Tuesday, July 22, 2008
The Dark Knight's Dark Night of the Soul
Somewhere along the way, Comic Books became serious, and started calling themselves Graphic Novels. This was well after my senior high years when I stopped reading them for the most part, except on summer vacation. For those of us who grew up with the early DC and Marvel Comics, and then the high camp, low evil Batman TV show starring Adam West, the recent twist in the tale of Batman, starting with 'Batman Begins', and accelerating in 'The Dark Knight' takes some mental adjustment, not to mention a paradigm shift. This movie is sort of Batman meets Greek tragedy, and it is played with all the seriousness of Greek tragedy as well Indeed, this movie brings in the heavy hitters--- Morgan Freeman, and (once more) Michael Caine, and Gary Oldman (Lt. Gordon never was this serious and smart before), Aaron Eckhart and of course Christian Bale and the late lamented Heath Ledger. Once you see this performance of Ledger's you will not only think it is Oscar worthy, you will wonder if playing this demonic role pushed Ledger over the edge. In this movie you get to look directly into the heart of darkness, and the one in whom that heart beats is the Joker. Ledger plays the Joker as sadistic, whilst Jack Nicholson played him more as sarcastic and just a tad too mean. Ledger's portrayal blows away Nicholson's, and is in a whole nother league. Nicholson's Joker actually had friends, Ledger's only has fiends.
One of the problems in doing a movie like this, where we have the titantic struggle between good and evil, is that it is so much easier for fallen human beings to play evil well, than to play good without appearing sappy, maudlin, 'too good to be real', and other epithets. Yet Christian Bale does a good job of being good, without pretending to be letter perfect. The Batman, as he is frequently dubbed in this movie, is alone in this film, not having his trusty side kick Robin, but thank goodness Alfred and Lucius Fox (the sort of CEO of Wayne Enterprises) are there to help. And as it turns out, he needs all the help he can get, because the Joker is not joking around. Indeed, he seems to be able to do 10 hard things before breakfast including making the Chicago mob do his bidding.
So what should we think of this 2 hour and 30 minute attempt at an epic? First of all, this is not the filming of a comic book, and it is not played like a comic book. Erase that image from your minds and by no means go to this movie if you are looking for a family film that is light popcorn type entertainment--- another bit of summer lint to add to the American navel whilst lying on a beach. Indeed, I would definitely NOT recommend you take any young children to this movie. One mother in front of me had a small child with her who ended up howling and having to be removed. This movie is not for the young, the squeamish, or the faint of heart. It has graphic images worthy of a 'graphic' novel. It also is mostly dark, since bats come out at night, as does evil.
The movie is immaculately filmed, though it could have stood to be a bit shorter, and some of the lines could have been delivered a little more slowly to allow them to sink in. There is in addition the stretching of credulity to the breaking point at various junctures (how exactly had the Joker managed to wire both a whole hospital and all the ferries in Chicago for explosion without anyone noticing anyway, and how exactly did he manage to extricate himself from that Chicago jail cell?). Batman is not played in this movie as an anti-hero, but like Hancock, one could say he is a reluctant hero, who would rather have a normal life instead engaging in daring do. Yet he does have an ethical geiger counter, unlike the Joker who is not motivated by either love or money or any sort of twisted Mafia-like principles. He is the kind of person who simply likes to watch the world burn, by his own hands, as Lucius Fox warns Batman. It is hard to catch or trap someone who has no normal vulnerabilities or predictabilities.
I must say that on the whole this movie has more Oscar potential than any other drama from the summer season, but I liked Ironman better as a movie. It had more redeeming qualities, and was not unrelentingly dark, and the dialogue was better as well.
But this movie has gravity, a very specific gravity, and it forces one to face the heart of darkness, and realize that evil is not just being 'not nice'-- it is depravity, it is the destruction of all that is good and true and beautiful, and even a small measure of good is better than none in a fallen world. In the battle between good and evil, this movie insists, we must take sides, but beware when your heroes have not merely feet of clay, but wear gravity boots as well. That brings the subject matter right back down to earth, for only God is truly and inherently good.