I don't even want to be in the same room with one. I love my original first-gen iPad and have no complaints about it, but I just know if I see the new one I'm going to spontaneously vomit all my money right out onto the floor.
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Friends In Your Head | Forums → Posts by Jeffery Harrell
I don't even want to be in the same room with one. I love my original first-gen iPad and have no complaints about it, but I just know if I see the new one I'm going to spontaneously vomit all my money right out onto the floor.
Those burgers were, like … my god. You guys just don't know. I want them in my face.
Probably everyone that was a part of it will take time to recover from it…
Oh, you might be surprised.
Any other new business?
Narnia. They said it was Narnia. Sob.
I was trying as hard as possible to get you to keep your pants on, you unbelievable jackass. I haven't come out of my room since this morning. All I hear through the door is maniacal laughter and screaming from the women.
Do, it's really worth a watch. It's stylish without being pretentious, and I mean, come on. It's Wem fucking Wenders. I won't say it's another Wings of Desire, but it belongs on the same shelf.
It's like they say, you're not dead until you're warm and dead.
I'm man enough to say it: I enjoyed this show. It wasn't good, objectively speaking; I'd go so far as to say I agreed with most everything Trey said in his now-infamous rant. And if you get a drink or two in me and don't somehow act to prevent it, I will go off on you for half an hour about how the show would've been different if it'd been my baby — cause I'm an ass like that.
But for all that … I didn't mind watching it. Apart from the obvious exceptions, it didn't offend me. And with the story arc that shaped up over the run, I thought I smelled some genuine beard-growing potential there. Pity we won't have a chance to see whether that would pan out. Might've sucked on toast, but who knows.
As an Australian, there's something unique about MI:2 in that it's the only non-Australian movie I know of to be filmed & set in Australia.
Wem Wenders' epic Until the End of the World was partially filmed and set in Australia. The last act of it was, anyway. The first two acts were filmed and set literally every-fucking-where.
Damn, damn good movie, too.
Yeah, that's the stuff right there.
Another good one, if you're a science geek, is Richard Muller's "Physics for Future Presidents" course from Cal. I think it's C10 or something, in the listing. It's just what it says on the tin: An introductory-level course designed to give people who have no intention of advanced studies in the sciences a basic working familiarity with the core concepts of modern physics. It's important to note, though, that his is a qualitative course. He glosses over a ton of stuff, and in the process makes situationally wise but still potentially irritating decisions to simplify things to the point of being actually misleading. Like in one lecture he talks about special relativity, and uses the now-long-out-of-date illustration of infinitely-trending kinetic energy to explain why nothing can move at the speed of light relative to anything else. This is, in fact, absolute bullshit. It's simply not a true statement, and what is true is way more interesting … but it's understandable why he chose to explain it that way, because the core idea is that the phrase "faster than light" is a contradiction in terms, and the kinetic-energy argument takes about three minutes, while the hyperbolic-geometry and Lorentz-group argument takes about three weeks.
Still a fun little course. It was in that course that I learned that it's literally impossible to give somebody cancer by exposing him to ionizing radiation. The dose of ionizing radiation that's sufficient to guarantee you'll get cancer is so huge that it'll just kill you outright long before you have a chance to get sick. His explanation of this was rich and satisfying.
Oh, and fun fact? Muller answers emails from random Internet nobodies. We had a very exciting little pen-pal thing going on for a while some years ago.
EDIT POST FACTO: Holy run-on sentence, Batman. That was even worse than my usual grammatical catastrophes.
Skip that entirely. Binney's coursework is solid, but he's not a compelling teacher in that series. It's purely "Look at what I'm doing, then refer to the text to understand it."
If you want a better, qualitative introduction to quantum physics — or indeed, any branch of physics at all — look for Lenny Susskind's podcast series "The Modern Theoretical Minimum." It's on iTunes U. If you're a person of short attention span, you'll get frustrated, because he moves very methodically, but the upshot is that you almost have to try to get lost along the way.
Of course, the downside is that the whole series is something like 150 hours of video, so … yeah.
(Oh, another upside? Lenny happens to be the guy who finally figured out what black holes are, having to prove Stephen Hawking wrong in the process. The dude has street cred, and if he doesn't show up on the short list for a Nobel someday pretty soon, I'll be amazed.)
You can't really derive any of physics purely from first principles. You have to start with observations of the natural world — apples fall from trees — and then faff around with math for a few hundred years until you get the Einstein field equation.
This is one of those cases where we know something true and we want to build a mathematical model that tells us what we already know in the hopes that that model will also tell us other things, things we don't already know.
EDIT: Oh, also I just thought of something I neglected to include last night. Equations 4.1 and 4.2 should have a ± in them (because 1/√2 squared and –1/√2 squared both equal 1/2). That should ripple down through the rest of what I wrote, but it won't change anything because by that point in the evening I really just wanted to go to bed so I half-assed all the rest.
Point is, you have an answer you want that reflects reality, and you have a basic method that people smarter than you figured out (Heisenberg famously had the idea for the basics of this particular approach in a dream, and to the end of his life never could explain where it had come from any better than that), and the hard work is figuring out what goes in the middle, in between the pre-solved starting point and the ending you got by pointing your eyeballs at things.
It turned out to be physically impossible to type a reply to you in this comment box, because math. So … here.
I'm really tired right now, so I make you absolutely no promises that that thing is typo-free.
To which Niels Bohr famously quipped, "Albert, don't tell God what to do."
I'll be the odd man out here. I love trailers. I love the concept of a trailer. The best ones are little works of art all by themselves. It's kind of like the sonnet; it's a really constrained format, but paradoxically shackling yourself to those constraints opens you up to a whole lot of creativity.
Unless of course that point is "Batman was a chump. Don't be like Batman."
I kind of hate myself for doing this. If I were sitting next to myself right now, I'd punch myself in the face.
During the commentary, you guys got on the topic of the so-called "many worlds interpretation" of quantum physics. Teague (I think it was) was like, "It's not about Spock with a goatee," and Mike was all, "Then what is it, bitch?" and there was a pregnant pause before Teague goes "I didn't build the fucking thing!"
Well … okay. So if you're interested, here's what y'all need to know about "many worlds." If I do this right, a few thousand words from now you'll have the gist of it, and you'll know why you should never, ever say the phrase "many worlds" ever again.
We're gonna start by talking about polarizers. You know what these are: they're like picket fences for light, a linear array of electrical conductors with teeny tiny gaps in between. When you put a polarizer in front of a lamp, the amount of light coming out of that lamp is cut by half, because the polarizer absorbs the other half.
What's happening way deep down at the smallest meaningful scale is this: Light comes in discrete quanta called photons. (You can also call photons "particles" and you won't be wrong, but they're fundamentally different from other kinds of particles we know about, so it's really better to call 'em "quanta" to keep those distinctions in mind.) A photon has, for reasons I'm glossing over here because they aren't important, a polarization vector that's perpendicular to its direction of propagation. Think about the mast on a ship. The ship goes forward, the mast points straight up, at a right angle to the ship's direction of motion. A photon's polarization vector is the same, only it can point in any direction in that perpendicular plane.
The reason why polarizers work is because photons — light quanta — that are polarized parallel to the gaps in the polarizer slide right through, and photons that are polarized perpendicular to the gaps get absorbed. Think about throwing a javelin through a picket fence; if you throw it straight, it goes right through the gap between the pickets, but if you throw it sideways, it bounces off.
So here's what we've got. We've got a lamp, which is spewing out javelins all over the damn place, all mixed up. Those javelins fly at a picket fence, and it turns out exactly half of them (for a sufficiently large number of javelins) are oriented such that they can slip through the gaps in the fence, and the other half bounce off of it. That's how a polarizer works.
But what happens when you throw just one javelin at the fence?
This is where things get a little strange. It turns out it is absolutely impossible to predict whether an individual photon will be absorbed by the polarizer or not. You can set up an experiment using a light source that emits only one photon at a time, and shoot those photons at a polarizer, and you find that it's a pure coin toss each time whether the photon will be absorbed. If you repeat that experiment a million times, you'll find that half a million photons were absorbed and half not, but that doesn't give you any information about what the million-and-first photon is gonna do.
If you like, you can imagine that every time a photon gets close to the polarizer, God flips a coin. Heads, the photon goes through. Tails, it gets absorbed. It's that arbitrary.
For this reason, quantum physics cannot deal with exact solutions. In classical physics, you model some system — a falling cannonball, say — and end up with a system of equations, and when you solve those equations you get numbers. Quantum physics doesn't use that method; instead, solving the equations that model a quantum system gives you probabilities. The equation that models a photon passing through a polarizer is real simple (well, relatively), and when solved it tells you that the probability amplitude of the photon being in the parallel state when it gets to the polarizer is one-over-the-square-root-of-two. You square the probability amplitude to get the probability; in this case, it's just one-half. So the equation tells you there's a 50/50 chance, which is what we knew empirically anyway.
Discovering that we could do equations this way was pretty revolutionary … but it was ultimately unsatisfying. Because the equations don't actually tell us what's going to happen. They tell us only what can happen, along with some numbers we can use to make aggregate predictions for sufficiently large cases. This equation in particular, for instance, tells us that half the time the photon will be absorbed and half the time it won't. That's well and good, but it doesn't tell us anything about any particular photon.
Or does it?
Teague mentioned Young's experiment on the podcast. Young's experiment is that thing where you put two holes in a card and shine a light through them. We know what happens if you shine a light through one hole; you see a spot on the wall, kinda fuzzy but well-defined. So if you shine a light through two holes, you'd expect to see two spots of light, right? Wrong, friendo. You see streaks of light (not five of them as Teague said, but actually an infinite number of them of exponentially decaying photon flux such that the ones on the edges end up having no photons in them at all so you can't see them). The light is acting like ripples on the surface of a pond; each photon is one ripple that hits both holes in the card simultaneously and makes ripples on the other side, and those new ripples pile up and cancel out so we see an interference pattern on the wall.
Back when Young originally did this experiment, he was all, "See? See? I told you light was a wave phenomenon! Suck it, Newton!" But that's obviously bullshit, thank you Einstein for figuring out the photoelectric effect that proved once and for all that light is a corpuscular phenomenon. So it was a big mystery: Light is definitely not a wave, but goddamn, it sure likes to pretend it is.
It took a hundred years (ish), and the invention of a whole new branch of physics, for anybody to solve this mystery. And truth be told, the "answer" we came up with is so fucked-up and incomprehensible that it caused more problems than it solved.
The answer's this: Every photon you fire through the apparatus passes through both slits in the card simultaneously. Where it actually ends up when it hits the wall is the result of the photon interfering with itself while its in transit. Through the lens of quantum mechanics, we can describe this in terms of probability: There are spots on the wall where the probability of the photon hitting are non-zero, and spots where the probability of the photon hitting are zero, and that's why we get streaks when we spray a bunch of photons through the apparatus. But we can only get that result by running the numbers such that each photon passes through both slits and then self-interacts on the other side.
So yeah. We just proved, with science, that shit can be in two places at once. That's messed up, right there.
But come on, this is light we're talking about. We already knew light was weird. Clearly this is not a universal thing, but rather just one aspect of how light is bizarre. Right? Guys? Right?
To prove that, we repeat the experiment, but instead of using photons we use electrons. Photons aren't matter; they aren't real in any meaningful sense. But electrons definitely are. So we repeat the experiment, expecting to see two spots on the wall instead of streaks, thus reinforcing our belief that the universe makes some kind of objective sense despite light being a little bitch.
Only no. We get a fucking interference pattern from the electrons too. Which means now we have actual particles of matter passing through two separate holes simultaneously. But okay, electrons are tiny, maybe that's what's weird. Repeat the experiment with helium atoms. Those fuckers do it too. Repeat the experiment with molecules of buckminsterfullere — a huge synthetic molecule, not occurring in nature, made up of 60 carbon atoms arranged in a geodesic sphere. Those fuckers do it too! On a subatomic scale, if an electron is the size of a baseball, a buckyball is the size of the solar system. Buckyballs are incomprehensibly vast at this scale, but dammit if they don't do weird two-places-at-once shit too.
None of this is remotely okay, and almost everybody in the field spent many years just ignoring it and hoping it would go away.
Almost everybody, I said. There was one guy in particular, a grad student at Princeton in the 50s named Hugh Everett, who woke up one morning and found himself with an opinion.
Everett started out by thinking about the polarizer, and about Young's experiment. He was bothered — like everybody else — by the inherent contradiction between them. In Young's experiment, the equations tell us that there's a 50/50 chance of the particle — photon, electron, buckyball, bowling ball, whatever — passing through each of the two slits, and in reality we find it actually does both. But with the polarizer, the equations tell us that there's a 50/50 chance of the photon being absorbed and a 50/50 chance of the photon passing through, and in reality we find it does either one or the other but never both.
Everett didn't like this, because it's a case where the exact same science gives us the exact same answer for two different experiments, but we get contradictory results. And he started thinking … what if the equations are right, and it's reality that's wrong?
Or rather I should say, what if it's "reality" that's wrong, because this is about to get into some very deep questions about what that word really means.
Everett's contention is this: When you shoot a photon at a polarizer, that photon both gets absorbed and passes through. When a polarizer absorbs a photon, a teeny-tiny electrical current flows through it; since the photon both does and does not get absorbed, this current both does and does not flow. If you hook up a very sensitive detector, you can detect that tiny electrical current, because the detector will go beep. Since the current both does and doesn't flow, the detector both does and doesn't go beep. And of course, if you're listening when the detector goes beep you'll hear it … and since the detector both does and doesn't go beep, you both do and don't hear it.
And you can model all that mathematically by including you in the equations that describe the experiment. (In approximation; it's not practical to model literally every subatomic particle and field that makes up your body, but we can rough it in just for fun.) When you do, you get precisely the answer you expect: There is a 50/50 chance that you'll hear a beep. Which is just what we observe when we do the experiment.
This all makes perfect sense, mathematically. It's the simplest thing in the world, really. The only problem with it is … if two people observe the same experiment, why do they always remember it playing out the same way? If there's a pure 50/50 chance that I'll hear a beep and a pure 50/50 chance that you'll hear a beep, then it's possible for me to hear it and you not (or vice versa), only that never happens. Either we both hear the beep or neither of us does, which is a big part of why we believe there's such a thing as objective, deterministic reality in the first place. So how does that jive with everything we said before?
Well, remember Young's experiment. We don't see two spots on the wall, nor do we see just one big blur; we see streaks on the wall, because the photon is interfering with itself, canceling out the chance that the photon will end up in some places. Let's extend our approximate model of the polarizer experiment a little further: I'm part of the system, and the equations tell me (rightly) that there's a 50/50 chance I'll hear a beep. If we add you to the system, there are now four possible outcomes: I hear the beep and you don't, you hear it and I don't, we both hear it, we both don't. But when you solve the equations, you find that the I-hear-it-and-you-don't and the you-hear-it-and-I-don't outcomes cancel out, just like those places on the wall where we see dark spots between streaks. In other words, when we're both part of the system, the probability that our experiences will differ is exactly zero. We can't predict whether we'll hear the beep or not, but we can say with certainty that we either both will, or we both won't.
And it's this insight that lay at the heart of Everett's doctoral thesis: the idea that the entire universe comprises a single quantum-mechanical system, and the way that probability distributions appear to collapse into definite outcomes is just a consequence of constructive and destructive interference between the parts of that system. There exists, in other words, a single mathematical equation which you could, in principle, write down and solve, that fully describes both the instantaneous state of and the future time evolution of the entire universe. That's why he titled his doctoral thesis "The Theory of the Universal Wavefunction."
So in summary, Everett's idea was this: It is a valid interpretation of the mathematics of quantum physics to say that everything which can happen does. Our subjective experience of the world contradicts this, telling us that things either happen or they don't, never both at the same time. But this subjective experience is just a consequence of constructive and destructive interference in the wavefunction that describes the entire universe, ruling out some possible outcomes (like two people disagreeing on whether a machine went beep) while permitting others. It's this self-interference — the universe interfering with itself — that creates what is essentially an illusion of classical, deterministic, objective reality.
Somefuckinghow, this idea got all bent and twisted into Spock-with-a-goatee. Oh, every time something can happen, a whole parallel universe is created where it did happen, so all possibilities are out there somewhere. There are, in other words, many worlds. Some have molested the idea even further: Somewhere out there, in one of the many worlds, there's a cubic light-year of pudding for some reason.
That is all pure, refined, weapons-grade bullshit. There is no validity to any of the previous paragraph. Nothing in Everett's work points in either of those directions, and there's nothing in quantum physics, or indeed in science period, to support those conclusions.
Instead, what has since come to be quite wrongly called the "many worlds interpretation" of quantum physics really just says that there's one big world — that is, the universe is a single system — and any experiment that attempts to isolate part of that world without taking the entire universe into account will inevitably result in an apparent boundary between the quantum-mechanical realm and the classical realm. If it were possible to solve the universal wavefunction — which it isn't — we would be able to see quite clearly that there is no such boundary, and everything we think of as classical mechanics is really just an uncountably vast number of degrees of freedom interfering with each other to create the illusion of determinism.
See? This is why I hate myself.
Dude. You guys. This wasn't the last book I read, but I read it recently enough to still be enthusiastic about it: House of Leaves. It's got a reputation for being pretentious and having its head up its own ass, and maybe those things are true, but … seriously. So worth it. It's a lot like a good genre movie: It's got visual effects in it (yes, a book with visual effects; if you've read it you know what I'm talking about), but those visual effects are skillfully employed in service of the story.
Really can't recommend it highly enough.
Just wanna say the worst production logo out there right now is the Spyglass Entertainment logo. Sorry, Spyglass guys, I'm sure you're all really smart and talented and I'd love to buy you a beer someday, but your company logo sucks out loud.
(I haven't read what you other guys wrote yet, cause I wanted to just dump my thoughts as they are before having them challenged and, like, learning and loving and growing and hugging. So I might be parroting stuff others have already said.)
I don't like comic books. But it's a benign sort of dislike; it's fine that they exist, I'm not offended by their existence, they're just not my thing. But when comic book sensibilities spill over into the movies, I tend to get … well, pretty pissed off.
I used to have a blaaaagh. Remember when blogging was a thing? Well, I used to have one. And I just dipped into the archive and pulled out two things I wrote on the same day, June 18 of 2005, two hours apart. I'm going to bury them behind spoiler tags to keep from overwhelming the page.
Here's the first thing, which I wrote shortly after seeing Batman Begins:
The best roles in the film are the ones in the background: Michael Caine’s Alfred is a little over the top but expertly drawn. Morgan Freeman commands attention every minute he’s on the screen. And Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordan is a masterpiece of slow play.
The movie looks good but not great, with way too many stylistic nods to Blade Runner. The script is good but not great; it has moments of greatness that betray the skillful hand of a script doctor — after Bruce Wayne’s first night of crime-fighting, Alfred throws open the curtains; Bruce rolls over in bed and whines, “Bats are nocturnal!” — but the story is a train wreck. If I ever see another super-hero movie the plot of which depends on the phrase “water supply,” I’m gonna demand my money back.
The infuriating thing about Batman Begins is how uneven it is. The film has two bad guys: the demented psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane and the anarchist mastermind Ras al Ghul. Crane (Cillian Murphy) is utterly two-dimensional. He’s worse than two-dimensional; he’s a sketch, a silhouette. The story behind Ras al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and his League of Shadows is brilliant. The fact that one villain gets a rich and gripping back-story while the other is tacked on as an afterthought is pretty annoying. The script needed three more rewrites before shooting.
There’s a problem with super-hero movies, and that problem is this: Super-hero stories are inherently silly. There’s just no way around it. So when trying to pitch a super-hero story to an adult audience, you have to somehow overwhelm the inherent silliness with something else. The most successful super-hero movie of recent years — probably of all time — was Spider-Man. (The Incredibles is in a class all its own.) It avoided the pitfalls of inherent silliness by mixing equal parts unapologetic sincerity and knowing self-parody and ladling the result on top of a solid storytelling core. The opening and closing scenes of Spider-Man establish the heart of the story: It’s not about a kid in a silly suit or fighting criminal geniuses or any of that nonsense. It’s about a girl. That’s the kind of storytelling honesty you need to sell a movie about a kid in a brightly colored spandex body-suit.
Batman studiously avoids creating any such emotional heart. There’s some lip-service given to Bruce Wayne’s guilt over his parents’ deaths, but it’s strictly there as an establishing device. The middle and closing acts of the film are one action set-piece after another, with all the required plot twists in all the required places. There’s not a single surprise anywhere. It’s an entirely by-the-numbers treatment.
Kind of like this stream-of-consciousness, dashed-off, no-editing review.
LATER: After publishing this, another thought occurred that I thought was worth documenting.
In the film, Ras al Ghul sees himself as a check on civilization. When a culture reaches the zenith of its decadence, he tells us in one of those speeches that so obviously shows the signs of being punched up late in the writing process, the League of Shadows comes along to knock them back down again. They sacked Rome, they introduced the Black Death into Europe, they burned London to the ground. Over the years, the weapons employed by the League of Shadows evolved; lately they’ve been using economics.
That’s where the story should have stopped. Put Ras al Ghul and his League of Shadows behind the entirely mundane problems of poverty, unemployment and street crime. No comic-book weapons or psychotic genius villains. That’s an interesting story. That’s a novel approach.
But no, instead the script had to abandon the interesting and novel stuff and go right back to the cartoony, laughably implausible inventions of the comic-book genre. Instead of crime and poverty, it’s magic dust and super-weapons.
That, I guess, is what pissed me off about Batman Begins. It could have been a super-hero story for grown-ups, dark and serious. It was so close to being just that. But at the last minute, it made a hard left turn and stayed right in the middle of the comic-book neighborhood. That’s disappointing.
And here's what I wrote a couple hours later, under the title "Notes for an unpublished Batman script":
Except he does have regrets and remorse, but not as Batman. He takes off the mask, and the burden of being a human being with a conscience falls on him like a ten-ton weight. He’s haunted by the memory of the things he’s done. He has chronic insomnia, which explains how he can lead the whole secret double life thing, and when he does sleep, he’s plagued by nightmares. Not stupid, whiney “I was frightened by a bat as a child, woe is me” nightmares. Nightmares about the string of bodies he’s left in his wake.
Alfred is inherently amoral. I know it’s become fashionable to think of Alfred as this angelic figure, but he’s not. If Alfred had a shred of decency, he’d raise up his own army and wage all-out war against Batman. But he doesn’t. He’s content to be Batman’s butler and accomplice and confidant because he basically doesn’t give a shit about what goes on outside the gates of Wayne Manor. He’s no idiot. He sees the world crumbling around him. He knows that if he walks away from Bruce Wayne, he’s gonna have to get a job sacking groceries or something and that’ll basically be it for him. So like a wife who looks the other way, Alfred just seals himself up inside his little cocoon and ignores everything else.
The evolution of the suit thing: This is tricky. It has to evolve organically in order to be believable. Wayne starts by going out at night dressed in a kevlar vest and a ski mask and mugging gang-bangers and other petty street criminals. He’s totally vulnerable, but that’s part of his thing. For Bruce Wayne, picking fights with thugs is a form of ritual self-abuse. It’s basically no different from a teenage girl who cuts herself with nail clippers. Every time he comes home with a cracked rib or a dislocated shoulder or a gunshot wound, he gets an emotional rush, a sort of self-destructive high.
Eventually he gets a reputation among the crooks and the bangers. They start calling him “the bat” or “bat man” or something, just like a nickname. Wayne hears about it — not through sensational headlines in tabloids; J. Jonah Jameson belongs in another story — and takes a grim satisfaction from knowing that he’s terrorizing the criminal underworld. He starts wearing a cape to exploit the myth, and the suit evolves from that.
There’s a very thin line that has to be walked here. The body armor, the mask, the cape: fine. Batarangs and bat-gas and bat-whatever-the-hell-else: dumb. Think about what a special-forces assassin would carry: A big-ass knife, night-vision goggles, rappelling gear, a silenced pistol. Yes, it’s okay to get a little silly as Bruce gets more and more disconnected from reality and descends into the fetishistic aspects of his other personality, but the line between Batman and camp must be clear and bright.
The moral arc of the story, of course, has to end with Batman being no better than the crooks and thugs and gang-bangers. Gotham City is at war with a corrupt City Hall on one side and Batman on the other, and the ordinary citizens are caught in the middle. It’s this all-out war that shakes the citizens out of their complacency and causes a good man to rise, somebody who will speak out against the corruption and the crime and the poverty even at the risk of his own life. If Batman embodies everything bad about vigilante justice and righteous fury, this new guy will embody everything good about it.
He needs a name. Let’s call him Joe Black. It’s just a name, plus the allusion tickles me.
Joe Black is a middle-aged teacher at one of Gotham’s crumbling high schools. He teaches math and government and coaches the girls’ basketball team. His wife left him two years ago, moving out of Gotham with their son. Joe stayed behind because Gotham’s where he’s lived all his life.
Some of the kids in Joe’s government class are members of a street gang, and one night Batman attacks and kills them. Joe hates the gangs and he hates the crooked cops that let the gangs control the streets, but he hates Batman more. Joe’s an idealist. Fighting violence with violence just makes things worse. Pushed to his breaking point by what he sees as an escalation in the violence that’s already crippled Gotham, Joe starts to speak out. He organizes a neighborhood watch, he starts an after-school basketball program to keep the kids off the streets, blah blah blah. His story gets picked up by the press and he gets elected to the city council. Eventually he becomes a realistic challenger to the Mayor.
Bruce despises Joe. He believes that power corrupts, and that whomever occupies City Hall will end up being no better than the deadbeats and crooks who are there now. But as election day approaches, Bruce starts to feel just the tiniest glimmer of hope. (Probably insert some moral-sounding-board character here to give Bruce somebody to verbally spar with.) He decides to do his version of the right thing: He attacks polling places where the incumbent Mayor is expected to do well. The results come in, and because of Batman’s interference, Joe wins the election by 2,000 votes.
Joe thinks he won fairly because news of Batman’s interference hasn’t made it into the campaign headquarters yet. Joe gives his victory speech on live TV, the high-school marching band plays “Happy Days are Here Again,” and Joe goes to the bathroom. He turns around and sees Batman standing there in full costume.
This is the first time these two have ever seen each other in person. This is the big emotional climax of the movie.
Joe heads for the door to call security; Batman pulls a gun on him. Batman tells Joe that he only won the election because of his tampering. He gives Joe a big speech about how power corrupts, how it’s inevitable, how even a good man with good intentions will turn into a criminal. Joe says he can see that, and Batman has a moment of self-doubt. Then Joe asks, if it doesn’t matter who runs the city, why Batman went to all that trouble. Batman turns and walks to the window without saying anything. On his way out, he looks over his shoulder and says, “You’ve got six months. Show me what you can do with it.” And then he disappears.
So if you read those, what I want you to take away is this: I don't like Batman, apparently. Apparently I think the character's silly and insufficiently realistic, and I have for at least seven years.
That said … The Dark Knight is one of the best movies I've ever seen. It's a gritty, grounded, nihilistic crime drama that just happens to feature a dork in a rubber suit in a minor supporting role. I mean, think about it. Your challenge for today is to rewrite The Dark Knight's shooting script to remove both Bruce Wayne and Batman entirely. How hard is your job? Your job is not hard, is the answer. Most of the work can be done by just cutting out all Wayne's scenes, and changing all the other character's in-dialogue references to Batman to in-dialogue references to Harvey Dent. That's, like, half the job right there.
(You'd need to substantially rewrite exactly one scene and change one plot point. Without Batman, the Joker has no reason to approach the Gotham City crime lords, and you'd need to cut the China extradition side plot. There are probably those out there who'd argue that the China extradition side plot needed to be cut from the movie anyway, so that's no big loss. And the trade-off is that you get to lose the two worst contrivances in the movie outright: the fingerprint-reconstruction montage and the sonar visual-effect fight scene in the third act. Those problems just go poof.)
Point being, here, that The Dark Knight is the least comic-booky comic-book movie yet made, and the least Batmanny movie of all the Batman movies made, and that's what makes it a great film.
I want to give each of the Nolans a big wet kiss for having the stones to say "You know what? Less Batman. Just less Batman overall. Less is better." That's a ballsy thing to do, considering, y'know, big franchise, title character and all that stuff, but it was the right thing to do, and I applaud them for it.
I think what sums it up for me is one scene — one shot, really — that comes right after the Joker's big scene with the crime lords. I'm too lazy to dig out my copy and put a timecode on it for you, but it's the scene where Gordon — fuck it. Hang on, I'm gonna dig out my copy and put a timecode on it for you.
Okay, it's at the 26-minute mark. It's the scene immediately after the Joker leaves his card for the crime lords (and I've got something to say about that, so remind me to come back to it). It starts with an establishing shot of the Gotham skyline with the batsignal shown unobtrusively in the background — we see the beam of the spotlight, but we don't see the symbol on the clouds or anything like that. Cut to Dent standing next to the light on the roof, his back to us, scanning the horizon. It's a dark shot. In a dark movie, it's a dark shot. Batman enters from camera right, but we see only a hint of movement to know he's there.
At this point, Nolan starts moving his camera. Dent approaches Batman and we dolly left around them. As we move, the door to the roof comes into frame and opens: It's Gordon. Dent immediately starts yelling at him, and the scene evolves into one that could've been lifted right out of any crime drama on record. Gordon's pissed at Dent for interfering, Dent's pissed at Gordon for having dirty cops in his unit. The two of them get right up in each other's faces. Nolan keeps the camera dollying around them, and as he does, Batman passes behind and between them in frame … but we don't see him there. Gordon and Dent are lit from overhead, high key, and they've got the dialogue and the action. Batman's in shadow, dressed in black, in front of a blacked-out sky and an underexposed city skyline. He's literally camouflaged, and when he passes right in front of our eyes, we don't even notice he's there.
After a little more of this — camera dollying the whole time — Dent turns to Batman for the first time since Gordon entered the scene. "We need Lau back," he says, introducing the extradition side-plot. Batman delivers his line just as the camera stops dead for the first time since the scene started. (We also get our first cut since the scene started, by the way; this has all been a oner to this point.) Batman says one line, Gordon says something to Dent, Dent replies glibly, they both turn back to continue the conversation … and Batman's gone. Gordon gives us the punchline — "He does that" with a shrug — and we're out of the scene.
That one scene, for me, with its orbiting oner with three characters in it that really only has two characters in it, sums up the sensibility of the whole film. It's not a Batman movie. Batman, the character and the whole ethic, is very much in the background — literally so in this scene. The spotlight — again, literally — is on Dent and Gordon, and their story to take down the mob, and the unintended consequences of the resulting power vacuum.
That's what makes it a great movie. Yes, there are fantastical elements in it, but they're pushed to the background as far as possible (though I wish it'd been farther still; I hate the sonar-bat-fight sequence at the end, and just mentally check out during it). It's a story about ordinary guys trying to do good things in an ugly situation, and the consequences of their actions.
People like to talk about how it's really the Joker's movie, and with a performance like that on screen, come on … how can you not call it the Joker's movie? But the Joker isn't really a character in the film, as I'm sure has been observed about a zillion times. He has no backstory, no motivation, no arc. He's not a person. He's a force of nature. He's the catastrophe in the story; he's Sauron. He exists only to fuck shit up, and he's in the story because we want to watch what the actual human beings in the movie — and Bruce Wayne I guess — do in response to this force of nature. So really it's Harvey and Gordon's story more than anyone else's. Harvey's the hero and Gordon's the sidekick, and we get a tragic ending when the hero dies and the sidekick is left to deliver his eulogy to the audience. Gordon is Benvolio to Harvey's Romeo, and the movie couldn't have been any more Shakespearian if Nolan had had the Mayor of Gotham come out in the last scene to say there never was a story of more woe than this of Harvey…o.
So what have we got, here at the end of all this rambling? We've got a stylish-but-restrained, gritty, nihilistic crime drama with a tragic ending … and the Nolans made this out of a funny-book story about a guy who dresses up as a bat? Seriously? Well done, gentlemen. You started with nothing and created a truly great story, and if you got dragged down in parts by that comic book thing chained to your ankle, well, I certainly couldn't have done any better.
TLDR: Don't like Batman, love Dark Knight cause it doesn't have much Batman in it.
I'm no stranger to shows with unlikable characters. Deadwood is way up near the top of my list of all-time favorites. But I never saw anything in Breaking Bad that made me like any of the characters the way I liked Calamity Jane or Al Swearengen. Or Johnny, or Dan. Or Doc Cochran. Or Trixie. Especially Trixie.
BRB, watching Deadwood a lot.
Am I the only weirdo in the room who just can't get next to Breaking Bad? I gave it a fair shake, watched the whole first season on Netflix and a bit of the second, but I just wasn't hooked. I didn't enjoy the time I was spending with any of those characters.
Rouges are overpowdered.
Friends In Your Head | Forums → Posts by Jeffery Harrell