Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight (SPOILERS)

So much more than what you expect from even a good great superhero movie (i.e., X-Men 2, Iron Man), Christopher Nolan's tremendous Dark Knight mixes and matches the conventions of several genres--superhero, action/adventure, thriller, crime drama--to fuel an exploration of the fear and chaos of urban life in the post-9/11 period... with, y'know, tights & capes. I'm not sure how surprising it should be that the two go together so well. I mean, does Osama bin Laden resemble anything so much as a stock supervillain?

Hard to pick a favorite moment, but if I had to it would probably be the ferry sequence. The Joker has put explosives on 2 ferries evacuating Gotham City -- one packed with commuters, the other with mob prisoners taken earlier in the film. Joker has the detonators for each delivered to the captain of the other ship, and he puts it to them: if one of you decides to push the detonator, blowing up the other, the remaining ferry goes free. At midnight, he will detonate both.

We sweat bullets with the passengers as democracy fails them. Votes taken on each ferry come down on the side of saving themselves at the expense of the others. At one minute to midnight, a very large, very scary prisoner gets up and tells his jailer to give him the detonator so he can do "what you should have done 10 minutes ago."

He could even say the prisoner attacked him. He doesn't have to admit he gave it up willingly.

This is the true climactic moment of the film, a film in which the city itself is the most important character. Gotham has already endured so much by this point. You know that if either boat turns on the other, the entire city will erupt irrevocably into chaos... The pretense of civilized society will fall by the wayside. (You can see where the comparisons to Scorsese and especially to Michael Mann's Heat are coming from.)

So the jailer turns the detonator over -- and the prisoner throws it right out the window. It's the single ray of hope in the whole film -- and it packs quite a wallop. Gotham chooses life -- though just barely. Fitting that an imprisoned gangster -- one of those Batman declared war on in the last film -- ends up being the one to put his finger in the dam.

We realize, and so does Wayne, that there's a larger threat to the city than organized crime: disorganized crime. Terrorism... The whirlwind personified by the Joker. Batman has met the enemy... and it's him. In his attempt to save the city, Wayne has unwittingly infected it with his own compulsion. Civilization in Gotham still hangs by a thread at the end of The Dark Knight, and now the outbreak of costumed vigilantism (predicted by Gordon at the end of Begins) is upon them. If even Harvey Dent, the best of them, is susceptible, then who is immune? An epidemic is on the horizon.

This is why Batman convinces Gordon to brand him an outlaw, and why Gordon reluctantly agrees: Batman may be Gotham's last, best chance, but he's also part of the problem. Alfred summed it up nicely: "It was always going to get worse before it got better." Not for the first time, Alfred seems to have Batman's crusade better thought out than Wayne himself.

And finally a note on the superb cast: overshadowed by all the--well-deserved--adulation for Ledger is the performance of Aaron Eckhart. Ledger will certainly get a posthumous Oscar for his Joker, but Eckhart at least deserves a nomination for his absolutely perfect Harvey Dent.

Cillian Murphy's cameo at the start was also much-appreciated. Too bad he didn't have more to do. Maybe he'll have a larger role next time -- I'm sure Bruce will need a good shrink after all this.

And, clearly, a new love interest. Bring on Catwoman! (And the Riddler?)

2 Comments:

Blogger Mark G. said...

"Eckhart at least deserves a nomination for his absolutely perfect Harvey Dent."

I agree. I went to see this movie over the weekend and knew nothing about it going in. I had no idea Dent would be featured and it seemed like it revolved around Dent more than the Joker.

7/27/08, 10:31 PM  
Blogger Ysabella said...

The Dark Knight costumes are those that I want to collect if possible. However, I doubt that I'll be able to do so. It's very costly!

8/19/12, 6:56 AM  

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