Dark (K)Nights in Malaysia, Part 2


When Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Vice-President Nurul Izzah voiced her belief that freedom of religion is a right of even Malay-Muslims, it produced bedlam – NOT so much because she has implied that Islamic apostasy is a constitutional right, but because she voiced something that everybody has known but chose not to ‘know’ all along 

Alwyn Lau 

Bruce Wayne: You’re afraid that if I go back out there, I’ll fail.
Alfred Pennyworth: No. I’m afraid that you want to.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) was without doubt one of the most realistically spectacular movies around. No mere CGI extravaganza, it presented audiences with a vision of total anarchy and the complete upheaval of society. One could even say that Dark Knight Rises is the logical realization and completion of the nightmare presented in The Dark Knight (2008).

a) Gotham, Batman & Unknown Knowns

We can begin by contrasting the two villains. Bane is most unlike the Joker. Yet in a powerful way Bane is the fulfillment of the Joker’s being and agenda. In the earlier movie, the identity of Batman was one of the central riddles the Joker was trying to resolve i.e. it was a known un-known (something we realise we don’t yet know and hence want to find out). In DK-Rises, however, Batman himself was fighting to defeat a trauma (of identity, of purpose, of possibility) he had locked away for eight years i.e. it’s a unknown known (something we REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE we know and hence have to undergo some crisis in order to re-know this ‘thing’).

For the Joker, Batman was the obstacle to chaos in the city; for Bane, Batman and the city are synonymous. Bruce Wayne’s reclusive behavior mirrored the ‘eyes wide shut’ condition of Gotham which kept on singing the praises of Harvey Dent (an insane murderer), encouraged by of all people its chief of police. Wayne’s problem from the start was that, as per Alfred’s words, he wanted to fail but didn’t know it. Likewise, Gotham, like any modern-day metropolis or Capitalism as a whole, seems all too determined to succeed whilst secretly or unconsciously being hell bent on destroying itself. This is why Bane treated Batman (or Bruce Wayne) in virtually the same way he treated the city: bring him to his knees, let him suffer slowly, with death coming only after a prolonged period. Bane needed Wayne and Gotham to see clearly and without any doubt whatsoever the disavowed rot at the kernel of their being.

In Malaysia, a critical ‘unknown known’ is the angst at the heart of our so-called ‘multi-ethnic’ society. Like Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) at their marriage counseling, we know that the spaces between the races and religions are being filled with everything NOT said to each other, yet we prefer to keep silent. This is why when Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Vice-President Nurul Izzah voiced her belief that freedom of religion is a right of even Malay-Muslims, it produced bedlam – NOT so much because she has implied that Islamic apostasy is a constitutional right, but because she voiced something that everybody has known but chose not to ‘know’ all along (especially those with vested political-religious interests to protect). The problem is not with Nurul Izzah said, it’s that she said it at all.

If there is one thing more frightful than a terrifying truth that has remained concealed from the public, it’s the publicly known truth that has remained unspoken. So the question for Malaysia is: What else do we ALL know full well yet cannot bear to hear repeated out loud?

b) The Good, The Bad & The Real

Bane, in many senses, was a clear ‘improvement’ over the Joker. The Joker threatened anarchy; Bane delivered it. The Joker tried (and failed) to demonstrate that individuals were at heart completely selfish; Bane successfully revealed that at the heart of society was an impossible trauma (even as he managed to bring Batman to his lowest depths). The Joker sought to show that inside a good man, there is only bad; Bane made it clear that what we understand as Good (e.g. the justice system) is really the Bad (e.g. the unjust political ‘carving up’ of the city) in another form. Thus, DK-Rises shows us what we choose everyday to half-ignore : the hypocrisy of the rule of law in outlawing everything except its own transgressions.

The Joker transformed the city’s White Knight (i.e. Harvey Dent) into its traitor; Bane showed that the city itself, Gotham, was an intra-social betrayal on a massive scale. The betrayal of the people (in the form of community-wide lies, political corruption and so on), far from being a threat to the city, in fact, constituted it and sustained its being.

The Joker manipulated the police; Bane tore up the very idea of the police. The Joker tried to rope in the city’s criminals; Bane made it a crime not to be a criminal and thus exposed the biggest crime of all: society itself. The scene in DK-Rises where a psychopathic doctor presides over a kangaroo court and sentences all the former VIPs’ and public officials to death (or exile) is striking, for is it not simply the fantasmatic inverse of actual court proceedings, especially in Malaysia? Does Malaysia not urgently require a “Bane event” for the very criminals who at present use the law to justify their crimes?

And can’t the scene where Bane released all the prisoners, far from suggesting the terror of a society overrun by convicted criminals, hint at redemptive Biblical notions of ‘setting prisoners free’? Simply imagine the words ‘KAMUNTING’ in the background. Is the Internal Security Act (and its sugar-coated successor) not our Malaysian law at its purest, and thus most ‘illegal’? And to the extent that political change in Malaysia relies on the Law, is it not apparent that no true change can happen without the death and rebirth of the Law itself?

The Dark Knight Rises hints that true transformation may need more than sincere politicians, better police, more integrated technology, cleaner elections or even a masked vigilante. True change requires a deep glimpse of the destruction that’s forthcoming. True change requires a broken body and prolonged suffering in loneliness and hopelessness. True change may even mean that our bridges to the outside world (or practical escape route out of a pit-prison) are destroyed so we’re forced to look inwards and face the truth we’ve chosen to un-know over time. A real rising requires a real death.

In short, the movie ultimately provokes us to question what’s good, what’s bad, what isn’t real and what it takes to make all things Real again. Most of all, it reminds us of the consequences of sticking to the status quo. What happens if we persist in lying to ourselves? What’s the future like if the truly bad guys are venerated as good and vice-versa? Christopher Nolan’s answer seems clear: We either continue living like a prisoner – or we face a nuclear winter.