Monday, August 04, 2008

The Dark Knight: Rachel Dawes

Ah, Rachel, Rachel, Rachel.

Poor Rachel. Because unlike most of our other major characters, Rachel doesn't exist. Rachel's not real. That is to say, she's not a part of the DCU.

And the universe has a way of taking care of things that don't fit in continuity, doesn't it? "Rachel Dawes" ain't an MJ Watson. I mean, it's not like anyone would ever dare take MJ's relationship with Spider-Man out of continuity!

Poor Rachel also had the misfortune of being portrayed first by an actress who wasn't very good and then by an actress who isn't really as attractive as she needed to be for the role. Of course, MJ has the same problem; it was just the same actress each time.

Rachel also had the problem of choosing between a gorgeous famous wealthy crimefighter and a gorgeous famous non-wealthy crimefighter. Throw me in that briar patch, please.

Of course, in a film like the Dark Knight, Rachel's dilemma isn't just a matter of personal choice. Her choice between Bruce and Harvey symbolizes the city's choice between extraordinary justice and ordinary justice. Ordinary justice is what the city is striving for. Bruce is hoping throughout the film that extraordinary justice (Batman) is just a means of getting the system back on track, so that ordinary justice can take over.

But the temporary means to an end have a way of turning into permanent methods of operation. Indeed, that's the very thing that Lucius Fox fears from Batman's use of the bat-sensor-web. And Batman's hope is in vain; extraordinary justice doesn't, in this case, lead back to ordinary justice, it leads instead to extraordinary injustice (the Joker). Once that's in place, extraordinary justice isn't merely an option, it's a necessity for survival.

Like the city, Rachel is grateful for Bruce/Batman, but doesn't want to embrace him as her permanent way of life. She longs for the normality, the stability that Harvey Dent represents (as does the city). She wants Bruce to represent that, to give up being Batman, but she realizes that's simply not going to happen (or, at least, she's not willing to wait until it does). Girls swoon for the bad boy on the motorbike, but they want to tame him eventually. If they can't, they almost always wind up marrying the stable, less dramatic guy.

Of course, that's simply what Harvey Dent represents; it's not what he is. He's not stable because the regular system of justice isn't stable; its stability rests on on the overall stability of society. The regular system is dependent on rules and underlying assumptions about the wholesale goodness of people (or, more cynically and perhaps more accurately, most people's innate understanding that the stability of society is more important to their well-being in the long-run than any short-term gains they might make in undermining it or breaking its laws). When that apple-cart is upset by an outside force (the Joker) and the stability of society is threatened, ordinary morality can breakdown (just as it happens with Harvey). Indeed, it's why society permits us to kill during war.

In the end, Rachel makes the only sensible choice: she chooses ordinary over extraordinary. Unfortunately, when living in an extraordinary world, the sensible choice may not be the right one.


Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

What do you mean not attractive? I'd love to bite Maggie's butt and get lockjaw.

You're spot on with what's her head who played MJ, though.

Anthony Strand said...

Yeah, I was just gonna say -

Maggie's a thousand times more attractive than the generic, unmemorable Katie Holmes.

Great post though, Scipio.

Josh said...

I'm straight as six o'clock and in perfect agreement with Scipio's assessment of the actors. But more importantly, Scipio, this is my favorite so far in your consistently brilliant series on the film. Wow.

Anonymous said...

Having watched the first film quite a few times I am of the firm and immovable opinion that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Katie Holmes performance. It wasn't extraordinary, but it rose to the level of the writing and I am convinced that the inexplicable antipathy it has generated had everything to do with her personal life rather than how well she fleshed out the role. Had she still been engaged to that guy from American Pie rather than a certain famous lilliputian acolyte of a pulp science fiction god, I am certain the vehemence of her detractors would have been a tenth of what she has received.

That said, I think Gyllenhal is wonderful in the role and am definitely a member of the camp who would put her firmly in the "smoking hot" category.

paperghost said...

I also think Holmes did a decent job of the character in the first film, and she didn't look overly hollywood either, blending into the film quite well.

"and then by an actress who isn't really as attractive as she needed to be for the role"

looking at her picture, I'm really at a loss as to why her looks are a problem - she looks damn good to me (unless of course Rachel is supposed to look like an abnormal, stereotypical vision of supposed Hollywood beauty or something, which would be even more ludicrous considering the role she's playing - how many assistant DAs go round looking like a typical hollywood star anyway?)

I mean, let's ignore the fact her performance in the film was great and focus on the fact she doesn't match up to some strange standard of "attractiveness", like that has any bearing on her overall contribution to the film.

Scipio said...

OMG, they're smelling my finger again...

This post isn't really about the actors, you know; it's about the character.

SallyP said...

Alas, poor Rachel. THAT'S a character that won't be coming back from the blows when you aren't in continuity. And as much as I abhor the current nonsense with Mary Jane, eventually, that problem can be rectified.

paperghost said...

"This post isn't really about the actors, you know; it's about the character."

Oh, definitely - but as you can see from the comments, it's the first thing many have picked up on and imho distracts unecessarily from the interesting character study. As such, it seems a little...I don't know, jarring and out of the blue and seems like a needless swipe at the actress.

Aside from that, I am enjoying these posts of yours so thanks :)

Doctor Polaris said...

Fools! He speaks not of attractive brunettes but of the souls of those upon the screen!

Cease your prattling and attend to the wisdom presented to you! Or suffer! Polaris will not stand idly by...

Scipio said...

Thanks, Doc! I can always depend on your for perspective!

Anonymous said...

I made no comment on your insights toward the character because I found no flaws in them and had nothing to add. Your comments on the actresses who played the character however didn't quite strike me as fair so the comment was made. Personally I think this is entirely reasonable and does not represent a failure to grasp your deeper meaning. I can understand your frustration over no one wanting to debate your thesis, but isn't that just as much a sign of how well it was constructed as our own innate shallowness?

Brushwood said...

I would smell Maggie G's finger. Wait, what?

But yeah, seems in his way Dent perused criminals just as loudly as Batman... the main difference is the criminals can easily find Dent's address and special friends. Oops.

Anonymous said...

I've just been lapping these up and haven't commented so far because I haven't thought of anything insightful to add. Although it is important for us to let Scipio know how much we're enjoying this series so as to encourage him in his work and maybe inspire him to create other pieces of a similar nature.

I'm going to pass the Absorbascon's address on to my friends who aren't comics fans, but loved the film. This should get a real kick out of this.

I can't wait for the Oldman/Gordon segment to make an appearance. Thanks for the thoughts and the laughs, Scipio.

-Citizen Scribbler

Anonymous said...

Maggie might have worn some cute outfits in "Secretary" (and Lord knows the spanking scene was sexy), but I have to agree that she's not really all that attractive.

I mean, there were a few points in the film where I had to wince. The Joker's line about Rachel being "gorgeous" was one of them.

"Cute?" OK. "Gorgeous?" Bit much.

And the Kirsten Dunst comments? Spot on.

Chance said...

"Of course, MJ has the same problem; it was just the same actress each time."

HAW! Spit-take.

Chance said...

Also: I think Ken Jennings said it best on his message boards:

"Maggie Gyllenhaal is too ugly for the part. I've seen this all over the Internet, and it's crazy talk. For one thing, it seems sort of unkind. I know random nerds talking about comic book movies on the Internet are generally considered real catches, but it's quite possible that any A-list actress is way out of your league, fanboys. Even Maggie Gyllenhaal. "

Anonymous said...

OMG, they're smelling my finger again...

I've been enjoying your posts on the DK characters, but you open the box on comments when you break from the purpose of you posts to comment on the acting, or the attractiveness of the actors. Or the quality of someone's art, or writing. If those things aren't the reaction you intend to elicit, then you should stick to point.

Just a little constructive criticism, please take it as such.

Anonymous said...

I'm absolutely loving you're essays, Scipio. I can't wait until you get to the top 4.


Brushwood said...

Scipio's finger being equally entertaining as the thing being pointed to is the reason I love this blog. I myself would never recommend separating the silly/opinionated from the intellectual observations.

The former is more fun to comment on, the latter makes me sit back and go "woa". And I've been going "woa" a lot this week with these Dark Knight essays. Awesome stuff.

Scipio said...

Thank, Brushwood, et al.; pardon my sensitivity!

Anonymous said...

Maggie G. looks attractive at about 50 yards. The closer you get to her the more she looks like a snapping turtle.

I'm no proponent of any sort of hetero-normative faux ideal or anything, but her unattractiveness distracts. I felt for that reason it was perfectly on point.

Speaking of on-point: I found canon to be my metafictional friend when I called (very early on) that so-called "Ana Ramirez" was going to be one of the bad guys.

There was no other reason for her NOT to be Renee Montoya.

But when she survived the film, I went back to wondering why she wasn't Montoya. I mean, Renee isn't exactly of untarnished moral character. I think the attendant second chance would be acceptable--and had more impact on comic fans.

Anonymous said...

"But when she survived the film, I went back to wondering why she wasn't Montoya. I mean, Renee isn't exactly of untarnished moral character. I think the attendant second chance would be acceptable--and had more impact on comic fans."

Montoya isn't untarnished, sure--but she isn't the sort to be on the take, either. She wouldn't hand a good guy over to the mob, knowing what was likely to happen to him.

Besides, it's not like Montoya's Question would get a movie anyway, so why drag the character through the mud with no possibility of showing meaningful redemption?

Edward J. Cunningham said...

I'm stunned at the continuing comments about Maggie Gyllenhaal in Dark Knight. It's one thing for fans to complain that a bad actress was miscast in a role but was only in the movie because of her beauty, like Jessica Alba in the Fantastic Four movies. (I think Alba was better than fans give her credit, but let's face it---she's no Cate Blanchett.)

However, it's another thing when an actress does a good job in a movie, and fans are complaining SOLELY because she isn't "hot." If Gyllenhaal was cast as one of the supermodels on Bruce Wayne's arm at the Dent fundraiser or as a Russian ballerina, then yes---I'd say she was miscast. As an assistant district attorney, she's great. The scriptwriters don't have to play tricks to help me believe she's a lawyer than the FF writers did to make Alba seem to be a scientist.

That being said, I'm sure that Katie Holmes would have done a good job had she been recast as Rachel Dawes. Would she have out-acted Gyllenhaal? That doesn't seem to be the concern of the fans who are complaining about Maggie's looks. Scipio said that if Holmes had married someone else, fans would not have complained about her casting in Batman Begins. I'll go further and say she would have been in the sequel were it not for her marriage. WB was more than happy to bring back Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. They just did not want to cast Mrs. Tom Cruise.

P.S. Great character analysis. I look forward to reading Scipio's analysis of the Joker.

Unknown said...

Someone may have already said this, but I think the point of Nolan's creation here was to kill her off.

I believe that it was to allow the audience to get close to a character then murder her to manifest tragedy.

Clever if you ask me. It means he doesn't distort the original story arc with a real DC character