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Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Dark Knight, Take 1

By Luke

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS

Regardless of whether anyone likes or dislikes The Dark Knight, it is inarguably the first "comic book movie" that really exceeds that categorization....you never feel like you're watching a superhero movie. That wasn't true with Batman Begins, and I think what's so arresting about this movie is even though everyone knew Christopher Nolan wanted to make this one darker, and everyone knew Heath Ledger had gone a little crazy playing the Joker, I don't think anyone was expecting this. This movie is going to be a huge box office hit, and it's going to be incredible because millions of viewers are going to be forced to reckon with something more than what they bargained for.

While I was watching, I couldn't help but wonder if No Country for Old Men stole a little bit of The Dark Knight's thunder. Both movies go to great lengths to keep you as in the dark as possible about their serial killers' motives. What's so creepy about Anton Chigurh and the Joker is they both seem unstoppable...the audience isn't given any explanation or weakness to make the killer seems vulnerable. The Joker also shares Anton's mythical quality. There were many times during the movie where I thought Batman and the Joker's gadgetry and ability to think six moves ahead was getting a little ridiculous...but I think that's sort of the point. "Batman" isn't human (although Bruce Wayne is) and "the Joker" doesn't really seem human either. They're Gotham's cultural composites, they represent the different forces at work within that society. This is why the Joker can tell different stories about how he got his scars, and still tell Harvey Dent later that he never lies...in a way, they're probably all true.
Another significant comparison is just like we don't see Josh Brolin's character die in No Country, we're denied the big payoff with the Joker. I assume that when he's hanging upside down in front of the SWAT team, he is about to be killed. But Nolan cuts to a different scene before we actually see him dead. I think this could serve two purposes: the first is it reinforces the idea that the Joker can't really be killed ("his spirit will live on"). The second purpose is it catches us when we're bloodthirsty, it denies us our desire for the kind of "justice" Two-Face seeks out. When we don't see the Joker killed, we're disappointed, because like the Joker says we assume that's "all a part of the plan."
I didn't "love" the movie, I don't know if it's a movie you can love. It can't help but stagger under its own weight when it has so many things going on. I don't think Harvey Dent is ever really fleshed out in this movie (why was he called Two-Face?...and the Joker could not have assumed that Dent would turn bad at the end, I still don't relieve believe it), and Rachel seems like a completely different person in this one (not just because it's a different actress) which makes it harder to buy the chemistry between her and Bruce (multiple people said they were glad she was dead after the screening I went to). The fact that Gordon basically has to spell out how the Joker "won" at the end shows how deeply the movie has twisted itself inside its own logic. Heath Ledger is the glue that keeps it all together, the way he staggers in and out of focus, it seemed like even the cameraman didn't know what he was going to do next. And most of all I appreciate that Nolan and Co. didn't just make the sequel a continuation of the first movie in plot or tone, and tried for something greater instead.

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