23 July 2008

Film: "The Dark Knight"

The Dark Knight
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Story by Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer
Screenplay by Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman
Theatrical Release Date: 18 July 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Intense Sequences of Violence and Some Menace)
Cinescope Personality Types: Chosen Adventurer

Since the birth of superheroes in 1938 with the arrival of Superman in Action Comics #1, the idea has always been to create visually appealing characters and put them in action-oriented (and interesting) situations.  The stories and characters involved in Batman stories for nearly seventy years have created a legitimate mythology, and The Dark Knight greatly succeeds in honoring the mythology that birthed it, while also contributing.

Symbols are important in mythology, and the entirety of Batman's mythos is built around them.  Batman has long been depicted as the symbol of justice; often compatible with law, but not always.  The Joker, meanwhile, has been Batman's antithesis, favoring absolute anarchy.  In Christopher Nolan's film, The Joker (Heath Ledger*) has no backstory, or at least not one backstory.  In fact, spinning various "origin stories" for various people has become a hallmark of The Joker in the mythology over the years.  No; where he came from really doesn't matter.  What does matter is what the people of Gotham City do with him now that he's here.
Addressing Batman, The Joker notes that the mob hired him thinking that he would set back the clock to before the Dark Knight came on the scene.  An insight he failed to share with his employers, though, is that there is no going back.  "You've changed things...forever," he confides.  Is this an allegory for September 11?  Many radical Islamic militants believe that if they can force the United States to withdraw its presence in their part of the world, then their daily life can become what they imagine it to have been for their ancestors.  One imagines Osama bin Laden leaving a meeting of radical Islamists with their money, laughing to himself that they believed it possible to undo the presence of the western world.
The Dark Knight is chock full of scenes of what can best be described as terror; there is a depravity to this Joker that will likely stun audiences not familiar with the Joker of the comic books.  Countering this horror is the parallel story concerning the rise of District Attorney Harvey Dent.  His symbolic value to the people of Gotham City is weighed often by Batman and Lt. Jim Gordon.  Bruce Wayne becomes convinced that, with a man like Dent putting his name and face out there for all to see while simultaneously prosecuting Gotham's criminal element to the fullest extent of the law, that he might not need to continue his crusade as Batman.  It's the same thought process behind asking the Iraqis to take control of their own country; if they do it successfully, then we can completely withdraw.
Perhaps such real-world situations were not even on the minds of Christopher Nolan, David Goyer and Jonathan Nolan as they crafted the story and screenplay of The Dark Knight.  Perhaps it's meant to simply be a fun action film with as strong a villain as they thought they could get away with (and still earn a PG-13 rating).  The characters, though, and their symbolic meanings, lend themselves quite well to leaving the cinema with us as we walk around our own Gotham City, realizing that we can never go back to what things were like before the arrival of Batman--or The Joker.
*For months, all anyone has wanted to say about The Dark Knight has been about Heath Ledger.  There is certainly some bandwagon glorification of the actor; had he died after making, a movie without the association to something like Batman, one wonders how many cinematic gawkers would have just stayed home.  Still, there can be no dismissing the performance that he turned in as The Joker.  His Joker can terrify you, and make you feel bad for laughing at some of the things he says and does.  In short, a truly great performance, even after deducting points for nearly alienating hype.

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