Today I watched Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008)
Back in my review for The Crow I talked about how the tragedy of an actor’s death can effect the final product of a film. Before the release of this film Heath Ledger, who plays The Joker, tragically died and it casts a shadow over the film to this day. His interpretation of The Joker was a truly disturbing one that elevates this film and tragically showed Ledger to be a performer with an incredible talent that was, until his final projects, never fully appreciated. His Joker was teased at the end of Begins and here he begins his reign of terror proper, launching a crusade against everything society stands for. Batman has been working with Jim Gordon to track down mob money which has also been The Joker’s initial target, both moving to back the mobsters into a desperate corner. It ends up being the mob’s desperation that enables The Joker to attack his true targets, Batman and district attorney Harvey Dent, who has been fighting crime in the court rooms to unprecedented success. The Joker wants to prove that all idols are false, all heroes are villains, and that everyone is selfish and base deep down, this is a battle for the humanity of Gotham’s citizens.
The Dark Knight really does address most of my problems with the first film in terms of pacing and tone, especially in it’s portrayal of Batman’s techniques and moral ambiguity. It all revolves around Ledger’s Joker though, he is the counter point to the borderline fascist Batman in his chaotic acts of insanity. This Joker pushes Batman to his moral limits and (spoilers) actually makes him cross them. There is a strong theme of the ends justifying the means which is always an interesting topic of discussion I think, The Joker forces Batman to cross lines and become something akin to Big Brother in the finaly and we are left wondering if he went to far. There is some excellent moral conflicts here but I still think it could have gone further. Whenever a villain represents an ideology the piece of art is in some way condemning it, and The Joker as a representative of chaos is also a representative of change and of opposition to the status quo. So in a subtle way this film really condemns all radical action against established order and security, ignoring all the problems that our society is only now confronting through radical action like the Black Lives Matter protests.
This is my main problem with the superhero genre and why I feel I have such a love/hate relationship with it. I think too many people, when they see the classic iconography of Batman or Superman switch their brain from art appreciation and analysis mode to worship mode, two distinctly different things. Frankly I don’t like the worship mode of thinking, I think that’s why Christian rock sucks so much, worship in the modern era and in this secular, cultural application has no introspection or analysis, just black and white, superheroes and super villains. But art is never that simple and neither is this film, yet it seems almost contractually obligated to still put Batman on that pedestal by the end, so for all the introspective and complex scenes, the final note it left me with was one of moral absolutes that may have been challenged but can never be broken for the arbitrary reason that it’s Batman.
Still, those scenes of moral ambiguity and uncertainty really make the movie work despite my negative interpretations of Nolan’s themes. It is at the very least an extremely eloquently put argument that I disagree with and we should all be able to respect that. Though I still prefer films with a more exaggerated sense of style and surrealism. To me Batman just doesn’t fit in a grounded and realistic world like the one Nolan so expertly paints, it’s purely a matter of personal taste of course but I just like a movie that’s a little crazier than this, for despite Ledger’s jaw dropping Joker Performance, this is one of the sanest films I have ever seen, and I just can’t identify with that. Still, it’s a pretty great film nonetheless. 4/5