License to brood: James Bond and Batman wrestle internal and external demons

Posted by · 5:10 pm · May 20th, 2012

Earlier today I was pursuing the Interwebz for something to jump out and scream “write about me” when I was struck by the image of the new “Skyfall” poster beside a still from “The Dark Knight Rises.” The first teaser trailer for the new Bond film is set to go online early Monday morning and there have already been several “previews” of said trailer released via the journalists who were treated to a glimpse at this year”s CinemaCon.

There is a slight trailer spoiler ahead so if you”d prefer to avoid that please click through and skip to the paragraph following the one below.

According to Cinema Blend”s description, 007 is in the midst of a revelatory word association game throughout the teaser. When presented with the word “Agent,” he responds with “Provocateur” (which indeed provokes a number of theories about his meaning). The most revealing and fascinating bit of word play, though, happens when the prompt “Murder” is met with the terse “Employment.”

I was in Istanbul, Turkey recently visiting the set of “Skyfall” where director Sam Mendes told journalists that, among other things, Bond (played again by actor Daniel Craig) is going to be faced with some measure of, if not remorse, doubt about what he has chosen to do with his life — kill — in the new film. Is it not right for a man to question government sanctioned murder? Is it not, also, a signifier of a maturing audience that we seek to witness an internal reckoning as much as an external one?

Heroes don”t exist without the villains to counter them. It’s as Heath Ledger”s Joker tells Christian Bale’s Batman in “The Dark Knight.” It is a symbiotic relationship: day creates night simply by standing in contrast to it and vice versa.

But our contemporary men of action, the Bournes, Bonds and the broodingly Dark Knights are replete with deep inner conflicts that highlight the shadow-filled aspects of the human psyche. They are often driven by vice as much as by virtue.

As we have seen reflected in cinema, long gone are the days of the apple pie-munching paragons of upstanding citizenry. We”ve simply become too savvy to buy into such simplistic visions or versions of reality. More than that, we no longer have “real world” idols that stand in as the rigidly defined best versions of ourselves, few of which are untouched by the taint of scandal in any event.

Post-Watergate, energizing the public politically has been the presentation of “the lesser of the evils” candidate. There have been nominees here and there who”ve risen to a high level of public acclaim of course, but picturesque renderings of familial and ethical perfection are virtually nonexistent in today”s climate. News outlets are simply too desperate for content to refrain from reporting conjecture, speculation, rumor and damning pictorial evidence of celebrity failing. Almost no one is above the scathing eye of the 24-hour news cycle, and if that misses the mark, Twitter certainly will not.

The seeds of doubt are ever present and we see that reflected in the self-doubt that often plagues the mythic figures that we now hold dear. Even this summer”s colorful and primarily lighthearted superhero offering “The Avengers” touches on the idea that one”s faults can and should be transformed into strengths. The Hulk”s nearly uncontrollable rage becomes the team”s greatest asset.

The benefit of this societal shift is that many have become more accepting of human failings, both our own and those in positions of authority. We understand that, indeed, to ere is human. More so, we accept that the distance between us and those who would govern is not as far as we once may have imagined.

Furthermore, we become more active in charting the course of our destiny as we feel we are equally empowered with the skills to do so, and become more compassionate towards those who otherwise may seem diametrically opposed to us in the best case scenario. We relate at the level of fundamental humanity.

The disadvantage, or danger, in the current trend is that some become even more rigidly judgmental while others devolve into apathetic cynicism, neither of which nourishes the individual or the whole. There is, as mentioned, the possibility of a more adult conceptualization of leadership and the role of “the other” in our lives and connection in our united struggle to reconcile ourselves to our base drives and lofty goals.

Batman and Bond are wish-fulfillment figures. Their brooding visages are more apparent now (cinematically) than they have been in the bulk of their previous incarnations. Our response to their angst speaks volumes about our own.

The question then becomes: What does this turn mean for our collective psychological evolution? Is this simply a swing of the pendulum or does this period mark a transitional phase as we work toward a place of acceptance with both our enemies within and those whom we perceive as our enemies without?

The idea of such advance is perhaps my own somewhat hopelessly optimistic colors shining through. However, “The Dark Knight Rises,” by all indications in the marketing, will take on the question of the “class war” currently under discussion by the political punditry.

The nuance with which this issue is addressed in the film and the response of the audience at large may reveal much about the strange cultural paradox of (seemingly) endemic polarization in our geopolitical dialog and the current trend toward shades-of-grey heroes. Or…it may just be a good action film.

“The Dark Knight Rises” opens in theaters in the U.S. on July 20th and “Skyfall” on November 9th.

For year-round entertainment news and commentary follow @JRothC on Twitter.

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