Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Dark Knight is damn dark

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.

7 comments:

Tony said...

"He is a terrorist without a god to kill for." There couldn't be a more perfect 10-word-or-less description of this Joker.

In my own feeble attempt to describe my experience at the theater, I wrote to a friend, "Intense, emotionally taxing, terrifying, and brilliant. It successfully delves deeper into human nature, society, and present day circumstances than any movie I've seen in a long time. Ledger's Joker is now atop my list of all time favorite villains, and his performance further amplifies the tragedy of his death."

Thank you for being more articulate and expressing many of the feelings that have been rattling around my head and in my gut since the credits first rolled.

The Fat Lady Sings said...

I really loved Ledger's performance in 'Brokeback Mountain'. Not many actors would have played the under emotions. Most go for showy. Don't get me wrong - showy's fun. That's how Jack Nicholson won his ‘Joker’ Oscar. His “Wait till they get a load 'a' me” was met with anticipatory laughter in the theatre. It was Grand Guignol - Goth acting at it's finest (and I mean that in true Gothic terms). From an actor’s point of view (how I began my theatre career) – it’s fun to chew the scenery (on occasion). But the Nathan Lane school of acting only goes so far when it comes to slaying those emotional demons. Acting found me before the environment I grew up in permanently fractured my personality – a fact for which I am forever grateful. So I purposefully sought out darker roles (when I wasn’t kicking up my heels dancing my ass off in whatever musical I could manage to get cast in). Singing “I like to be in America” was a hoot (and the dancing a physical high) – but it was Ibsen, Rattigan and O’Neil who saved my psychological ass.

When I began directing and teaching, I would always ask my actor’s one question: Did the work make them crazy, or keep them sane? It kept me sane, you see. I would always hesitate to hire an actor who said it made them crazy. You were flirting with chaos. Still – the crazy ones often provided the most moving and powerful of performances. I just felt bad adding to their already heavy emotional burden. You don’t let go of some roles all that easily, you know. There were one or two that kept me awake at night. I’d gone a bit too deep, perhaps. They triggered suppressed memories. Still – I was able to work through whatever’d been uncovered – so the work still kept me sane (or as sane as any actor is or can be). I suspect, however that Ledger would have answered my question somewhat differently than did I. What a pity his demons may have got him in the end.

Thanks for the substantive review. I’m looking forward to seeing the film.

elgringo said...

I think you meant to say that Nolan bats 1.000, (not .1000) which is completely correct. Even Following, his debut is incredible.

Scott
he-shot-cyrus.blogspot.com

J.J. said...

Shows how much I know about baseball.

twity13 said...

Ratings Image

The Dark Knight is so thrillingly-executed, primeval and exhilarating, it will forever sear itself into your consciousness. It might also be the most intelligent blockbuster movie ever made.You can watch this movie from the link below:
Th Dark Knight Download Movie

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