The new Joker film is excellent. More than excellent, it is beloved. The dilemma facing me is that I haven’t read one review which accurately captures precisely why it is so beloved. But I know why. And I can explain it succinctly.
The new Joker film is so beloved because it surreptitiously names the elephant in the room, and consequently it offers the audience freedom to bathe in the joy which accompanies naked hope.
Our “culture” is inundated with the idea that “nurture” has won the nature/nurture debate. But not the Joker folks. Instead of pandering to what’s en vogue, they created the most brilliant safe space imaginable (the bleached white halls of Gotham’s legendary Arkham Asylum) and peppered it with a hysterical clown’s slippery, speedy, and blood-soaked footprints. We find ourselves tickled by how Joker gleefully stays one step ahead of the pursuing wet-nurses. But we aren’t empathizing with Joker’s claims of victim-hood, no. What we’re doing is enjoying the feeling of hope. We are basking in the sunlight which is the hope that his chaotic crimes will finally motivate someone to rise and defeat him and all his kind.
In other words, Joker is so beloved because it finally said what we all feel: It cannot be all nurture. Our blood has to have something to do with it. Joker’s blood must have something to do with his behavior. And Bruce Wayne’s blood, likewise, will have something to do with his behavior, with the reason that he becomes Batman.
One must not forget that Joker is the loser.
I don’t know what the big fuss is about. H8ers gunna hate, I guess. It’s a perfectly good movie. I’d probably say it was “great” but I don’t want to build it up too much. Just go see it.
To critics: That’s enough alone time. I didn’t mean forever. You can go play with your friends again.
So I don’t like admitting that there are ever any parts of anything to do with Batman that I question, but for a long time I had a lingering doubt that the whole “Make the climb…without the rope” theory would work. You know, the idea that only when we are spurred on by the fear of death in all its finality will we truly find the strength to do what needs to be done. Well, it turns out I was wrong. The fear of death does increase jumping distance.
Picture this: H- and I at the pool. Goggles on. We’re in the three-foot deep shallow end. Every four seconds she’s adding the post-script to what I can only describe as an entry into a no-holds-barred splashing contest, “See, Daddy? I can swim?”
I smile and say, “Just about.”
Then she says, “I want to jump in.”
I say, “Go ahead.”
She gets out of the pool and with a decent running start proceeds to jump into this same three-foot deep shallow end of the pool. Her head never does go fully under the water and she says, “Ow.”
I say, “You should tuck your knees up so you don’t just land on your feet.”
She says, “Like a cannon-ball?”
I say, “Yep.” So off she goes for attempt number two.
“Ow. I can’t really do a cannon-ball.”
I say, “Well, then, you should come over to the deeper end and jump in.” She starts shaking her head and I soothe, “I’ll be there. Don’t worry.”
Notwithstanding all the splashing, she actually can stay afloat a while during her attempts to swim in the shallow end. And if I remember right, swimming is like riding a bike. Add these things together, and you will see me a decent bit away from the wall in the hopes that when she jumps in, she may just start swimming to me and more importantly, realize she actually can swim. Ta da.
Instead, I learn that she can jump a helluva lot farther than I ever expected or have seen before as she nearly tackled me in a leap that can only be described as springing from legs attached to a brain that really thought a visit to the pool with her father might be the last event on her earthly journey.
The lesson: Teach kids how to swim before how to read the number four.
I feel equal parts bad and excited for the Justice League movie scheduled for release in 2017. I feel bad because with two Avengers films, three Expendables, and seven Fast and Furious’ the hero-team formula is growing wearisome. I feel excited because by 2017 the filmmakers might be even more motivated to actually make a good team action movie.
My beef with these three film series is that they no longer flow. The respective films aren’t films. They’re like seven or eight, twelve minute scenes glued together and then labeled “movie.” Each character gets a cameo, they have one on screen moment fighting back to back and then the credits roll.
My excitement for the future of team movies–and Justice League in particular–comes from the success of the movie Legends of the Fall. Remember that one? I can still hear my brother’s excited hope-whisper during the final scene. I see no difference between that team-of-heroes movie and these recent ones. There’s Alfred, Tristan, and Samuel, and the dad, Susannah, and One Stab round out the good guys. That’s six essentially main character’s in my book. Obviously Brad Pitt was “the rock they broke themselves against”, but that’s exactly my point. In the three series I’ve mentioned, it was exciting to see the first of each of these movies the because they were new. But on the whole, teams aren’t what movies or, as I’ll argue in a minute, any art is even about.
Avengers One worked decently because it was essentially Ironman on steroids. Number two was not about Ironman. That’s why it isn’t as good. (Not to mention that the “age” of Ultron was hardly long enough to be a “week” let alone an “age” which means that the team behind the movie didn’t even know what their movie was about–fail.) Expendables One was about Stallone. Two and three were not as focused–therefore not as good–as they tried to spread the wealth. And then with the Furious movies, Vin Diesel is cool as shyat, but honestly the Rock can’t stop cookin’ when he’s in a movie. It’s either main good guy or main bad guy for that Übermensch.
This brings us to all art. I like to think about all art the same way. Take Beethoven’s ninth. Everyone knows the simple motif that doesn’t appear until the fourth movement. It is eight notes. The symphony is over an hour long, but boils down to only eight notes. I’d call that motif the “main character”. All the other music makes it seem like there’s a team thing, but there isn’t.
Another example would be Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. For all of the many scenes, the main character is the “divine spark” taking place between God and Adam. (No, it is not an accident that these two masterpieces have the moment of creation at their core.)
Which leads to the only thing there is left to say on the subject. In the forthcoming Justice League movie, there must be a main character. And the main character must be Batman.
1. Rocky Balboa (Rocky 6)
2. Rambo (Rambo 4)
3. The Expendables
4. The Expendables 2
5. The Expendables 3 (This time he’s pulled together Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. And those are in addition to Arnold, Statham, Li, and Ivan Drago. Oh, and Kelsey Grammar, too.)
For any of you who haven’t seen “The Expendables” movies, you’re missing out. Missing out like I thought I was missing out in the late 80s and 90s. I hated that I couldn’t go see rated R movies. It seemed like every good movie was rated R and starred Stallone or Schwarzenegger. When I finally checked those movies out, man was I disappointed. Then Sly shocks the world with “Rocky Balboa” and “Rambo”, only to top them a few years later with “The Expendables”. The movies are over the top in every way imaginable. It’s a formula that can’t lose. Lose the ego, bring the heart, and have a little fun while you’re at it.
Tom–don’t worry. You’re still tops in my book. The easiest way to ensure you never lose the spot is follow Stallone’s lead and give us what we want. You know what I’m talking about TC. That’s right. It’s time for the sequel. (Cue the Anthem.)
To the Victims of the Aurora Theater Shooting:
“If I had my way they’d take metal altogether out of this world. Every blade, every gun,” says Natalie Portman’s character in the classic film “Cold Mountain.” Maybe I’m just a sucker for movies, but when I watch that one–and that scene in particular–an “Amen!” or “Preach it!” escapes my lips before I know it. I can only imagine that you feel the same way.
I’m writing this letter to you today because I want you to know that I do not believe a letter like this is what is needed at the moment. But, at the moment, I have to write a letter for a class and I wanted to write to you. I’ve been taking undergraduate courses in writing recently, and a large part of writing is rhetoric. Rhetoric is the term used to describe the tools writers use to affect their audience. I’m told a writer uses rhetoric—these tools–to persuade people to agree with him. Sometimes the use of rhetoric isn’t deliberate, sometimes it is very deliberate. Like I said, though, I don’t believe words, especially not the words on this page, can help me persuade you to believe anything at the moment. “So why the letter?” you may ask.
As you know, Colorado, in large part because of the tragic events of July 20, 2012, is currently in the spotlight of a larger movement across the nation. I’m talking, of course, about the state legislature’s recent revisit to its gun policy. There’s no denying that without guns July 20th—more importantly, your lives–would never have been tainted by this unbearable act. Just the same, I can’t help but wonder if changes are being made too quickly.
Here’s what I’m proposing: For the last year I’ve been hosting a dinner series of sorts at my home. I’d like to invite you over to the one scheduled for July 20, 2014. If you can believe it, July 20th is my birthday. As July 20, 2012 approached I’d been excitedly anticipating the movie for a year, knowing it was coming out on my birthday. My brother can confirm that I bawled on the phone that morning as I heard the news. I had called him to discuss whether we should still see the movie that night. He was on I-70, driving to Denver from Kansas City so we could see the movie together as a birthday present. This July 20–July 20, 2014–I’m inviting you to a dinner at my home. The dinner will be a place where we will share ourselves. You don’t know me yet, but rest assured that disrespect has no place at my home. I want to know what you think, and I would like to share some thoughts with you as well.
So, what do you say? I have a little saying that I stole from the Oracle of another blockbuster trilogy: “The only way to get there is together.” I believe my time in the Air Force allows me to own this phrase as it’s essentially the positive way of saying, “You don’t crash in compartments.” I feel like you and I are separated by more than space, and I don’t think that’s necessary or valuable. Please contact me if you agree and would like to join me for an event that your presence will enhance substantively.
Even before The Dark Knight Rises is released, a lot can be learned from Bruce Wayne. Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of Batman and his self-imposed battle with the forces of evil is more than entertainment. After all, could anyone argue that Bruce Wayne is not the greatest example of a successful man?
Once you take away the awesome gadgets, the state-of-the-art superhero body-armor, and the adoring community who benefits from Batman’s vigilante nightlife, you have a man. Plain and simple. Unlike most superheroes of the comic world, Batman possesses no super-human powers other than his own strength and cunning. He is a successful hero because he maximizes and focuses on his internal qualities.
Is Bruce Wayne simply a myth? Or is he a character who can inspire each of us to define our purpose in life, our personal measure of success.
Our entire lives we are taught to achieve success. In school, we aim for good grades, excellence in sports and community service, a well-rounded resume of accomplishments. But is this really what success is about? I’ve heard a number of definitions of success, often presented from the negative: “Well, I can tell you success is not just about having a lot of money” or “Success is not about how many toys you have.” These definitions are only slightly better than the, however well-intended, utterly meaningless, “Success is doing what makes you happy.”
The flaw of these definitions is their vagueness. What happens to your definition of success when you’ve lost your job due to the recessive state of the economy? Thank goodness you believe success isn’t about money, because chances are good you won’t have any in the foreseeable future. Happiness is a roller coaster in itself, hardly dependable as an emotion much less a standard. Are we to believe Bruce Wayne is happy that he has to be Batman? No, most certainly not.
My fascination with Bruce Wayne and his alter ego brought me to a realization in my own life.
Having served in the U.S. Air Force as a helicopter pilot, I became familiar with the radio call. In fact, anyone interested in aviation would acknowledge that a very important part of flying is the 4-part radio call. I would go farther than most and argue that conceptually, radio calls are the true measure of a pilot’s skills. Furthermore, the process beginning with preparing the radio call and ending with transmitting it over the airwaves is the determining factor of the flight’s success or failure. You see, the first part is the answer to the question “Who am I talking to?” The second part is the answer to, “Who am I?” The third part answers the question “Where am I?” By now, the savvy pilot or radio operator listening to the radio call can begin to visualize the next part. Fourth, and finally, you close the transmission stating your intentions; in other words, answering “What do I want to do next?” In our example Blue 96 is coordinating his final landing with the control tower, which might sound like: “Tower, Blue 96, On Final, Full Stop Landing.”
The first three parts of the radio call are very important. However, most important for the pilot—who is constantly moving forward at an accelerated rate towards an eventual end—is the last piece. If a pilot doesn’t know what he wants to do next, he clearly isn’t going to be as successful as one who does.
Let us now turn back to the epitome of success, Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman. To begin, this man of few words uses them wisely. Whether he is talking to citizens of Gotham during the day as Bruce Wayne the businessman or whether he is talking to thugs or policemen, as Batman the vigilante, he demonstrably knows his audience. He illustrates flawlessly that it is no coincidence a pilot’s radio call opens with verbalizing the object of your comments. This is because your personal identification—the second part of our radio call—is dependent on your audience. Recognizing this fact is vital to being a success. To our priests, we are wretched sinners; to our children, we are parents; to our wives, we are husbands; to our pizza delivery guys, we are customers. And we hold these roles all at the same time.
Next Bruce Wayne, particularly when in his role as Batman, always knows where he is. Batman comes out on top of every situation precisely because he is more familiar with his surroundings than his opponents. Why? Because he prepares. His manipulation of time and space are an example to us all.
But most importantly, Bruce Wayne always knows what he wants to do next. In fact, his life is dedicated to the future. Batman is a creation of Bruce Wayne’s foresight. Without a goal, a desired future, Batman does not even make sense.
And when his goal is achieved Bruce Wayne will let Batman fade into the background, ready to re-appear only as a last straw. Bruce Wayne, however, will always be present, building a better future.
Growing up in America, more of us than not, have heard about the importance of the future our entire lives. “If you can dream it, you can be it.” “Opportunity comes to those who seek it.” “You make your own luck.” And my favorite of these proverbs, “What is possible is done; what is impossible will be done” captures in its most eloquent form, the idea that ‘possible’ is past-tense, whereas those notions that we find ‘impossible’ are the very ideas that we should strive to achieve.
When we take the pilot’s four-part radio-call, add the undeniable and now logical success of Bruce Wayne, and mix in a little time-tested colloquial wisdom, something spectacular happens. It is as if we stumble upon a new law of physics. We realize the inescapable truth: WE. SEE. THE. FUTURE.