For the last third of The Dark Knight, I was on the verge of tears, and at the very end, a couple squeaked their way out. Perhaps it's because my emotions have been rawer than usual lately. Perhaps it's because the film has characters I grew to care about, scenes that soaked my heart in adrenaline and sociological themes that range from the unsettling to the horrifying. This movie moves beyond good and evil and enters into our world, which is much more complicated than comic books. This is the first film-with-terrorism-metaphor that our age of terrorism deserves. And it will stop your heart. Ten items for now:
1. Everything you hear about Heath Ledger is true. And we should've expected it. He was the best actor of his generation, and his ability to mash depravity and hilarity into something compulsively watchable is aided and abetted by:
2. The script by the Nolan brothers, Christopher (the director) and Jonathan. It's a beauty, with subplots dovetailing sweetly, with grand ideas rendered in sharp, graceful dialogue. In a movie bursting with ambition on all fronts, perhaps the greatest achievement are its words. How many action films can boast that?
3. It's relentless: both in action and in drama. There is little room to breathe, for better and worse. It is a subtle film, except when it's not. And when it's not, it's over-the-top. But who the fuck cares.
4. The Joker has never made more sense than he does here. In a battle of existential villains, he would drive Anton Chigurh mad. As played by Ledger and as written by the Nolans, the Joker is walking anarchy, cackling sadism, crime for the sake of crime. He is a terrorist without a god to kill for. His actions are beyond random; they are perpetrated not in the name of something but solely for the consequences. And he is capable of understanding (and exploiting) our suppressed desires for this type of anarchy. Ledger makes you root for him, then, inexplicably, makes you feel utterly depraved for doing so.
5. The film does not have much to say about the goodness of humanity. There is an instance that demonstrates the people of Gotham are essentially good, but you won't leave the theater with your faith renewed in humanity. This is a dark movie with complex emotions. Unlike other superhero movies, The Dark Knight is almost redemptionless. It ends on a high -- not because we witness the triumph of the human spirit but because we're shown our world refracted through a damn superhero movie. It's breathtaking.
6. The supporting cast does well. As my friend Tony pointed out, it's tricky to have two villains in one movie, but The Dark Knight deftly handles the introduction of Harvey "Two Face" Dent. Aaron Eckhart spends most of the film as a noble district attorney, and his transition to a grief-stricken madman near the end is believable, for the most part. And there is a logical relationship between Dent, the Joker and Two Face. No contrivances here. And I don't know what I love about Gary Oldman, but it's all here in full view as he transitions from Lieutenant to Commissioner Gordon. Love me some Oldman. He's got this pedestrian dignity about him.
7. The first word out of my mouth, post-screening: "upsetting." The second? "Horrifying."
8. By the end of The Dark Knight, after its 15 or so climaxes, Ledger, Christian Bale and the Nolans have ennobled and redefined one of the great fictional rivalries. It is a small tragedy that this rivalry cannot be continued, even if there is a sequel.
9. Christopher Nolan has yet to make a bad film. He's still batting .1000.
10. My brother, who was a production assistant on the Chicago shoot, is in the credits. Not a bad first film to have one's name attached.