The Man Who Laughs
My succinct review of The Dark Knight:
Seriously, that’s about as simple as we can get. And it doesn’t say anything, because trying to describe the . . . experience . . . of the film is probably nothing that can be accomplished in the English language.
Well. The Joker would understand, maybe. He seems to be looking at things on a different plane.
I’m going to try to be spoiler free here, but I never really remember which parts of the Batman mythos are “public knowledge” and which ones are “geek cred”. So.
I’m going to start by saying that I love Batman Begins. It is one of my favorite films and I probably watch it at least once a month. I feel that it is the first time that Batman was taken seriously on the big screen (the animated series of the 1990s did as well, but the 1980s/1990s movies turned to camp and crap).
I loved every frame of it, beginning to end.
So I am (almost) sad to say that The Dark Knight turns Batman Begins into a lesser film by comparison.
You know how The Empire Strikes Back is head and shoulders above Star Wars? It’s like that. And this film is absolutely Batman’s Empire: it is dispassionate and unrelenting in the way it assaults our hero, his loved ones, and his world.
Make no mistake: this is a dark film. It is darker than Revenge of the Sith – and that film is about the hero turning to evil, slaughtering everyone he loves, murdering his wife, having all his limbs chopped off, burned alive, and ultimately rebuilt into a grim machine of death.
It is darker than that.
I seriously do not know how they got away with a PG-13 rating – especially with Two Face’s makeup.
Much has already been said about Heath Ledger’s performance in nearly every media outlet on the planet. I don’t really know what I can say to add to it save this:
Watching his Joker is mesmerizing in the way that watching a King Cobra dance is mesmerizing.
He owns the screen. Every twitch, every word, every shrug. He moves like broken clockwork and speaks hypnotically. At one point, he explains to the Batman his philosophy about rules and freaks and it comes across so bold and so well that he made me believe. Every breathe is filled with . . . well. I don’t want to use the word “menace” because that’s not right. “Menace” implies a moral code and an intent to evil. Ledger’s Joker has neither a moral code nor a motive of evil.
He simply is. He is a force of fucking nature. And that force just happens to be pretty damned evil. He is a terrorist, and he sure as fuck knows how to make a pencil disappear (This is quite possibly one of the best bits in cinematic history. You’ll know it when you see it.)
All the Jokers before him: Cesar Romero, Lennie Weinrib, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Kevin Michael Richardson – they are mere stewards to the role. Ledger is, and probably always shall be, The Joker, forever and ever, a-men.
But the Joker is only half of the story. The rest of the story begins and ends with the White Knight, Harvey Dent.
Dent’s story arc is wrought with the care and detail of a Fabergé Egg. It is the pinnacle of tragedy, and (forever and ever, a-men) the ultimate victory of the Joker: the corruption and destruction of the most noble human being ever to walk the streets of Gotham City.
He is handled brilliantly by Aaron Eckhart (who looks disturbingly too much like my friend JQ). Through three quarters of the film, I was sucked in by his words and deeds. I believe in Harvey Dent. So does Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon – which makes what happens to him so much more a tragedy on the scale of Romeo and Juliet in the end.
This is a grim, dark film. But it is, I think, an important film because at its core it is not an “action” film nor is it a “comic book” film. It is an exploration of the psyche, and the limits that people are willing to be driven to. We watch as Bruce Wayne teeters across the edge, violating each of his principles one by one in order to combat his polar opposite: Batman is the representative of pure order; the Joker that of pure chaos. And the further Bruce falls from his ideals in order to defeat the Joker, the closer he comes to being defeated.
It is a film about the Prisoner’s Dilemma (and, in fact, this scenario is visited several times, but most blatantly during the film’s climax).
I will absolutely see it again.
While the film is rated PG-13, I. . . I disagree with that rating. It is an R rated film in PG-13 clothing. So think very carefully before bringing children to the show.