Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Dark Knight

I remember sitting in a darkened theatre a few years ago, watching the credits from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers scroll by. I was stunned. I had never before felt such despair at the end of a movie. I thought it was so dark, the darkest movie I had ever seen. I had no idea what was to come.

The Dark Knight is one of the most perfect movies I have ever seen, and, yes, that’s high praise. Only the thump-thump of my screaming bladder warned me that the movie was longer than the norm. I was always interested, always fascinated in what was going on onscreen. Every minute, every shot, was aligned with the themes of the movie.

And the theme of this movie is that even good people, when driven to the edges of their consciousness, can do questionable, unethical things. And in the face of unspeakable evil, will we still identify those things as bad? Is Batman bad because he punches through the boundaries of good taste and, yes, sometimes decency? Let’s just say that, in spite of being surrounded by some of the most ethical people in the world, he comes a little too close to the Joker on the moralistic curve, perhaps because he seeks to protect those people so much. It’s a choice that defines his humanity, tells us so much about this character and what he seeks.

Those moralistic pillars we’re talking about are Alfred, played stably by Michael Caine as his butler and confidante, and Fox, played by Morgan Freeman. But, in addition, to those two stalwarts, we have two more in The Dark Knight: Gordon, our true blue cop, played by Gary Oldman, and newcomer Harvey Dent, the District Attorney of Gotham City, played by Aaron Eckhart.

I won’t give too much away, but as soon as I heard the name “Harvey Dent,” I knew a little of what was in store. I started reading Batman comic books in the late ‘50’s, and Dent’s story was featured in those books. But I had no way of predicting what might come out of the revelation that was sure to come.

I’m leaving the best for last. In fact, Christian Bale’s and Gary Oldman’s performances, which are brilliant, are overshadowed by the performance of Heath Ledger as a Joker we’ve never seen before. This Joker has sort of a Midwestern accent, which makes him ever stranger than the freak we can immediately see. Here evil is not necessarily a polar opposite of "good," but a manifestation of anarchy, someone who doesn’t care about keeping score with something as mundane as money. As Alfred warns Batman, the world contains people who would just like to see the world burn. Ledger takes that concept and magnifies it, scaring us even more with every gesture. Every time the camera is on Ledger, everything comes to a halt, and we watch and listen, trying to make sense of his scheme. His performance is just riveting.

So, at the end of this epic movie, I felt a twinge of despair, just as I did in The Two Towers. But I have great hope for the Batman franchise. This movie has really set the bar impossibly high. And it’s so terribly sad that we will never see this spectacular Joker ever again.

Thumb’s up.

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