If you have been paying attention to movies at all then you surely have seen (at least once) the trailers for The Dark Knight and if you have seen a trailer for it then you almost certainly have seen Heath Ledger as the Joker gurgle and spew the soon to be famous line, “why so serious.”
I think this line is at the heart of the film.
You see, to the Joker, life is a cheap commodity, something to play games with and he will do all he can to take it – simply because he “just wants to see the world burn”. But to our hero, Batman/Bruce Wayne, life is a serious thing, something to celebrate and protect, and he will do all he can to save it. It is upon this powerful juxtaposition that the movie is founded.
This is a film about life. And as such it is also about death, and therefore, the conflict between good and evil. At what cost should we fight for good? What does it mean to fight against evil? What does it mean to be a good person? What does it mean to be a hero? These are the questions The Dark Knight is asking.
That these are questions we as a nation are also asking today is not lost on the thoughtful viewer. The Dark Knight is thoroughly modern movie, not only in the sense that it makes spectacular use of modern technologies (which it certainly does) but in the sense that it addresses the concerns and fears of our current age. We live in an age of fear and this is a film that takes places in a time of fear. You can decide for yourself whether Batman and Co. offer any sort of hope for you or me.
I will be saying as much, and more, in my forthcoming review of the film for Into the Hill.
A few other things I think about The Dark Knight:
– Heath Ledger is absolutely stunning as the Joker. Each line he delivers is terrifying and yet, somehow, meaningful. This is one of the great portrayals of a villain on screen. I think he even outdoes Anthony Hopkins legendary turn as Hannibal Lecter.
– Gary Oldman is magnificent. As always. His performance is much more subtle than Ledgers, or even Christian Bale’s, but is similarly excellent. In his own quiet way he steals the show in every scene that he is in. To use a sports analogy, if Ledger is the power hitter on the baseball team, then Oldman is that middle infielder who never makes mistakes and gets the hits when the team must have one.
– Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are wonderful, as they were in Batman Begins. Both characters play pivotal parts in making the story as powerful as it is. I love how much Freeman can express without uttering a single syllable. Nobody says more with a single look, especially a smile, as he.
– Aaron Eckhart. Wow. This is a performance that didn’t come with the hype that Ledger’s did, but is stunning as well. If ever there were concerns that he would always be relegated to the comedy roles… well, I say, doubt his ability no more! His performance as Harvery Dent, man of the law, champion of Justice and Democracy, and lover of Rachel Dawes is truly fantastic.
– Bale is fine as Wayne/Batman, but he is clearly overshadowed by the more elusive and combative turns of Ledger and Eckhart. He is more sullen and stoic and has less soul then in the previous films. Sometimes I wondered if he was performing while sleeping. Of course, he has become such a supremely accomplished actor that when he is simply solid we are disappointed. That is a little bit unfair, I suppose.
– I want Batman’s motorcycle. Except I wouldn’t know what to do with it once I got it.
– There is nothing like a midnight showing of an highly anticipated film in a packed theater of people who all react in the same way, at the same times to certain moments in the film. Movie-going is such a communal experience, I think. Despite the fact that there is little to no communication (you would hope anyway) between the participants, there is something truly amazing about experiencing a piece of art with a group of other people. I had an English professor who talked about how that “virgin experience” with a book was the best – well, I think the same is true of a “virgin experience” with a powerful film. I love to hear the oooh’s and ahhh’s and gasps and grimaces and chuckles and, yes, even the silly, abominable clapping when the credits roll.
– I am going to miss Heath Ledger. I would have loved to see what he would have done with his considerable talents.
– Do not take your kids to this movie. It is absolutely, without a doubt, an adult movie.
– The screenplay is great. Christopher and Jonathon Nolan have crafted a precise, crisp, profound, and powerful piece of screenwriting. It says what it wants to say without forcing itself upon the viewer, and all the while allowing the actors to reinterpret and work with it.