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Two ferries: 'The Dark Knight' and post-election America

featured guest column

Since Christopher Nolan’s reimagined comic book epic released on DVD in December 2008, I’ve viewed The Dark Knight a few times a month without ever second guessing its timelessness. It really complemented anything, like a late-night snack or a rough day at work. (I’m a high school teacher and so I like to think of myself surviving Gotham like the Caped Crusader himself). From Heath Ledger’s Academy Award winning performance, to Hans Zimmer’s harmonic capturing of the dark, gritty heroic tale, the film’s themes of disillusionment, self-sacrifice and love play through regardless of the time it’s being viewed. Like any film, however, I began noting the politically charged commentary hidden in its cracks after all those viewings, and I’ve come to realize that one of its most iconic scenes happens to be playing out in America today.

After forcing the people of Gotham into a public panic, The Joker uses an interesting social experiment to pit its citizens against each other. To evacuate the mass exodus caused by his public threat, Gotham law enforcement board two groups of people onto two different ferries: one group is of your average Gothamite, and the other are prisoners and additional lawbreakers. What both parties don’t know is that The Joker has rigged their ferries to blow, but will spare the one group that detonates the other ferry first, as he’s placed explosives and detonators in both. The ships have no means of communicating with one another and have been forcibly powered down far from harbor. As the clock ticks closer to the deadline prescribed by the madman, events unfold and an interesting narrative develops that ultimately ends in The Joker looking on helplessly at his failed experiment.

The women and men on both ferries do what you expect—they cast their votes and tally up the numbers, but in the end, give way to a seemingly predisposed sense of humanity. While not immediately life threatening, post-election America has sort of developed into this two ferry dilemma, where both parties, sure as ever of the other’s ill intent, grapple with the idea of striking first or not. While many on board both “parties” speak out vehemently and passionately, the question remains whether to trust those who voted for a mouthpiece for the Russians, or listen to those who backed a candidate they thought rife with scandal.

Post-election America continues to see a divide where, much like the film’s scene, little to no communication is established and the only means of justifying our arguments are the flimsy perceptions we hold true of the “other side”. Political preference and ideology overrule whatever issues truly affect both parties, like economic inequity and education. Being pit in opposition of your neighbor prevents you from seeing the widening trends in income inequality or that the United States still spends more on education than most developed nations, but still trail in rankings based on test scores. With every new tweet, our personal views gain newfound fervor, and we begin again the talk of who is going to strike first, without at once recognizing both parties’ common ground. We are in this together, whether we like it or not, whether we wore pink pussyhats or red caps, we are both in a positon that require collective thinking to survive.

The Dark Knight’s ferry scene highlighted our innate opposition to unfounded violence, but what it did most was change focus from the Joker, who was on neither ferry, to the people on board, the everywoman and man who recognized that they were still in one piece, still breathing, still counting the same minutes as those across the way. If there was a lesson to be had post-election night in America it would be to trust that we are in fact all in the same ferry, the same boat. To trust that we are all, inexorably, in this together now.

Jamal Michel is a featured guest columnist. He is a Duke graduate and high school English teacher in Durham.

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