Thursday, July 24, 2008

How to Think about the Future -- Part II

Beyond Batman and the Joker

I saw a movie... I thought of life...
That’s what great cinema does!
Here are my thoughts.

The pictures in this posting are of the abundance of life, they are not about Batman.

It was a man from India, Salman Rushdie, who extolled the genius of the American comic. And, I’m in the mood to join him. I want to reflect for a moment on the film, The Dark Knight – a story of Batman and his nemesis, the Joker. For in this film far more than action sequences emerge, filtering through such genre-necessities something approaching life comes forth. But really this life-likeness only appears in one short moment, and the whole of the film pivots upon that moment. And, it is interesting to note that in that particular moment all of the major characters in the movie are absent. I will get to that moment later.

A Nihilist’s Logic

This is certainly not a film about good versus evil, though, I suppose, it easily could seem that way. Heath Ledger’s Joker is far too logical, too “right”, and too completely compelling to carry the purity of treachery required for a good versus evil story. In fact, while the motives of Christian Bale’s Batman appear to be untainted his actions clearly are not. He repeatedly acts as violent as his enemy, and, his expressions of anger actually exceed that of the Joker. Batman and the Joker at times seem remarkably similar. In one memorable line Ledger’s character when responding to an implication that he may want Batman dead, says something to the effect, “Why? You complete me!” The Joker creates an image of good and evil as a game which is played, where both are in need of the other. The Joker may kill, but he won’t kill Batman, for then his game would come to an end.

One might say that the Joker creates the logic for a nihilist view of good and evil. And, I think the Joker certainly intends such a view. Batman plays the hero and saviour, the Joker undoes this story, laying its moral (or rather immoral) bones bare for all to see. Yet, while this nihilist unravelling is what the Joker attempts to produce, this is not where the film goes. The Joker’s verbal wiles which attempt to undo the distinction between good and evil instead set the scene for another world to emerge which is outside of both Batman’s and the Joker’s interventions , outside of their game.

A Disrupting Event

Let me return to that moment I alluded to earlier. I won’t give the details, no spoiling of the story here! But I will say that there is a moment in the film where the Joker believes he has orchestrated a particular outcome and where Batman is unable to intervene with his heroic powers. Yet it is within this moment where both Batman and the Joker, and the game they have been playing, become undone. Without disclosing too much, an unknown character played by an unknown actor diverts the plans of both the heroic good and the demonic evil, and this occurs through the creation of a most simple event. Ultimately, all that happens is that something is thrown out a window. Yet, the story turns upon this very act, a moment which might appear irrelevant and even counter to what is expected of an action movie.

Again perhaps something of life emerges here. For both Batman and the Joker are the product of a modernity, they believe that by using their own powers upon the world, they can intervene, they can alter the outcome of history in accordance with their own actions. They follow a logic of causality --predictable inputs produce predictable results.

Yet, the film invites us to consider something very different. It suggests that life moves, the future comes upon us not in accordance with the predictability of causality, but in accordance with the unpredictability of the event. The event, which in the film’s context involves a simple act of throwing something out a window, is something which could never have been predicted, it comes to us from outside of the chains of causality. It is this event, this divergence in the routes of causality which creates the story. And, we can easily argue that almost every change of significance which happens in life and which happens in nature and evolution, occurs because of an event, because some confluence, convergence, some meeting which was not foreseen or predicted, shatters the chains of causality.

Let’s leave Batman and the Joker now, let’s think about the challenges of a real life. Whether personal, familial, communal, environmental, global, we all too often get stuck in the chains of causality which we are accustomed to. It can seem compellingly obvious to us that the difficulties we encounter come to us through distinct lines of causality. However the discovery of causality rarely liberates. It rather tends to create circles which we become stuck within. For the lines of causality which we use to escape lines of causality in turn need further lines of causality for further escapes. Causality can certainly be compelling, but it is also can become a dizzying entrapment.

What is called for, what I tend to believe that life invites of us, is not circles of causality, but rather events which disrupt the causality. And events are not things which just-happen; they are things which are created.

In the Dark Knight, the event was made visible to the movie-goer through the action of one individual, but the creation of that event was a pure communal action. Many were involved in its creation. Perhaps this is the way most events work.

Let us create events!

Let us together and alone create things and moments of beauty, of power, of disruption.

I think of some of my therapist friends. These individuals often feel so very uncomfortable with the language of the therapeutic, yet I find they eagerly enter into conversations with people. And, in their work, they create conversations, they create events from which those involved come forth not just changed, but walking in a new world. These friends of mine repeatedly are involved in the creation of such events. Yet, they usually feel most uncomfortable with such a description for they know that personally they enter the conversation with no predesigned strategy. They do not feel like they are creating something. And of course they don’t, for the creative movements are unequivocally communal, and they know that. The created-event happens outside of the instrumentalism of both individual and group causality.

At the end of the film Batman disappears into the night. At the same time his institutional structure, the actual building in which he created his technology collapses into dust. For, the unbearable difficulties of Gotham, and the solutions, causal chains designed to fix the city were now being lost to the beauty and generosity of ordinary, everyday events. Events created by people engaged in conversation and life together, people who move in response to each other and in response to the life around them, people who have learned how to trust a world outside of the controls of causality.

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