Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight. Just the name itself is ridiculously cool, even if you've never read the Frank Miller graphic novel. It is fitting (and thankfully not ironically tragic) that the movie bearing the same name does not suck, but is in fact one of the best movie's I've seen in a long time.

I'm a pretty big movie fan, and when it comes to the comic-book hero genre of films my standards are pretty low and easily pleased. Perhaps that is why more often than not I am "pleasantly surprised" when at the comic book movies. But the Dark Knight, like it's predecessor Batman Begins, takes the genre to a whole new level. A few thoughts on this impressive film. By the by, the NYT's review is actually pretty good, although it is filled with art-house fancy-shmacy words that I really don't know the meaning of (which is saying something).

First, if you are my age, you will remember the hullabaloo surrounding Tim Burton's 1989 take on the franchise, which probably should have more appropriately been titled "Joker", since the film was really more about Jack Nicholson and his dermatologically bleached character. Batman was really an after-thought. But, while Heath Ledger's performance is undoubtedly riveting and repulsively engrossing, Batman/Bruce Wayne still weighs in heavily. And what really makes the film is how it wrestles with the questions surrounding human nature. Bruce Wayne's inner battle to actually no longer have to be the dark knight (i.e. the anti-hero) is fantastic. His hopes are in Harvey Dent, an ordinary citizen who will fight for justice. In a world with people like Harvey, maybe we won't need a Batman after all.

I can't help but think of Nietzsche at this point. In a world of 'good' people, who needs a savior. Who needs God, except to relegate him to 'a god' for our own petty self-gratifying needs. Thus the danger of Wayne's struggle. When good people stand up for justice he will no longer need to walk the precarious line as dark hero to save the city. After the Joker's little 'social experiment' with the ferry boats doesn't work, Batman claims that people aren't all evil and can tap into good (thus they didn't destroy the other boats). But the tables turn again because Harvey Dent goes nuts and Bruce has to take the fall as the dark hero and remain Batman. Ironically, Harvey was the one on whom all his hopes were placed. So much for that anthropology.

On the other hand, the Joker says of ordinary, 'good' people, "When the chips are on the table, normal people will eat each other." How true. The diagnosis of the monster within, which only has a very thin veneer of civility indeed, is given by the film's true monster. The only thing that breaks the cycle is sacrifice (a very Christian idea). And that is, amazingly, what we see in the film. The huge prisoner (played by "tiny" lester) tells the warden that he will take the blame for blowing up innocent civilians. You want to kill, but you've never seen someone die. I'll do it, he says. And when he gets the detonator, he throws it out the window, sits down, and bows his head with a few other inmates who gather, with bowed heads, around him. Now, while this character does not offer his own life in a sacrificial manner, in a real sense he does become the scapegoat, taking the iniquity of all the 'good' people (who are vehemently eager to blow up other people, incidentally) upon himself. Hands down favorite scene.

One last thought for you all to respond to. Check out this article published last week in The Wall Street Journal. It's created quite a stir in the blogosphere, and understandably so. Let me just say that the author's point is so valid it's hard to dispute, but his interpretation of fantasy as the means of the conservative branch of Hollywood is based on allegory (Batman = George Bush), which is actually the wrong way to interpret fantasy as a genre, including comic book based films. Discuss...


Seth said...

I thought this movie was incredible and is a must see for anyone that is interested in classic good versus evil story.

A major theme of the movie was the Joker’s desire to corrupt and debase others, and clearly he can be interpreted as a satanic figure. The Joker’s corruption “tool” was generally fear, and in particular fear of death, but also anger and resentment. The Joker’s biggest prize was the corruption of Harvey Dent, Gotham’s “White Knight”, heir apparent to Batman, and, as described in the movie, someone who represented “the best of us”. How like Satan to target those we hold up as symbols of paragon and virtue.

In contrast to both the Joker and Dent is Batman. If the Joker is a satanic figure, Batman can be seen as a Christ figure. Batman again and again maintains his faith in the goodness of people of Gotham (this is powerfully demonstrated in the ferry “social experiment” scene). Further, Batman is willing to be hunted, hated and vilified by the people he is trying to protect. What an amazing demonstration of love!

DZ said...

great post Ben! and thanks for the heads-up about your blog - it's fantastic.

Chris said...

Solid post Ben.

Dent is "the hero we want" because he hold out hope that we can make ourselves better and work out our own redemption. Batman is "the hero we deserve" because his message was offensive to those who wanted to save themselves and he ultimately became sin for the city of Gotham.

It's amazing to see the Gospel in places you don't expect.

One place was BSG:

Maria Carey... not so sure

Sean Norris said...


Love the post! Love the movie! Love you...I mean...

Very cool blog my friend.