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Text Commentary

Dark Knight surveillance
by Critical Commons Manager `

This montage of scenes from The Dark Knight imagines a city-wide surveillance system created through high-frequency sonar signals captured from millions of cell phones, allowing Batman the power to visualize the locations of criminals throughout the fictional city of Gotham. Wayne Enterprises' Chief of R&D played by Morgan Freeman, expresses his concern about what amounts to unauthorized wiretaps on millions of city residents, stating that it is "too much power for one person." Freeman agrees to use the system just once in the context of the present crisis on condition that it be destroyed afterwards. At the time of the film's release in 2008, this imaginary system of phone-based surveillance resonated eerily with the previous year's real-world revelations that the NSA and Bush Administration had authorized illegal wiretapping of American citizens in the name of the war on terror. The politics of these scenes from The Dark Knight  are therefore ambiguous at best. On one hand, Morgan Freeman's condemnation of the system and its power echoes public outrage over the wiretapping scandal, but the exceptionalist argument he accepts in order to thwart the Joker's terrorist plot plays directly into the hands of those prosecuting the "war on terror" and the justification that the suspension of basic Constitutional rights is warranted when confronted with immediate danger to the public. The film's "ethical" resolution of these contradictions results (unlike the NSA's wiretapping capabilities) in the destruction of the entire surveillance apparatus as soon as the terror threat is neutralized.

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
Dark Knight cell phone surveillance by Christopher Nolan (2008) Batman creates a mobile phone-based surveillance system to visualize the entire city of Gotham