman really has become a symbol, and a holy one at that.  Disagreement over the virtues of Nolan`s depiction and vision of the beloved comic book character is a type of blasphemy that is not to be tolerated, and especially not during these first few holy days of the film`s inauguration for the public masses.

As the Ramadan moon rises, so does Nolan`s final installment in this gripping trilogy.  The front rows of the cinemas and the mosques on Thursday night will be filled with dedicated lines of the faithful.

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