I’m with everybody who says that the film’s parallels to current events exist as a rejection of what Bush stands for.
The WSJ editorial, after namechecking a few popular moral values, segues swiftly into breathlessly demanding their abandonment. As several people before me have noted, this is “destroy the village in order to save it” logic, not to mention the ugly perspective that defenders of good must be blessed with the bounty of evil. (Anybody remember that “People are sheep, terrorists are wolves, Real Men are BAD ASS DAWGS” crap reposted in P&R a few months ago?)
Batman, by contrast, refuses to abandon his principles. The closest he comes in the Nolan movies is in Begins, where he deliberately allows Ra’s al Ghul to die in a train crash. (Also, he blows up that monastery, but that’s partly an accident and it’s never narratively treated as murder.) Dark Knight underlines this in several scenes, most notably the end of the Slaughter chase, where he crashes his motorcycle to avoid killing the Joker.
Some dubious measures are adopted, but their effectiveness is very much in question. The issue of torture’s already been excellently covered in this thread. The sonar is of extremely limited use and there is a tacit agreement between Fox and Batman that it must be destroyed (which they follow through on). (I wonder if the next film will see the Riddler or somebody tapping into that cell phone sonar network.) And notice what it reveals: that the apparent threats the police are planning to kill are in fact innocent.
Batman has always been ready to doubt his own legitimacy and accept blame. He’s an introspective guy and he doesn’t take his power for granted. His image as a wealthy idiot is one that he carefully constructed and uses for the common good. (Remember that scene in Begins where he evacuates Wayne Manor by pretending to be drunk and hostile?) Batman doesn’t abuse his influence as Batman to make Bruce Wayne richer. Instead, he dumps Bruce Wayne’s money into his vast and personally demanding public works project.
There is one aspect of the film that I felt demonstrated anti-Bush sentiment above all, an aspect that negative reviews – especially those that complain about the film’s “hopelessness” – don’t mention (with one exception where it is briefly dismissed as a cheap trick): the ferryboat scene. For me, everything after the ferryboats was dénouement.
What happens on those ferries? Two large groups of people, presented with the opportunity to kill each other for their own safety, choose not to. Blowing up random people for an illusory security is pretty much the story of the Iraq War. The public rejects the false choice intended to provoke them and neither boat pulls the trigger on the other. In both cases, the decision comes down to an individual who unambiguously refuses to kill.
It would have been too heavy-handed for the commuter who can’t bring himself to twist the detonator’s key to have said “Harvey Dent would put us all on trial for this,” or for the convict who throws his boat’s device overboard to have said “Batman never kills people,” but that subtext is there in the way the major characters talk about leading by example. This situation’s resolution demonstrates that Batman really is winning, that preserving the memory of Harvey Dent (as they do in the finale) is worth something, and that there damn well IS hope. People were behavin’ like they ought to: good.
This is not enough for conservatives, who reach the end of the film still waiting for the kind of heroics they are accustomed to – paladin heroics, the glorious murderer designating and destroying victims. If Dark Knight had been pro-Bush, it would have returned to the “blighted neighborhood” theme of Batman Begins and the Narrows, and the happy ending would involve the neighborhood’s catastrophic annihilation, the better to be rid of all those bad people. Then they’d deliver an electric chair to Arkham and get busy killing the mentally ill. Batman would give his sonar to the police and Jim Gordon would hunt weed smokers with it.
If that bullshit is hope, then yes, Dark Knight is a hopeless movie. If only we lived in such a hopeless world.
Edit: And as for 300, America is Persia. Fucking duh.