This past weekend, I was chatting with this cool partner of one of Husband’s pals who had just gotten back from Malawi (hello, not the average life experience, unless you’re Madonna) and was commenting how ludricrous it was that “Dark Knight” made $150 million — “You could educate every kid in Malawi for that money!”
Sure, the movie is excellent — excellent writing and excellent acting, which are usually things that get neglected in big commercial pictures (which maybe be why I especially dug it). Across the board, even in the minor characters, people were actually acting instead of calling it in! Yay! (Heath Ledger was amazing, I think even more gifted than Cate Blanchett, whom I dig, but I sort of feel like we’ve already seen everything she can do. As Queen Elizabeth, yes, she rocked, but it felt pretty similar to the fairy queen meltdown moments in the Lord of the Rings stuff. Sorry.) The story line presents, I think, a more ambiguous idea of heroes.
Back to the idea of worth, because there are a lot of companies and people in this world that I do feel make way too much money (The CEO of Halliburton, for example). But when it comes to Malawi versus Dark Knight, I happen to strongly feel Dark Knight deserves every dollar it gets, and I happen to feel this because I think the whole point of art is to present to us a reason why life is worth living. A good story — a story that can absorb you and help you transcend your day to day life by engaging your imagination and your heart — is worth every freaking dollar you give it. I probably feel this way because I am an artist but also because I think happiness is the ultimate goal, and a good story can make you happy.
There have been a lot of economic studies on happinesses (I’ve read a lot of them), and I thought it was a funny thing to measure, but what I found is that the folks who live in the most industrialized countries with the highest standards of living did not rate their quality of life as particularly happy. In fact, the U.S. folks in one study I read rated themselves at the same level of happiness as rural residents in Vietnam. (Scandanavians were happiest for reasons I can explain in another post — among them though, universal health care, yearlong maternity leaves, socialist values, etc. Having good health was a big determinant.) Believe it or not, there was some crazy example of a prostitute in India as rating themselves at a happier level than office workers in Western countries.
Reading those findings opened my eyes to a different interpretation and challenged my assumptions on what someone else’s life might be like and changed my perspective on…I don’t know, the experience of being human. That $150 million is there because Christopher Nolan and his brother sent out a story that balances escapism and an understanding of real life, so that people could enjoy themselves but see something that wasn’t so beyond their own experiences they couldn’t take it seriously at all.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work towards improving the quality of life in third world countries or recommending that we deny that there are living conditions that are appalling in the world that need to change — especially if it makes you happy (thank you, Sheryl Crow) — but maybe fundraisers could do it faster by charging people for something of genuine value that they vitally need, something that helps them forget their troubles for a spell. Bat Man III for Malawai!