Friday, 8 July 2016

A Review Of The "DARK KNIGHT" Trilogy [Part 1]: Batman Begins

Starting from a modestly budgeted origin movie, Batman Begins, that reshaped our facile, almost comedic, preconception of the Caped Crusader, to a record-breaking sequel, The Dark Knight, and then to one of the most riveting and acclaimed franchise-closer's, The Dark Knight Rises, the figure of Batman, as imagined by the Nolans, is now something of note: one of the greatest fictional characters penned and inked, and now realized in film. I'm a firm believer that what has been titled The Dark Knight Trilogy (DKT) is the best superhero franchise ever engineered. While the last seems to be hyperbole, I don't believe so. Really, it's only by some blasphemy that the DKT isn't reserved a seat as one of the greatest continuities of the last 10 years (might as well make that 20, 40, 70 years). But, in case the man needeth persuasion, I'd like to make a case by scoping the three individual installments of the DKT, and find that they are given due justice--a well deserved "Because He's Batman!"

Batman Begins

Pain, anxiety and searching are the arcs of this debonair but highly intoxicating film. Everything from what has previously been shot of Batman has been ushered to the door of oblivion. Behold, a re-classed version of something wonderful and violent. Add the grace of a few actors and the genius of a British director to the idea of Bob Kane, plus an advanced musical component, and you have the inception of a great--no, downright redonculous--hero franchise.

Welcome to a prison in Tibet.
     This film decides, from the get-go, that it won't be compared with anything (contrary to what I've done a decent amount of already). So feel free to forget my first paragraph.
     Bruce Wayne, given life by a shredded Christian Bale, steps out into the quieting cold in an introduction to the character that few have appreciated--the privileged inheritor of a ludicrously powerful family brought deep into a life of taking for the sake of knowing his opponent's mind, the criminal mind.
     The day-time coin-flip to Batman, Wayne, struggles to know what it means to be desperate as he has spent nearly seven years in east-Asia as a poor thief. Caught, he passes his time fighting criminals within his captivity until he meets the insightful Henry Ducard, played by Liam Neeson's badassery, who is later discovered to truly be the more devilish and legendary Ra's Al Ghul.
     Trained to fight like a ninja, Ducard teaches his pupil patience, to strike unhesitatingly against those deserving, and that the anger he harbors against his parents' killer is a great asset in fighting injustice. Knowing true justice is distinct from petty retaliation, the ideology of Ra's Al Ghul's League of Shadows turns Wayne away from taking part in their company of vigilante's. He returns to Gotham.
     What can be appreciated about the film, right away, is the world in which we're immersed. From a visual stand-point, everything that is big is great, everything that is small is magnified so that while we are interested in everything we see on screen, the right details come out.
     Atmospherically, realism is the air we breath. From costume design to dialogue to action, the picture is advanced, not whittled down, to the physically comprehensible. This makes sense though not everybody agrees. Some would rather see Batman as the superhuman who vaporizes his foes' strike attempts as per the Arkham games. However, if the heroes and villains we're entertaining are fundamentally human and not magically supercharged, then would the world of Batman not be more Earthly than fantastic? I would think so. Thus, Nolan's rendition seems logical. Throughout the series, the humanness of the Batman universe becomes something to cherish, as opposed to regret.
     A key distinction between the Nolan trilogy and the hazy realm of superhero movies is the involvement of philosophical discussion. Villains that fight 'roided soldiers and telekinetic wizards seem to be just play-mates, or rather school-yard bullies that evoke all the typical messages and bring out all the great qualities you'd hope would be absorbed and exhibited by preteen nerds. They come and go with each passing episode. Here, however, in the universe engineered by Nolan, the villains don't just come to threaten the protagonist. They come to threaten the audience.
     Ra's Al Ghul represents a fear-worthy extreme of fanatic utilitarianism. His concern is the flourishing of humankind (to which we all say "Great!"). His means to achieving this end is to remove the cancer, severe the infected limb, purge the forest grown too wild. Fueled by his own past upset, he channels his anger into revenge and dismantle the system indifferent to evil. It's not just about stopping criminals. It's about stopping the men and women who let criminals be. Apparently, the solution is extermination.
     As we sympathize with Bruce Wayne as he navigates his own upset, we see how much is lost in Ra's Al Ghul's moral framework. While he hopes to achieve an aggregate victory for mankind by removing the stain, he draws upon a number of false assumptions. He trivializes life to a false dichotomy of greedy and strong. The greedy are to be eradicated, while the strong should prosper. He sees himself as immortal (be it bodily or spiritually) and thus seems to boast a godlike command over the truth about human nature. His self-affirming piety is really only a cover-up for his deeper misunderstanding of human value and meaning.
     Batman/Bruce Wayne sees life as equal in each person. Each life is complex in its evil and its beauty and there lives a hope of restoring the formerly corrupted society which makes people worth saving. We clearly see this as the burgeoning motive for Wayne's return to Gotham and his evolution into Batman. There's a salvific presence made by his character which beckons comparisons to Christ (I promise not to promise not to revisit this).
     In a nutshell, the difference in the underpinning for the actions of Wayne and Ra's is that Ra's uses amputation to keep balance while Wayne aims at full human reconciliation and societal restoration. Batman prevails because his insight digs deeper into the truth of human nature and posits intrinsic worth instead of judging people either good or bad, which is a 'bad' in itself.
     Well, to be honest, Batman was just a bit beefier is all.
     In addition to the conflict between Batman and his old mentor, a wealth of characters, familiar and foreign, join the story. A few are worth discussing. Alfred (Michael Caine), Batman's butler, per tradition, is an emotional anchor for the film. He's the father figure in place of Albert Wayne and guides Wayne through many of his personal challenges. Wayne struggles inwardly with guilt over his parents loss, honor, fear (particularly that of loss and failure), personal conviction, hubris and his connection with reality apart from his Batman persona (the implication being his relationship with his budding love interest and life-long friend, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes)). Alfred would step in in timely fashion to assist in Batman's journey through the quiet pain while he achieves notoriety and fame.
     The movie sees few downsides. Evidently, the characters are reinterpreted to fit into Chris Nolan's realistic, cinematic picture and this means jettisoning some of the more surreal if not cartoon-ish elements of existing lore (i.e.: the Lazarus Pit, though that would've been awesome to see nonetheless). Other random remarks include that I think this movie excels the other two movies in two ways. The first is that the movie is paced extremely well and has some of the best character arcs and development. The second, is that Batman's voice is best in this movie. After this, it gets more and more gargly. Still not bad though.      

Friday, 5 February 2016

On Euthanasia: Why I Think It's Wrong And Dangerous

It is (or was) winter in Windsor, Ontario and I’m reminded of the beauty of the cold season, as fleeting as it is in this area of Canada. I love the way the whiteness of snow covers up the tragic pavement of the city and reflects the luminosity of streetlights. I love how one can find an open patch of ice and skate on it (add a puck and a stick and you’ve found bliss). It’s a beautiful season few appreciate, but it is well known as a dead season, a time in the Earth’s cycle where things die and hibernate and growth ceases. Winter is known as a time of sleep and darkness from shorter days. The darkness and deathly reality of this time brings into present thought that it was not too long ago, last winter, on February 6th, 2015, that the Canadian Supreme Court removed its ban on Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) nationwide and so yielded to what’s been termed the culture of death [1][2].
                Next to abortion, euthanasia is arguably the bioethical debate of our time. Its popularity is booming. It’s gaining momentum in the headlines. The topic of assisted dying recently received limelight thanks to the emotional conundrum of one Brittany Maynard in the weeks and months preceding her willed death on November 1st, 2014. Some may even remember Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Fresh fires have since sprung from curious minds with diverse opinions ablaze. I’ve now had to ask myself what my stand is on this issue. Pushed by tall figures, past and present, I’m unable to idly observe.
No matter which religious or philosophical perspective one takes, one should recognize that euthanasia is already taking its toll on lives. Its partial legality in the US, from the Death with Dignity acts in certain states, has led to hundreds of deaths [3]. In 2013 in Belgium, 1800 people died through right-to-die laws (it’s now legal there for terminally ill children and barely restricted to mentally ill adults) [4][5][6]. Over 4000 people opted out in 2013 in the Netherlands alone [7]. The numbers globally, and nearer to home, are stacking. If there is a right or wrong on the matter of euthanasia, it is imperative that today’s culture becomes informed and reformed.

Formation of My Anti-Death Thoughts

I, a Christian, believe in the absolute goodness of God – the Moral Argument and the witness of Biblical scripture testify to this – which leads me to some basic but important conclusions. From the belief in God, I believe that there is an absolute, objective morality which exists independently of human will. I also believe that the Judeo-Christian God exists as the referential standard for this morality. Therefore, God decides the rightness of action, not us. Hence, no matter the emotional pull there is towards any position, pro-life or pro-choice, there is a right position which we do not determine but can accept as truth and act out upon (which would be the loving thing to do). Jesus Christ himself was about love and loving others, but asserted that love is predicated on truth and must, by definition, act from truth. We must, as Christ’s followers, remain attentive to the suffering of others while staying consistent with what is true. This calls for theological assertion with similar diligence as one’s empathetic remorse.
To be clear, no easy response to the issue of euthanasia comes to mind. For the Christian, I feel the best place to start is to remind oneself of the Biblical conception of humanity, truths regarding pain, and accepted doctrine relating to life’s purpose. Following this train of thought, one can then proceed into a more philosophical discussion to appeal to the non-religious audience. Delving into each subject, I believe one will come to the realization, as I have, that euthanasia is absolutely immoral and should be criticized in public forums.
We, Christians, understand that human value, Biblically speaking, is intrinsic. It’s not variable. It’s constant. It’s not dependent on the material summation of the person or the net worth of their assets or the subjective quality of their experience. Human value doesn’t shift with the fluctuation of happiness over the time-measure of life and it doesn’t change with the aggregate merit of the person’s actions. Human value is equated quite simply (and beautifully) with human existence. This is understood when one reads Genesis 1:26-27, Psalm 139:13-14, Matthew 6:25-34, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and Ephesians 2:8-9. If we look over such passages of scripture, we read that we are “made in God’s image” (imago Dei), we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God’s affection for his people is not a conditional one. We matter to Him regardless of circumstance or our behavior. Furthermore, we read a passage like Romans 8 which boasts such powerful clarity in terms of God’s faithfulness to the individual. Paul, the author of this letter, in the text, considers all possible setbacks a person can experience—loss, pain and even death. His conclusion is that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Regardless of these things, hope remains. If we look further into Paul’s teaching, as in his letters to the Philippians and Timothy, he continually exhorts the Church at large as well as the Christian individual to persist in faith through life no matter which battle may arise.
If euthanasia, and PAS by extension, be defined as the killing of a person with motive to end the person’s suffering, then euthanasia is unjustified according to scripture. For suffering is to be expected as a necessary, albeit temporary, aspect of life in today’s age until the return of Christ. Recognizing that pain, from a Christian worldview, does not tarnish the value of the person’s life nor rob them of their purpose, there really can’t be a logically coherent, conscientious scriptural defense of euthanasia.
Now taking another approach to the problem, if we examine the topic from a philosophical perspective, proponents of right-to-die laws, or so-called “Death with Dignity”, are still with questions to answer.
There is foremost the concern over the subjective, relativistic underpinning for pro-euthanasia arguments. Take as an example the argument that a person suffers so much pain that to prolong their life would be undignified; therefore “mercy killing” would be the morally good action. The chronological variant of this argument is that the death of the person is so likely and so near that it would be better to die sooner than to prolong the life in vain, or to at least give this option to the dying person. In response to these statements, I ask, How much pain is required to justify “mercy killing”? What type of pain? At what stage in a person’s life? How imminent and probable must the person’s death be? Questions like these uncover the obvious truth that pain is a spectrum, as is time with respect to death, which makes it quite difficult (rather impossible) to objectively draw a moral line in the sand – How much pain is too much? At what time is suicide appropriate? What it really comes down to is granting people the permission and the means to take their own life, or the life of another, because we want to out of pity. This is called a slippery slope, and the effects of such are already being seen in places like Belgium where people have sought PAS on the basis of depression and mental illness, alone, and not just suffering from physical disease. It’s hard to see what will stop a nation, if they grant PAS to any, from granting PAS to all as a basic human right. It’s then even harder to see right-to-die laws as anything but a Trojan horse erupting from within an army of pathos-injected, bad arguments to the death of many.
Other defenses tend to rely heavily on utilitarian terms. For example, allowing PAS as an option may save on expenses required to futilely keep the patient alive. These types of arguments not only disturb me but only self-evidence the absurdity of utilitarianism as a moral philosophy. Can values of good and evil be reduced to actuarial science or mere economics? Can they be founded purely on a naturalistic worldview? If one worshipped the individual, perhaps, or rather the individual’s happiness. (But what or who made happiness the objective pinnacle of existence?) Sure, one can extrapolate the Happiness Principle to the concept of the collective good by maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering for all, but the problematic questions for the utilitarian persist. To me, the utilitarian defenses convey an entirely shallow if not a vacuous understanding of goodness and can offer no true meaning to the suffering individual other than to rid themselves of the illusion of meaning. If good and evil be a scoreboard hanging over the head of the human race, then it becomes clear that morality is but a sport whose rules are mind-dependent, variable, and ironically incalculable.  
It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, when I say that ‘dignity’, from a secular utilitarian perspective, is a paradoxical and confusing notion. However, it comes up again and again in the debates I’ve seen, heard and participated in (look again at the argument I begin with two paragraphs up). If God isn’t real (or if we simply just remove God from consideration) in the moral conversation, then the conversation becomes subjective. If no objective morality exists, then, it follows that no true definition of good and evil exists. How then do we define dignity? The dictionary defines dignity as worthy of respect and honor, but what is respectable and honorable in an amoral, or subjectively moral, world? So the question of dignity is without answer and the argument from dignity meaningless. The irony of it all is that to argue that dying in suffering is undignified (pro-euthanasia) is to assert that, yes, there is such a thing as dignity which is to assert there is a real moral fabric to our existence. One can only come to this conclusion within a theistic framework and it’s this framework which argues that human dignity is not in a painless existence but in an existence alone.      
With all of this being said, it is still very much important to remember that those who suffer immensely and approach death are not lost in God’s peripheral. Sometimes an argument against euthanasia can seem like dooming the individual to a cold, lonely termination where God just stands by and watches the unfolding, like a Cosmic Sadist (read C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed). The truth is that the experience of suffering is not reducible to abstractions. Where mere theological thought and tangible providence meet is in the Gospel according to the Christian faith. Only in the Gospel can a true remedy for meaninglessness and joylessness be found. If one be a Christian, the effectiveness and love of one’s assertions hinges on whether it all can be brought back to the sufficient provision of Christ in his death and resurrection. To know that a God would suffer for one as absolution for sin, propitiation for God’s wrath is to have a hope that endures pain and death. The Gospel is the knowledge of having life purposefully and eternally.
The reasons for opposing the pro-euthanasia movement seem fairly evident to me. My hope isn’t to bring further pain to those nearing death or having had an experience with euthanasia. The intention of this argument is to convey what I believe to be a relevant truth, unpopular and scarcely considered, that it may prevent further loss of life, meaning and hope.

Declaration On Euthanasia And Assisted Suicide: