Teaching Through Cinema: The Dark Knight

by Alex Jones

One thing I always loved about films was how they can make you more aware of issues or current events in society. Some movies are very upfront about the topics they’re addressing. The best ones though initially make you think they are pure entertainment, but you soon learn otherwise. A paper I read recently illustrates this point even further.

The author, Fareed Ben-Youssef, analyzes Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" and uses it to showcase how it depicts the "allure and trap of state surveillance." Here is a summary given by the author:

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” So asks Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) about surveillance monitors featuring a commanding panoramic montage of Gotham City. His rapture encapsulates the superhero film’s tensions—the state’s technologically empowered sight is simultaneously abhorrent and exhilarating. Nolan considers the post-9/11 state's changed relation with its citizenry, drawing a comparison between the untraceable Joker’s terrorism and the subsequent scenario where citizens are seen as threats, creating an urban space as panopticon. I situate Batman’s skeptical view of city-dwellers in reference to Giorgio Agamben’s writings on the state’s conflation of ordinary man and terrorist. Mirrored sonic cues, I argue, reveal how the film blurs the line between the superhero’s and supervillain’s practices; however, by emulating the God-like vision of drones via kinetic imagery, The Dark Knight illustrates the allure of a mechanical eye that represents the culmination of what Paul Virilio describes as warfare’s marrying of camera with weaponry.

Through formal analysis of key scenes against controversial developments in post-9/11 Law, my paper ultimately asks: how can genre films be employed in surveillance studies to understand how excesses of executive power become normalized? What is the potential and limit of spectacle to critique such eerily beautiful optics?

Full analysis can be read here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2lhvCb5suVuZmRLNEJEcm4yR1E/view?pref=2&pli=1

Think a super hero movie holds no power outside of the screen? Think again. Analysis like this are great methods for teaching kids and adults about issues they otherwise wouldn't read. In addition, it adds to the enjoyment of putting together the puzzle that is a movie.