The Dark Knight
directed by Christopher Nolan
written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
based on characters created by Bob Kane
starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman. Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Monique Curnen, Chin Han, Cillian Murphey, Eric Roberts, Ron Dean
Moral ambiguity, aggrieved sense of self, and a purity of compunction drive this uniformly excellent film in a direction that no super hero film has dared to go. Every facet of this film charms, thrills and brings close to bear deeply embedded psychological truths that resonate throughout the film.
Batman (Bale) is a tormented character who is struggling with his place in the order. His belief in himself has slowly been stripped away and he is not certain if he can be of any use to the people of Gotham. He feels responsible for a series of deaths and his fears become more pronounced as the film progresses.
There is just so many things to admire about this film as a legitimately dark and mysterious world and a legitimate sense of terror is created. The cinematography by Wally Pfister is crisp and exquisitely focused throughout the film. It imbues the film with a toxic sense of beauty that is difficult to effectively put into words. This film deserves to pull of a sweep at the Academy Awards as well as garnering an acting nod for Heath Ledger. His performance is shattered glass, a head-on collision and a thrilling ride in the back of an expensive Jaguar with a new person you are about to get to know very well. It’s one of those things that can be extracted from the film and examined on its own right although it is also an exceedingly vital aspect of the film.
This is a film that cannot merely be addressed as a battle between good and evil. This simple reduction does not work and cannot explain the myriad complications that are extant here. The Joker (Ledger) is a supremely cataclysmic character that by his own confession has no plans, no motive other than the joy of pure, unadulterated destruction of every aspect of the social order. He merely enjoys the spectacle of chaos and seeks to render as much of it as possible while luring Batman and the other moral representatives of Gotham into his finely woven traps. He seeks no glory, is not motivated by money and simply does not live in the same moral universe as his adversaries. Indeed, he doesn’t adhere to the easy principles of good and evil and in fact is beyond them without making a concerted effort to behave in a specific manner. He merely is a force of nature who scoffs at the simplicities of methods men employ to express what most often is self-righteousness where the elevate themselves above those whose plight falls into their care. He knows how easy it is to corrupt many of those whose fall is rendered by a deeply-seated desire to experience a life free from moral restraints.
The film walks along a dangerous edge and possesses a real power to effect the emotions in a way that is exceedingly rare in film. It captures the imagination and startles consciousness through a cerebral mind warp that is thoroughly intoxicating and born aloft by the effectiveness of the score by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer. It manages to enhance the inherent creepiness of the film and brings the sordidness of the landscape fervently to life. It is in essence another character that remains in the background and does not over aggressively make its presence felt. Yet, when it does emerge from the shadows it strengthens the film by the simplicity of its application.
The energy of this is maintained throughout and doesn’t waver as the film progresses. There is a real senses of place which is most properly expressed on the freeways and viaducts that house the intense road battles between the Joker and his minions and the cops trying to bring him down. There is a poetry to these scenes and they play out with an urgency that is evocative and daring while stimulating the senses with a cosmic flurry of genuine art. There is purity and a legitimate sense of apocalypse in every scene featuring either Two-Face (Eckhart) or the Joker. Both of them possess a grip on the furious and the malignant. They are rogue stars effectively deranged and aiming for the heavens in order to bring them down on the heads of anyone who gets in the way.
There is an essence of loss in this film which drives Batman and the Joker together. Both of them suffered tragedies that have damaged them immensely although the Joker gives two different stories about how he ended up with a permanent smile. It’s off putting to see this Joker’s makeup while attempting to reconcile his smile with his deeds. In essence he’s portraying a mad clown who makes up the nightmares of many a shivering tot. His demented laugh (far more effective than any villain in the entire Batman canon) causes the hair to stand up on the neck and Ledger pulls off the crazed, animalistic purity of the character with a slicing, robust feistiness that carries the film into realms of marked lunacy.
This is a world of unseen triggers that are molded in a way that they inform the framework within which it is thoroughly investigated and brought to bear on the furious action that is aggressively and smartly rendered throughout. This film leaves nothing to chance and erupts in fits and starts which are flaming testaments to the dire impermanence of glories well spent. There are stark contaminants and purposeful conniptions that drive the film into territory rare and cosmically consistent with diabolism and an overarching striving toward purity of form. This film achieves that with an intensity that is maintained long after the credits have rolled.
The role of Rachel (Gyllenhaal) is paramount to the psychologies of both Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne. She is dynamic and quite strong yet exceedingly vulnerable. Her role is to forge a bridge between Wayne and Dent which she traverses with great caution and a confused sense of propriety. Rachel is a character who is caught in an emotional quagmire and cannot effectively disengage herself from either man until she finally is able to alight on a decision.
A fascinating scene involves two ferries that are carrying passengers away from the city. One of them contains prisoners and the other garden variety citizens. The Joker appears over the PA and announces that he’s put bombs under each ship. He provides them all with a dilemma that he has forced them to solve. He tells them that if they want to survive they have to blow the other ship up otherwise he’s going to blow them both up at midnight. This moral quandary explores the worth of prisoners versus that of the average citizen who pays their bills, stays on the proper side of the law and doesn’t cause any trouble. Finally, a rock-steady prisoner demands the detonator as if he is going to use it to blow the other ship to smithereens. Instead he delicately removes it from its box and tosses it out the window. It’s one of the most emotionally satisfying moments in the film and twists the audience’s sense of moral goodness. A prisoner is considered morally bankrupt so to see one acting in such a way is liberating.
The performances in this film all add a distinctive viability to the film and ground it firmly in a realism that is governed by nuance and a psychological awareness of space. Heath Ledger as mentioned presents one of the clearest explorations into the mind of a psychopathic killer. His dedication to the role is legend and he brings a startling intensity which is genuinely terrifying in a way that very few film characters are. This is the kind of character that has the capacity to shock and aggrieve in a most pronounced and genuine way. Yet despite the Joker’s clearly defined role as adversary the character is likeable and indeed sympathetic. One craves to see him succeed after a perverse fashion because he is so dynamic and imbued with a charisma that does tend to take over the film whenever he’s on screen. In essence Ledger’s Joker is a work of cinematic art and every time he appears it’s impossible to determine what series of actions he will follow which gives the character an unpredictability which is endlessly alluring. Christian Bale gives Batman a complexity that is decidedly effective and utterly entrenched in a stark reality that is a nice contrast to the frantic machinations of the Joker. Bale is deadly serious throughout this film and his performance exploits a somber mood that is pervasive.
Morgan Freeman gives yet another strong performance in a role that offers a vital paternal model for both the film and Bruce Wayne. He is matched by the calm, clearly focused performance of Michael Caine who carries quite a bit of the emotional burden in this film. Gary Oldman brings a solidity and authenticity to his role that provides the film with an anchor; his character is one of the few morally consistent cops in an environment where corruption can be found just about anywhere. Maggie Gyllenhaal has a permanence about her in this film and she provides Rachel with a moral compass that she employs dutifully throughout the film. Aaron Eckhart plays both the intensely moral Harvey Dent and his alter-ego Two-Face with the same level of intensity that leaves a definitive impression on the film.
Overall, this film works on every possible level and generates a tremendous amount of emotional strength that is rare in such films. These are characters to believe in and each actor performs their role with fortitude and clarity of vision. It’s a film that truly captures one’s heart and mind with ease and a certainty that is palpable and exceedingly well orchestrated. The music, cinematography, lighting, construction, etc. bring a legitimate urgency to every scene. There is great subtlety as well as demonstrative and passionate dynamism that work well to bring this fiendishly effective cinematic experience to the screen. Ultimately it’s a daring exploration into mental aberrations and seismic spasms of pure, unadulterated manic glee. The Joker is a laugh riot who knows how to push people’s buttons. He is a true poet of terror and Heath Ledger brings him lovingly, brutally to life.