The Dark Knight

I finally saw The Dark Knight, and I have to say that I liked it a whole lot more than Mrs. Cornell did. Her mantra was that it should have been rated R, and she was probably right, although the violence alone wasn’t the problem. Heath Ledger’s Joker was just so dang creepy that it was hard to justify seeing that kind of a performance in a PG-13 film. This was Hannibal Lecter-style stuff, and just like The Silence of the Lambs, the gore and the violence isn’t nearly as disturbing as the character moments. “Do you want to know how I got these scars” ranks right up there with “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” I love both moments, because the anticipation is always more dreadful than the payoff. This is a remarkable film, certainly, but none of my kids will be allowed to see it – hopefully until they reach adulthood.

In any case, it’s a comic book movie that respects its source material, so of course I loved it. Reviewing the film blow by blow is kind of pointless now, as all of you probably have or will see it, if the box office grosses are any indication. Ledger really is that good, although playing a villain is probably the easiest thing for a decadent, self-indulgent actor-type to do. Much harder is bringing the kind of dignity and gravitas to lesser roles like Alfred and Lucius Fox, something that Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman do brilliantly. So does Gary Oldman, for that matter. And Christian Bale has the thankless task of holding all of it together, and he does an admirable job on that score.

The best performance in this film, though, came from BYU grad Aaron Eckhart. Harvey Dent’s fall from grace is pure tragedy, mainly because Eckhart succeeds in creating a character that you like enough to dread what you know is coming.

Of course, focusing on performances ignores the fact that they had such magnificent material to play with. Although I didn’t buy the stand-off on the ferry – I doubt anyone would have put the matter to a vote, and nobody would even consider pulling the trigger – and I found it eye-rollingly silly that Lucius would have no problem with letting his boss break people’s legs and destroy cars and property according to his whims, but the moment he engages in – gasp! – illegal wiretapping, that crosses the line. I guess director Christopher Nolan had to toss in a token anti-Bush bon mot into his subversively conservative movie. 

And make no mistake – this is a fundamentally conservative film. The critics are amazed at how it supposedly blurs the line between good and evil, but I thought it did exactly the opposite. The price Batman pays to preserve decency only matters because decency survives as an inherent value. The Joker preaches moral relativism and is ultimately proved wrong. Anyway, a guy in the Wall Street Journal makes this argument better than I can – read his piece if you don’t believe me.

I’m going to wander into spoiler territory here, so skip to the next two paragraphs if you don’t want to know who lives and who dies and how the thing ends. Still here? Don’t blame me. I’m not convinced that Two-Face is dead. You see him unconscious, but you never see them haul off the body. What if he’s been quietly locked up in Arkham, only to escape, and in a murderous rampage, inadvertently end up clearing Batman’s name? The Joker’s survival indicates that the filmmakers were probably not done with him, although recasting the role would be like making Rebel Without a Cause II. So the question is, who is the villain for the next film going to be? Batman’s rogue’s gallery is massive, but none of the villains in it can hold a candle to the Joker, especially after Ledger’s tragic star turn.

So who will it be? Nolan has already pooh-poohed the idea of Catwoman or the Penguin, and I say good for him. If it were up to me, I’d go with Bane, the guy who break’s Batman’s back in the comics. (Although a wretchedly dumbed-down, monosyllabic version of Bane appeared in Batman and Robin, which can’t be good for his chances.) Bane – at least the comic book Bane –is a wrongfully convicted Brazilian genius who systematically sets out to destroy Batman, and ends up leaving him paralyzed and broken, both body and spirit. He’s also a drug addict and a muscleman, and he could fit quite well into this version of Batman’s real world milieu. Just my two cents.

Bottom line: good, violent flick. Don’t take the kids.

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