The Dark Knight: Argh! (Major Spoilers)

In most ways, The Dark Knight is a truly spectacular film. It is certainly the best Batman film ever made (better even than the animated Mask of the Phantasm), and one of the best superhero movies ever made. Almost every character in the film has great characterization and development.

But on the female characters, it gets a big fat zero.

In Batman Begins, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) serves as the love interest, yes, but was still an active character. She dedicated her life to fighting crime as much as Bruce did, out of her own committment to justice. Her actions as an assistant D.A. were crucial to exposing Crane’s criminal connections, and she takes Crane out by herself. At the end, she refuses to become romantically involved with Bruce on her own initiative. While she suffers from many of the problems common to female characters in film, she still emerged as a strong character.

Sadly, despite being recast with the more capable Maggie Gyllenhaal, the Rachel Dawes of The Dark Knight is unrecognizable as a character. She exists solely to motivate Batman and Harvey Dent. Here role as an assistant D.A.? Completely ignored, as she mostly stands around looking worried while Harvey does heroic D.A. stuff. Anyone who hadn’t seen Batman Begins would have no idea that she had a job at all, much less that she was the one person in the D.A.’s office that Batman and Jim Gordon know they can trust.

There’s some discussion early on between Batman and Jim Gordon about whether they can trust Harvey Dent. Neither brings up the obvious point: “Well, we trust Rachel Dawes, who works with him and is dating him, and so presumably would be very well positioned to make such a judgment.” Nope. I guess this is something that men have to decide.

So for the first act or so, Rachel functions solely as Love Triangle Girl. Then, of course, she becomes a Distressed Damsel and has to be rescued by Batman. Now, I can deal with the hero having to rescue the love interest once per movie, preferably under different circumstances, so at this point The Dark Knight is well ahead of the “save Hostage Girl Mary Jane from falling”-fest that was the Spider-Man film series.

Then, yes, Rachel is kidnapped and tied up next to a time bomb. As is Harvey, with Batman given only enough time to save one. At this point I’m still willing to give the film a pass, because of the equal-opportunity hostage crisis. But while Batman saves Harvey (mostly), Gordon fails to get to Rachel on time, and…

Refrigerators: 1, Women: 0.

Actually, I suppose that should count as two points for the refrigators, since thanks to the love triangle Rachel’s death serves to motivate both Batman and Harvey. In fact, Rachel’s death, rather than his disfigurement, is made the primary factor behind Harvey’s transformation into Two-Face. In short, she has a bigger effect on the plot dead than alive.

After the awesomeness of Pepper Potts in Iron Man, I was irritated greatly by the cliche and underused female characters of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, but The Dark Knight makes that film look progressive. It’s a huge stain on an otherwise phenomenal movie.

Comments

  1. Beth says

    While I agree with you, intellectually. Inside, I was happy she was finally dead. I didn’t like Katie Holmes as as Rachel Dawes and even though I love Maggie Gyllenhaal, i still could not like her. To me, she was just a random female love interest thrown in. She has no history in the comics, she’s just made up. With all the work that went into male characters and little details that connect back to Batman’s history, you’d think they could do that with the female characters too. But alas, no. All I could say when RD exploded was, thank god she’s not back for Part III.

    My bigger pet peeve was the inclusion of Gordon’s son as the Best Loved Child, rather than Barbara–who is to become Batgirl one future day of course. She was there, in Mrs. Gordon’s arms, but her name is basically unmentioned. I didn’t enjoy Tony stealing his sister’s limelight. I was told that he exists in a very obscure comic and is killed off by Communists. Well, better he wasn’t resurrected at all. I see Barbara as the real star.

    Now, a female character I DO wish would appear is Harley Quinn. My love for her is never ending.

  2. says

    I am in agreement with Beth about Barbara. Not only is her name unmentioned (in either the script or the credits), we never even get to see her face. It almost make me wonder if they wanted to save money by casting a doll instead of a child actress!

  3. says

    I definitely agree, it was a shame to see her given such a passive role in the second film.

    It is worth mentioning, however, that Rachel was one of the few characters to stand up to the Joker without fear. She gave him a good smack at the party.

  4. says

    Yeah, I will second Matthew on admiration for Rachel standing up against Joker.

    I can see where you’re coming from on the refrigerators bit, but I didn’t see it that way. She’s the best woman in a comic book movie so far. I admired her willingness to pull Joker’s attention away from partygoers and onto herself, knowing the danger… and her unwillingness to ditch her guy for Batman.

    Joker has a bit where he says you see who a person truly is right before they die, and Rachel ended up being an awesome lady right til the end. No panicking, no screaming.

    While I’d love to see a movie about a superheroine who can hold even the dimmest candle to Ellen Ripley, Dark Knight is a movie about Batman, and everything that happens is engineered structurally to push and pull at him as a character – Harvey’s death affected him, and Rachel’s did too.

    I did totally miss all reference to Barb Gordon, though – at the beginning I was confused because I was sure that Gordon had a daughter, not just a son… and at the end I was confused because apparently he DID have a daughter.
    I’m hoping they kept her mostly offscreen so that they could cast anybody as Batgirl next go-round…

  5. says

    Yes. And not only is the token white woman with screen time made into a passive victim, the token Latina is turned into the conniving bitch who betrayed her. How nice of the film to color code its women for us! If they didn’t follow sex/race stereotypes, it would be so distressing and hard to deal with them.

    When Rachel died, I felt myself stop caring. I got the message loud and clear: this is a film for (white) men, (white) by men, and about (white) men. White women are not welcome here except as they serve men as the incubators for their precious sons (Mrs. Gordon), or for their usefulness as a motivator (Rachel). Women of color are not welcome unless it’s to reinforce cliches about how nasty they are because they’re not good, passive white women and not useful incubators for tow-headed white boy children.

    Grr.

  6. SunlessNick says

    While I agree with you, intellectually. Inside, I was happy she was finally dead. I didn’t like Katie Holmes as as Rachel Dawes and even though I love Maggie Gyllenhaal, i still could not like her. To me, she was just a random female love interest thrown in. She has no history in the comics, she’s just made up. - Beth

    Possibly they thought that any female character would be better than no female character. And in an alternate world where Batman Begins had Harvey Dent as a childhood friend instead of Rachel Dawes as a friend/lover, I’d have criticised it for having no female characters – but I’d also have forgiven it because all the characters would have had strong roots in the comic’s history making them who and what they were. And I think I would have rather had that than the only female character being Rachel Dawes.

    Here’s hoping film 3 gives features a kickass Latina patrol officer called Renee Montoya, whose help proves invaluable to Batman and Gordon, resulting her promotion to Detective by film 4.

  7. Patrick says

    Yeah, the absence of female characters is something else that bugegd me. Think about how much better both films would be with Dr. Leslie Tompkins in them.

  8. harlemjd says

    OK, Maggie Gyllenhaal is a big improvement on Katie Holmes, but what the hell happened to the character? In the first one, she’s the ADA who’s putting her life on the line to prosecute the mob, she’s the one that the mob is gunning for. Now, she’s just the pretty girl dating the DA (who was apparently the real force against corruption in the legal community while she was filing her nails) who sits second chair at the trial and doesn’t understand anything about RICO in spite of supposedly knowing the case file “backwards”? I know that she asks Harvey what Lau is talking about so that he can explain it for the audience, but still …. WTF? I do family and immigration law for fuck’s sake, but I knew where he was going with that! Find some other way to get your exposition in that doesn’t lobotomize the character.

    and nothing to do with feminism, but… Gotham is generally understood to be a stand-in for NYC. If you want to shoot in Chicago instead, that’s fine, but then what’s with all the little touches that scream NYC? (ex. Chicago does not have a “bridge and tunnel crowd” because the business district of Chicago is not on an island. those piddly bridges that the movie showed are not what that phrase refers to)

  9. Daomadan says

    Spot on! I left the movie completely wired but was still disappointed that Dawes ended up as just another girl in a refrigerator.

    Also, we get a cool Latina cop and…..she’s corrupt. Niiice.

    Other women in the film? Blown up.

    Also, they renamed Gordon’s wife “Barbara” when Barbara is supposed to be his daughter and become the future Batgirl! What happened? Oh, his son was chosen as the “most loved” of the bunch. Ugh.

    Also, what Angel said. Word.

  10. Patrick says

    Oh, what really drove me crazy about Ramirez was that until she was named (in the same scene that revealed she was corrupt and complicit in Rachel’s death), I had been hoping that she was Renee Montoya, so it was even more disappointing.

    Seriously, Nolan needs to put Montoya in the next film even more now.

  11. DNi says

    “Oh, what really drove me crazy about Ramirez was that until she was named (in the same scene that revealed she was corrupt and complicit in Rachel’s death), I had been hoping that she was Renee Montoya, so it was even more disappointing.”

    Supposedly, Ramirez originally was going to be Montoya, but when the character evolved into a corrupt policewoman they changed her name.

  12. tirmite says

    Okay, just saw the film and really like Nolan’s take on the Batman series. Similar to the redemption of the latest Bond series.
    I like the lack of a typical happy Hollywood ending …re: that Rachel gets wacked. Life isn’t fair or tidy.
    Please enlighten someone who isn’t a longtime comic folllower and who maybe just missed an explanatory line in the film, but
    why did Batman go for the DA and not the love of his life?
    Did the Joker give him the wrong address on purpose or he chose
    Dent to rescue intentionally?

  13. Daomadan says

    Did the Joker give him the wrong address on purpose or he chose
    Dent to rescue intentionally?

    Nope, correct address…but Batman knew he had to save Dent in order to give Gotham hope in the face of corruption and crime. Dent had become so much of a symbol that Batman needed to save that symbol no matter the cost. Rachel knew this but she was still killed in refrigerator fashion. Life isn’t neat or tidy, but it still sucks that the women in the film were all violently killed or corrupt.

  14. Auz says

    actually the joker switched the addresses. Lt Gordon asks “Who are you going after?” to which batman replies “Rachel”.

  15. Daomadan says

    actually the joker switched the addresses. Lt Gordon asks “Who are you going after?” to which batman replies “Rachel”.

    Oh, duh…you’re right. My mistake.

  16. SunlessNick says

    Just been to see it, so I have some comments:

    who sits second chair at the trial and doesn’t understand anything about RICO in spite of supposedly knowing the case file “backwards”? I know that she asks Harvey what Lau is talking about so that he can explain it for the audience, but still …. WTF? - harlemjd

    The impression I got was that it was Gordon who asked what it was; Harvey started explaining it before Rachel came back into the room.

    My bigger pet peeve was the inclusion of Gordon’s son as the Best Loved Child, rather than Barbara–who is to become Batgirl one future day of course. - Beth

    Yeah, I’m with you there. Two-Face seemed to pick the “most loved” just from which of the family he was looking at when Gordon’s escalating panic reached a certain threshold – it was his assumption, rather than Gordon’s feelings. But given Two Face’s recent past, it actually seems more likely to me that he’d assume the wife or daughter than the son. And it would have been a nice nod to the Batgirl from the comics had Gordon given his description of Batman to her instead of Timothy.

    (Personally, I’d rather we don’t get a Batgirl – or a Robin or Nightwing – but that doesn’t mean an allusion to them would be unwelcome).

    I had some sympathy for Ramirez in that she acted as she did for the sake of a loved one rather than out of straight greed (and when the Mob offers to pay hospital bills for a loved one, there’s always going to be some threat mixed in there too). But it’s still a poor show when that’s the best you can say about the only female cop in the team.

    And while it’s not a feminist point per se, I do like their choice of the big, stereotypically-bruiser looking black criminal to do “what should have been done ten minutes ago” with the detonator.

  17. harlemjd says

    SunlessNick,

    Since you saw the movie more recently, I’ll conceed you may be right about who asked the RICO question, but Rachel’s response to the explanation was definitely “ooh, wow, you’re so smart” rather than “no reaction. I already knew that. he’s just telling the audience.”

  18. Paul A. says

    Oh, what really drove me crazy about Ramirez was that until she was named (in the same scene that revealed she was corrupt and complicit in Rachel’s death), I had been hoping that she was Renee Montoya, so it was even more disappointing.

    For what it’s worth, I definitely remember Ramirez’ name being mentioned at least once earlier in the film, and me going “Oh, so she’s not Montoya then”. It has to have been before the revelation, because I also remember catching a bit of foreshadowing and going “Ah, that’ll be why she isn’t Montoya”.

  19. Paul A. says

    How nice of the film to color code its women for us! […] I got the message loud and clear: this is a film for (white) men, (white) by men, and about (white) men.

    Out of completely genuine interest, cross my heart and hope to die, may I ask where the Latina judge fits into this interpretation of the film?

  20. Daomadan says

    Out of completely genuine interest, cross my heart and hope to die, may I ask where the Latina judge fits into this interpretation of the film?

    I don’t know. I get annoyed when they make a POC a judge because it always seems a cop out. Like the film makers made a few concessions to put POC in a position of authority as a judge because there are NO POC as a main character of the film. And what happened to that awesome Latina judge? She was violently killed. Same with Commissioner Loeb. The black mobsters were killed….

    Who survives at the end of the film? Batman=white. Joker=white . Harvey (he did survive?, well he’s signed on for a third film)=white. Gordon=white. Alfred=white.

    Exceptions? Garcia the mayor. Lucius Fox. And Ramirez.

    A cool thing was letting the convict on the boat do the right thing by playing against stereotypes.

    I don’t know. There are good things and bad things about the inclusion of women and WOC and POC in the film.

  21. Patrick says

    That was something else that bugged me. “Gordon, the Joker left us a clue that he’s going to kill a black man, a Latina woman, and a white man.” And who gets saved?

  22. MarcM says

    Who survives at the end of the film? Batman=white. Joker=white . Harvey (he did survive?, well he’s signed on for a third film)=white. Gordon=white. Alfred=white.

    Ahhhhhh! The conspiracy is revealed! They’re on to us! Okay granted I’m white and I can honestly say don’t know what it’s like to be a minority, but most of the popular comics were created 50 years ago or more…by white people. Don’t blame the movie.

    I don’t know why there aren’t more minority superheroes. Maybe it’s because the major writers are white, so they just write what they know (admittedly it always bothered me that Wonder Women was a white Amazon). I’d be reluctant to write a minority character if I wasn’t familiar with the minority experience. And to be honest, how many white comic book writers say to themselves, “Wow! There’s a shocking lack of Puerto Rican superheroes. Let’s change that.”

    Of course the Blade comics were created by a whitey (Marv Wolfman), but I’ve never actually read them and can’t comment on how well his character was fleshed out. To me Blade makes more “sense” as a black guy, maybe because he fits the “bad mofo” sterotype ala Shaft and Dolemite.

    Christopher Nolan my have done a decent job of intellectualizing a comic book hero, but it’s important to remember that comics are largely targeted at kids/teens, and despite Hollywood’s best efforts (or maybe thanks to their shoddily-produced comic book movies) comic books are still vessels for juvenile escapism, and should not be considered as reliable sources for serious character study and plot development.

    You might want to check out Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” for better writing but I think it’s characters are mostly white too. :(

  23. says

    MarcM, this post might help you understand why we “blame the movie”.

    You may also be interested to note that when Wanted went from (modern) graphic novel to (modern film), the African-American lead female character got cast with Angelina Jolie. It’s not as innocent as you imagine. It’s racism pure and simply – HW says it’s the audience who’s racist (and sexist, etc.) so they can’t help having to pander to racism to sell tickets. But again, read the article I linked to for why I consider that bullshit.

  24. says

    Ahhhhhh! The conspiracy is revealed! They’re on to us! Okay granted I’m white and I can honestly say don’t know what it’s like to be a minority, but most of the popular comics were created 50 years ago or more…by white people. Don’t blame the movie.

    Because heaven knows no movie or television show has ever changed the race or gender of a character from an adaptation.

    Like, say, in 21. Or that adaption of one of LeGuin’s books a while back. Never happens. Ever ever ever.

  25. Daomadan says

    Don’t blame the movie.

    I am going to blame the movie, meaning the writers, producers, director and other folks with an investment of the creation of the film. I can critique it all I want and I don’t see the point of this comment at all. I still enjoyed the film, but I enjoy a more in-depth analysis of some of the problems still inherent in it.

    Christopher Nolan my have done a decent job of intellectualizing a comic book hero, but it’s important to remember that comics are largely targeted at kids/teens, and despite Hollywood’s best efforts (or maybe thanks to their shoddily-produced comic book movies) comic books are still vessels for juvenile escapism, and should not be considered as reliable sources for serious character study and plot development.

    Comics are NOT largely targeted at kids/teens. This may have been the case decades ago, but the median age for comic book readers is somewhere between age 25-35. Many comics are reliable sources for serious character study and plot development (The Sandman, Lucifer, heck…ANY Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore comic series, not to mention most of the titles published by Vertigo as well as some independent comic book publishers.) Saying that comics are created for kids does not excuse the historical exclusion of white women and men and women of color.

  26. says

    most of the popular comics were created 50 years ago or more�by white people. Don�t blame the movie.

    And it’s not like that somewhat popular Batman cartoon introduced any CoCs who became big names and canon stars in the DC universe over fifteen years ago, eh MarcM?

    Or as if the creators of the comic hadn’t already introduced a minority character in an important role, forty years after the comic debuted, either. Or had any strong female charas as part of the canon from almost the very start

    (Beware of geeks, for we are long of memory and suffer fools not gladly.)

  27. says

    The “point” of the post was to silence us and assure us it’s hopeless to try to change anything because it’s nature at work, not choices people make which they could’ve made differently.

    I let the comment through because once in a while I think it’s good to respond to one like this. I also thought it sounded like MarcM hasn’t really given this much thought and is just sharing his knee-jerk reaction, so it could evolve into an interesting dialog.

  28. says

    I let the comment through because once in a while I think it’s good to respond to one like this. I also thought it sounded like MarcM hasn’t really given this much thought and is just sharing his knee-jerk reaction, so it could evolve into an interesting dialog.

    Plus, the false-historical defense of media sexism is a really common one: “there weren’t any women/ethnic minorities doing interesting things at that time, so it would be wrong to stick them in!” – well, no, not exactly, if you read *real* history and not the bowdlerized politically-correct history books from the past (one of the reasons I liked “Silverado”, where I usually found Westerns just yawnworthy) or else “they’re just being faithful to the source material which was from a sexist/racist age!” which is why, of course, our 21st-century author of Strong Female Characters has to turn the canonical 1940s-era neurosurgeon/physicist into a ‘seductive secretary,’ and the never-seen villain into a 1970s-blaxploitation-pimp caricature! Just being obeying The Spirit of “those” times, you know!

    (…okay, that was a terrible, horrible, very-bad no-good bit of wordplay. Unfortunately I could only think of one to use, muahahahaha!! -ahem. Also I wonder if the blockquotes will do strange things with the formatting this time?)

  29. Patrick says

    Daomadan already addressed the issue of comics and their target audience quite well, so I have nothing to add there.

    The fact that most popular superheroes date back to the 40s or 60s, and are consequently overwhelmingly white and male, does not mean that movies have to be entirely cast that way. Witness the casting of Michael Clark Duncan as the Kingpin in Daredevil. While it does present potentially skeevy race issues, the filmmakers basis for changing the character’s race was simply that Duncan was the best for the role.

    (Race-wise, while superhero comics remain overwhelmingly white, there has been some improvement. DC, in particular, has used its emphasis in “Legacy” characters to give us a much broader range of characters. The new Question, Firestorm, Blue Beetle, and Atom all spring to mind. Which is not to say that superhero comics don’t still have a long, long way to go, but at least they’re ahead of Hollywood.)

  30. Fraser Sherman says

    Unless the movies do a dead on 100 percent faithful adaptation of “Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” an argument that the movies are hamstrung by comics’ 1930s roots is just silly.

    As pointed out above, there’ve been plenty of characters other than WASP males added to the canon(s) since the start.

    And Blade didn’t have his own comic for a long time, he started out as one of the cast of Tomb of Dracula, not a solo act (though I liked him considerably better than the movie version).

    Bellatrys, does that mean I’m not the only one bugged by seeing the Octopus? Which i would be a little, regardless of what they did with him.

  31. Patrick says

    While we never saw the Octopus, I don’t remember any indications in the comics that he was a samurai clown pimp.

  32. says

    Fraser Sherman, apart from What Patrick Said, there’s always going to be this problem when you *show* a Faceless Nemesis instead of having them remain a mystery. That was always the problem with Horror, and Suspense, as genres – the foe you can see is never as frightening or creepy as the one you imagine. Thus the problem when you go from never really seeing the Alien in Alien to “Well, let’s just have LOTS of them!” or having Sauron looking like one of the Knights Who Say Ni. “Never show everything” as a fear-inducing tactic goes all the way back to Beowulf, in fact (the book, not the movie!) Unmasking Darth Vader was, imo, a mistake in ROTJ. The line between “creepy” and “ridiculous” is very narrow & doesn’t just depend on bad sfx and obvious wires.

    So that’s one big problem, there – if the Octopus’ canon appearance is unknown because he’s always a *veiled* menace, then there are two ways you can go with that in a staged version: have him be always in shadow, never seen in full light, orchestrating things from the background like a Hitchcock baddie in an old film. Or if you decide that you HAVE to have your faceless villain unmasked, you can pick some way of depicting him, and then you can go one of several ways, but – why Miller’s mind would jump to Samurai Clown Pimp, indeed, rather than, oh, clean-cut, soft-spoken Guy In A Well-Cut Suit (invoking Hitchcock, and other noir era directors, again) – well, it says a lot about Miller and none of it very good…

  33. says

    I was very disturbed by the Damsel in Distress scene. I saw it as such a sexual scene that it falls in the category of subtextual attempted rape. Does anyone want to respond?

    Yeah, it was one of the most exciting parts of the movie, but it was also very problematic. I thought it might be when we started off with the he-man Fool I’ma Steal Your Girl contest. My suspicions were confirmed when Dent, who wants to talk to Rachel, goes up to Bruce and Rachel and says to Bruce “May I borrow Rachel?” This is a huge pet peeve of mine, and the movie of course made absolutely no comment on this slimy conversational gambit.

    But it got worse when the Joker entered the scene. Yes, my worst fears were realized. We had the (Subtextual) Attempted Rape ‘n Rescue.

    You may remember a non-subtextual version of this trope from Back to the Future. Heck, you may remember it from when I talked about it in Sandman (the thugs in the alley). If you watched General Hospital during the hostage crisis, you probably remember that something eerily similar happened then (and if not, you can have a Youtube adventure!) Another subtextual version, slightly different, took place in Chamber of Secrets. To carry it out, you require an beautiful non-independent woman, a slimeball so loathesome you can’t take your eyes away, and a male hero.

    Right. So in comes Joker. He threatens a few people, but it isn’t long before Rachel draws his attention. He makes several comments about how pretty she is. That is extremely important. It establishes the threat as a sexual one. It’s not like his previous How I Got These Scars victim. Speaking of which, the lie he tells about his scars concerns his wife and physical attractiveness. The threat is a sexual one. He grabs her face and is holding it still. He has an instrument of penetration and is about to use it to violently open the hole that is her mouth. She whimpers in fear. She summons up enough courage to put up a laughable show of physical resistance (laughable like it was in Back to the Future and Sandman, too.) It’s so laughable that all Joker says is that he likes it a little rough. Sexual again. This is subtextual attempted rape.

    That’s when Batman comes in. Crazy Joker! You have no right to this woman’s sexuality! It belongs to a man who will conform to patriarchal standards, and you undermine them! His entrance is unexpected and he has absolutely no trouble saving his pretty lady. In fact, in light of his punchy punching, Rachel’s feeble resistance is all the more laughable. She really never should have bothered trying to fight for herself.

    The most important part of this trope, and what makes it so harmful, is that after the woman is rescued, she owes the man something, usually a romantic relationship, but always something time-consuming and obliterative of her independence. She belongs to him now. From the start of this party to the end, Rachel has been a possession to be fought over. No, Bruce does not get his romantic relationship with her, but there is an undeniable sense that she owes him something. I mean, you can argue that she gets to choose who she marries, but the fact of the matter is that as soon as she voices her desire to marry Dent (and not Bruce) she gets blown to bits. That’s, that’s kind of not very subtle.

  34. Cath says

    Oh, wow, Quixotess. I hadn’t thought about the scene that way, but that reading makes a depressing amount of sense.

    I was very disappointed in the Rachel character in The Dark Knight. I don’t understand how they could get a better actress, then write a worse character.

  35. says

    I’m going to put in a plug for the treatment of Mrs. Gordon’s character being the feminist low point of this movie. Or among the feminist low points, anyway.

    In their big confrontation scene, Two-Face threatens Mrs. Gordon and the children, making Gordon choose — and she says *nothing*. She doesn’t, for instance, say “shoot me!” — because mothers are totally not invested in their children’s lives, apparently. And at the end of the scene Gordon goes off to look at Dent’s body and to pontificate to his son, just abandoning mother & daughter with no apparent thought.

    And I think “no apparent thought” pretty much sums up Christopher Nolan’s attitude toward women, and how they could get a better actress, then write a worse character. Nolan isn’t a misogynist, precisely — he’s not emotionally invested enough in female characters to even hate them. They’re just props, in his mind — he doesn’t think of them as having inner lives enough to even say to himself, “how would a mother react to such a threat to her child?”

    Nolan could be the poster boy for Men Who Don’t See The Women Men Don’t See. I wonder if anyone else on the set even noticed what was going on?

  36. Patrick says

    Doctor Science: I definitely agree that the sexism in TDK is of the unthinking sort. The majority of *ism-based actions seem like that to me. Sure, there are the raving bigots, but the majority of people who propagate an injustice are those who simply don’t think about it because of their own blinders. Which is also why people ten to react so defensively when their own prejudice is pointed out to them. It simply didn’t enter into their thought process.

  37. Eileen says

    Nolan isn’t a misogynist, precisely — he’s not emotionally invested enough in female characters to even hate them.

    I think this is exactly right. He’s so enmeshed in his own narrative that he doesn’t leave space for anyone who doesn’t look like him except at the periphery. You can be black or latina if you’re about to get blown up. You can be female if you’re a girlfriend or a neglected wife (or a faceless daughter). Everyone else? White guys, Morgan Freeman notwithstanding.

    I regret the opportunity he had with Gordon’s child at the end because a lot of comics fans are straining to catch a glimpse of Barbara whenever Gordon’s home life is shown. Even if Nolan never intended to introduce Batgirl as a character he could have had the child be a girl, and given the ending Shane moment to her. But that moment… the Shane moment… is so iconographically male and sort of about men and their lost fathers that he just couldn’t conceive of it any other way.

    I’ve had conversations with my husband about how sick I am of every narrative having to be about men and their fathers. It’s why I dread Spielberg films. He can’t seem to do anything else. This one could have been about a girl and her father -about a girl and her fallen male role model. Without changing a single line it could have made the entire ending scenario fresh. The pacing was so good and everything else about that ending was so satisfying that the change from boy to girl would have been the thing that made it into something nobody had ever seen before.

    For some reason though, it is impossible for a girl to inhabit such a central symbolic space.

    When I was a child I would have imagined myself in the boy’s role. So many girls do that all the time; reinterpret pop culture to include themselves even if they aren’t exactly there. For some reason boys are never never asked to do it and it is assumed that they just won’t or can’t. Boys are never asked to identify with girls, but I think they would if given the opportunity. I think that the failure of popular art to ask boys and men to challenge their ideas of themselves is part of the problem with our society.

    On a related note, I listened to a long podcast on film analysis put together by very intelligent and interesting men. Two previous podcasts had been taken up with how much they loved Dark Knight and on the third installment, one of them had critiques. They spoke for almost an hour about every possible issue they could think of… these were very in depth critiques… but not one of them mentioned issues with female characters of people of color. They were blind. Smart smart smart men and they didn’t even see it. It scared me a bit.

  38. says

    Eileen, I find myself reminded of the ubiquitous Mary Sue in fanfiction.

    I’m digging around (can’t find it right now) for an article a teacher wrote about encouraging her female students to rewrite classics with themselves in them, giving themselves a place in the narrative that, frankly, the original story doesn’t allow.

    I think this is why Mary Sue & Self Insert fics are so very popular in Fandom.

  39. Patrick says

    I’ll be honest: the missed opportunity you described with Gordon’s child did not occur to me. I was bugged by the emphasis on Gordon’s son, who is pretty much a non-entity in the comics, but… yeah.

    I did think “Is there any reason Keith Szarabajka’s character can’t be Harvey Bullock?” But I did not think “Is there any reason Babs couldn’t have occupied Jim Jr.’s role?” And you’re absolutely right: there isn’t, and the film would have been so much better if it was Babs seeing her heroes brought low, showing the fans in the audience the seeds of Batgirl/Oracle. But Nolan was telling a story about men, and women only factored into it in terms of how it affected those men. (I did see another example of this, which I pointed out in my article, when Batman and Gordon don’t even think to ask Rachel about Harvey’s trustworthiness.)

    (On another note, I must admit that the screenplay I’m working on is fundamentally about a young man’s relationship with his father. But that’s because it is a particular story I want to tell, not because of any ideas that I’m somehow limited to such a story.)

  40. Sarcasm-hime says

    I can’t *stand* the voice; it sounds ridiculous IMO, like he has laryngitis or is trying way too hard to be macho.

    Everything else has pretty much been said; Maggie Gyllenhaal is superior as an actress but she was given very little to do. Still not as bad as George Lucas, though.

    Was also very irritated by the replacement of Barbara with her brother, presumably to create Robin in the next movie. *sigh*

  41. says

    Patrick:
    I must admit that the screenplay I’m working on is fundamentally about a young man’s relationship with his father

    Nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t forget that there is always a third person in that relationship: the mother is there all the time, whether they talk about her or not.

    Eileen: Did you point the podcasters to this discussion? They’re not going to see what they’re missing unless some actually brings it up to them.

  42. Patrick says

    Oh, yes, the mother is very important to their relationship, because a) she died in childbirth, and b) they don’t talk about her, which means that they both have very different ideas about how she affects their relationship.

  43. Ciella says

    I completely agree with everything said here and was really sad to see WiR rear it’s ugly head after hearing such great things about TDK. But what I wanted to address here was Barbara Gordon. Everyone here seems to be under the impression that the little girl in the movie is Babs (aka Batgirl, aka Oracle) but actually, Barbara Gordon isn’t Jim Gordon’s biological daughter. Jim’s wife, also named Barbara (she wasn’t renamed for the movie like someone said), divorces him after a series of things including him having an affair and pretty much being married to the job and keeps the kids (though actually I think it’s just a son in the comics). Years later Jim’s brother and sister-in-law (or sister and brother-in-law, I forget) die in a car accident and Jim adopts they’re daughter (his niece) as raises her as his own. So in my mind, when I fan wank this movie, the event with Two-Face causes adult Barbara Gordon to leave Gotham with the kids, causing Jim to spiral into to depression only to hear of his sibling’s death which, while making him even sadder, also manages to bestow him with a reason for living in the raising of a spunky red head with a penchant for super heroics. Am I an an optimist? No, just delusional until the third one comes out. Kind of like I deluded myself that Ramirez was Montoya even though I saw all the signs that they were gonna make her a dirty cop ::sigh::

  44. Daomadan says

    Everyone here seems to be under the impression that the little girl in the movie is Babs (aka Batgirl, aka Oracle) but actually, Barbara Gordon isn’t Jim Gordon’s biological daughter.

    Good clarification (the comic storylines change so often it’s hard to keep track anymore!), but I still think that with all the changes in the Batman franchise that this storyline could have been inserted (likewise the Montoya storyline). Nolan has made enough changes so it would have been nice to see some focus on presenting women as more than pawns or as corrupt.

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