The Dark Knight obliterated movie theaters this weekend with an astounding and record breaking opening. If you haven’t seen it, yet, you really owe it to yourself to get out to a showing immediately. John went to see it opening night, and here’s his review, including spoilers.
The Dark Knight
CAST: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, and Eric Roberts
Written by: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
SYNOPSIS: One year after the events in “Batman Begins,” we find that criminals and mobsters are running scared from the sight of a bat shaped light in the sky. Batman (Christian Bale), teamed with Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the new DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), is about to bring down the hammer on organized crime in Gotham. But when the mobsters are desperate, they find themselves turning to a sadistic anarchist to rid themselves of their bat problem. This anarchist is The Joker (Heath Ledger), a madman who thrives not on money or power but on chaos.
ANALYSIS: After years of enjoying the Batman mythos in all its forms, I always thought I had it pegged as to what it was meant to be. After seeing what Nolan and company have accomplished I realize now that Batman was never meant to be a superhero in the conventional sense. After this film, to call him a superhero would be an insult. Superheroes have a tendency to be a bit too flashy and glamourous. This misconception tended to litter the earlier film adaptations (especially in the Schumacher films), and as a result cheapened the impact Batman was always meant to have. In Nolan’s take, he never strays far from the idea that Batman’s endeavors are never meant to be glamourous; they are meant to “inspire people from apathy,” as Bruce Wayne declared in the previous film. The purpose of this is to provoke ordinary people to stand up and have the courage to fight back. In the beginning of this film we see that it is working, but not to the extent he desires. In his efforts to bust up a drug sting, he is greeted by a bunch of gun toting vigilantes wearing his mask. Batman knows that this is not what he intended. He knows that to make the final statement it would have to come from an ordinary man.
In this respect, that’s where Harvey Dent serves the story. He is meant to be a paragon of hope and of virtue, a man who will stare down crime and corruption. In doing so, he was meant to inspire ordinary people to fight back corruption by the methods that have always been laid down and to show them that their own brand of justice is more than sufficient. They just needed the inspiration to serve it. So when Harvey is inevitably mutilated into Two-Face it’s terrifying to see that even a man like Dent could be pushed over the edge and have his principles so easily cast to the winds with a simple flip of the coin. Eckhart conveys this character transition with such precision that you naturally feel fear for Two-Face, but there’s an even greater feeling of woe buried beneath. This is what you’re supposed to feel with Two-Face. He was always meant to be a tragic character. He is a living, breathing example of how easy it can be for true justice to be corrupted. As his story transpires, his words, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” echo with startling clarity.
What’s more shocking about Two-Face is what (or more accurately WHO) pushes him down this road–the Joker (Heath Ledger). If there were any other villain I would put on the same plateau as Hannibal Lecter it would definitely be the Joker, especially now. The problem with previous incarnations of the character is that we had no problem laughing with him easily, because we weren’t taking him seriously. I know that’s ironic, but it’s true. We seem to keep forgetting that he is a sick, depraved, psychopath, who is not bound by the rules of man. He is meant to be the poster boy for the only true freedom that comes from chaos. You look at the Joker and you see the horrible things he does, and you are meant to wince as he laughs maniacally after murdering his own men. Finally you see that the Joker only jokes to amuse himself, because it was clear that he enjoys his freedom way too much. It was a master stroke never to show us his origin, because much like how Batman wanted to be a symbol for justice, the Joker, is a symbol for what he stands for. Only for him we are on the recieving end. After all, the Joker is a bona fide monster. Only a monster could do what he does. To give him a secret identity would rein him down and put him on the ground with the rest of us and that is wrong. The Joker demands that we fear him, and we fear the things we don’t know. So if we knew his real name, his real story, we would only see him as a man, and that would ruin the impact. Ledger’s conviction that he devotes to this character and to this performance is clear from minute one. It’s clear that he understood that to play a character like this he would have to go beyond the conventions of traditional acting methods, because adhering to them would hold back the extent of what he was trying to accomplish. I feel this is the greatest swan song I’ve seen from any actor since Peter Finch rocked us all by declaring that he’s mad as hell and he was not gonna take it any more. There’s already early posthumous Oscar buzz surrounding Ledger’s performance, and I will say to deny a nomination would be an insult to Ledger’s efforts, and everything acting is.
I also must make a mention of all the other players in between. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman all play their roles with incredible gusto and equal amounts of conviction as Bale, Ledger, and Eckhart. Plus Maggie Gyllenhaal makes for a welcome change from Katie Holmes, mainly because she made us understand why both Wayne and Dent love her, and it’s all the more heart-breaking when we see what happens to her. The purpose that all these characters serve is to remind us of the things we fight for, and for us to see that there are hard decisions to be made and nine times out of ten there will be consequences that are both undesired and necessary.
This all leads to the essential conclusion that this film is more than just comic book movie. This is by no means a poporn, action extravaganza, meant to entertain. This is a sublime, psychological, nerve-wracking, and even mortifying film about the fine lines between pure justice and pure chaos, along with the casualties who get caught in the cross fire. Christopher Nolan is a very special director. I knew it from the beginning ever since “Memento.” He and his brother / co-writer Jonathan are clearly inclined to make films which are more about the things that motivate people and the impact of the things that they do. Applying this to Batman, the Nolans have now raised the bar so impossibly high for other comic book films that if the studios decided to retire the genre it would be going out with a bang.
Final Grade: A+ With Honors