Movie Mom

Movie Mom


The Dark Knight

posted by Nell Minow
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace.
Profanity:Brief crude language
Nudity/Sex:Reference to adultery, couple in bed
Alcohol/Drugs:Social drinking, drinking to deal with stress
Violence/Scariness:A great deal of action-style violence, torture, murder, some disturbing images and content, graphic wound, references to domestic abuse
Diversity Issues:Diverse characters
Movie Release Date:July 18, 2008
DVD Release Date:December 9, 2008

“Dark” is right. Christopher Nolan’s sequel to his Batman Begins is not only dark; it is searing and disturbing. The bad guys are very, very bad. These are not guys who do bad things because that is the only way for them to get what they want. These are bad guys who do bad things because they enjoy them. As the Joker (Heath Ledger, in his last completed performance) says early on, “That which does not defeat us makes us…stranger.”

joker.jpg

But what is more unsettling about this ambitiously epic film is the way that it shows us how even the good guys are perilously close to being bad. We like duality in our superhero sagas, but we like the meek or ineffectual character with the hidden strength and ability — Clark Kent as the incorruptible Superman and Bruce Wayne as the eternally honorable Batman. But this movie is an exploration of the way that none of us, not even heroes, not even ourselves — none of us know exactly where our boundaries are drawn. Over and over in this film people find themselves crossing lines they once were certain that nothing could tempt or force them to breach, with the most fundamental elements of identity and integrity revealed as ephemeral.

In the last episode, we saw how billionaire Bruce Wayne, a damaged man, found his deepest essence expressed as a masked avenger, Batman. The pull of turning himself into a creature of the night to protect the innocent and put the guilty in jail was so powerful that he risked losing the woman he loved, his childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes in the first film, Maggie Gyllenhaal in this one). But as this movie begins, the clean-up efforts by Batman and district attorney Harvey Dent have infuriated Gotham’s criminals, who are escalating their efforts and working together to spread corruption throughout the community so that no one trusts anyone. A man with a mask can be anyone — or more than one. Copycat Batmans (Batmen) are showing up with something the real Batman never carries — guns. “That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I said I wanted to inspire people,” Wayne says. The line between justice and vengeance is blurring.

Blurring of lines is one of the themes snaking through this film. Characters slide in and out, over and across lines of identity, principle, and purpose. This is a comic book movie and it has chases and crashes and fight scenes, including a astonishing somersaulting truck, but when it is over it is the wrenching choices, the internal confrontations, that reverberate. The most stunningly unforgettable moment concerns a choice made by a character who is on screen for less than five minutes. But because we know so little about him (far less than we think we know, as it turns out) and because the decision he must make is so heart-rending, his choice becomes ours.

And Batman’s time and place becomes ours, too. The setting is less stylized than previous Gothams, recognizably Chicago. This is a real city with windows opening up on sun light that is always on the other side of glass and steel. We, like the characters, are relegated to the shadows, the underground passages, the airless buildings, a kind of architectural mask.

The sense of dread, of corruption, of dissolution of structures permeates the film. A bad guy who is ruthless in pursuit of money or power is not nearly as scary and unsettling as one who cares about nothing — not even his own life — as long as he is messing with everyone’s head. Like the bad guy in “Saw,” the Joker likes to expose moral weakness and exploit hypocritical pretense to honor and integrity. “Some men aren’t looking for anything — just to watch the world burn,” says loyal retainer Alfred (Michael Caine). “They can’t be bullied, negotiated, or reasoned with.” And the greatest damage this kind of terrorism inflicts is that it no longer allows us to be the trusting, decent people we like to think we are.

Ledger, in his last completed performance, is mesmerizing. His tongue flicking like a lizard, there is a wetness to his speech that makes us feel as well as see the nerve-slashing wounds that give his face the grotesque rictus that imitates a smile. Instead of the careful clown-like make-up of previous Jokers, Ledger’s is smashed and smeared, chaos upon chaos. Bale continues to make Batman and Wayne compelling and Freeman and Michael Caine as Alfred are watchable as ever. “You complete me,” the Joker says to Batman. Ledger completes this film and his loss is just one more reason to walk out of it a little sad and dazed.



  • WiTo

    Thank you for the insightful review of The Dark knight, Nell. My 13-year-old daughter will be very upset with me, but I’m afraid I simply cannot bring her to see this film. I’ve been watching for your review, hoping it would contain an “OK” to take her to see the film on opening day – but knowing in my heart it probably would not. Thanks again, for the detailed review and for the wonderful service you have provided for so many years now.

  • Nell Minow

    Thank you, WiTo. I know your daughter will be disappointed, but I think you are right and I know she knows she is lucky to have a parent who looks out for her.

  • Charm

    Hmm… I took my 6-year-old daughter to a special advance screening of this movie (I covered her face when Two Face was on the screen). She kept seeing the previews everywhere, and she was curious. And two days later she is still asking me questions. Yes, some are hard to answer, but I like to be challenged by her in this way. I can’t shield her forever, so I’d rather be with her to help guide her through the darkness which is a part of our world whether we like it or not.
    What disturbs me the most about the film is how close it is coming to our reality.
    Otherwise, I really enjoyed it, especially The Joker, but feel the loss of a great talent all the more.

  • colleen

    Nell-
    I disagreed with your review of “Wanted”, but appreciated your thoughtful response, so I’m coming back for your opinion about a different film.
    I was interested by your review of “The Dark Knight”, and the comments above by the parent who will not take her 13 year old. My question—-how do you define “brief strong language”–how do you arrive at that definition, and could you give some examples? I think my child, also 13, does okay with graphic violence (and in some ways I’m sorry about that), but I have a lot more trouble with language. As a person in my mid-40s, I cringe at the popular use of “sucks” , “crap”, and “ass”, which the rest of the world doesn’t seem to blink at—never mind stronger words—-so for the moviegoer, what is “strong language”? Many thanks!

  • nitlen

    My husband & I just saw the movie. The movie is very violent. The rating should have been R. I definetly would not recommend this movie to anyone especially if a child is going to see it. Very disturbing. I regret seeing it.

  • Nell Minow

    Thank you so much for your comment, nitlen. This kind of response is enormously helpful to the people who use this site. I tried to be very clear in my review about how disturbing the film is, but the reactions of other people who have seen it provides another dimension of feedback. I am sorry you regret seeing the film and hope you will continue to let us know what you think of the movies you see.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Colleen. It is a pleasure to hear from you again. I, too, am disheartened by the coarsening of language that is considered acceptable. But we live in a country in which the Vice President of the United States used the f–word as an insult on the floor of the Senate and where that was reported in full in the media. “Some strong language” refers to the kinds of words you list, along with words like “goddamn” and “bitch.” I will also make it clear if a movie has frequent or constant bad language and if the bad language includes racist or ethnic or homophobic epithets. And I try to give a sense of whether a movie is within the range of its rating (in other words, what I’d consider “strong language” for a PG would not be strong for a PG-13).
    Just so you know, the MPAA allows two f-words in a PG-13 movie (as long as they do not refer to sex — just think about the insanity of that as a standard). I estimate that more than half of the PG-13s I see do so.

  • colleen

    Nell, thank you so much for your reply. This is very informative. My daughter is starting high school next month, and I realize this takes her into a peer group that will be pushing PG-13 much harder. Think I’ll take a pass on this movie.
    And, wow—-the MPAA thinks the f-word is okay for 13 year olds? Parental guidance or no, that tells me quite a bit about their standards. And you’re right—how silly that they think it’s acceptable as an expletive but not to describe a sex act.
    I’d like to be able to talk with my daughter more about how our values differ from the MPAA ratings. Could you point me toward some articles or other references about how they come up with those ratings, and criticisms of their process, that would be appropriate and interesting for her?

  • Nell Minow

    Charm, I always enjoy your comments but I do not agree with taking a 6-year-old to this movie. A child of that age will tell you what she thinks you want to hear, even if it is “no, that doesn’t bother me.” But when I was researching my book, I was stunned to find how sad and betrayed even people in their 20′s still felt about having their parents take them to inappropriate films. And I don’t think covering a child’s eyes for a couple of moments really protects them from anything. There is a big difference between shielding a child from realities they are developmentally able to absorb and keeping them feeling safe and protected from material they are not ready for yet. No 6-year-old can understand the themes of this movie. All they can do is be scared by the disturbing images.
    I am certain you agree that some material is not appropriate for a 6-year-old. But we disagree on where that line is drawn.

  • Nell Minow

    Colleen, I have been working on and off on a blog post about the MPAA rating system but it is a large and complicated subject. There is a documentary called “This Film is Not Yet Rated” that covers some of the flaws in the system but it focuses mostly on its inconsistencies, conflicts of interest, and hypocrisy of the system and at times seems to forget the legitimate purpose of the ratings. By virtue of the volume, the ratings are formulaic — counting body parts and blood spurts — and tend to ignore context and behavioral issues. There are huge gaps and inconsistencies. The one that infuriates me the most is that material that would get an R in a drama gets a PG-13 in a comedy. It is impossible to imagine anything more raunchy and vulgar than the Austin Powers series, but they get a PG-13 because it’s all a big joke.
    I have debated the then-head of the MPAA and founder of the rating system, Jack Valenti, before the Federal Trade Commission — he responded to my presentation by saying, “That’s why people use your site, Nell.” I began doing this 13 years ago this month (and believe me, almost no one was writing about movies on the internet back then) because I knew the MPAA rating system, which is, after all, run by and for the major studios was never going to provide parents with the information they need. I also recommend the site run by my friend Jim Judy, screenit.com, which has very detailed information about the content of the movies.

  • Ryan

    This movie definitely surpassed the hype. As for the “it should be R,” that is not true. It was dark, I mean it is the Dark Knight. But the way the paper described it you’d think it was a comic book version of Saw with some Michael Vick dog killing in it. The movie is deep, dark, and it makes you think, but my 8 year old brother loved it. Parents, you know your children. Don’t let the hype scare you. If your child has handled other movies that got these warnings, take them. If they can’t, wait for the DVD. But you should go.
    I think this guy got the quotes from the movie wrong though. The Jokers is distorted, and Alfred said “some men just want to watch the world burn.”

  • Max Blaska

    I was just checking reviews of the Dark Knight and saw yours, I agree with you except for one thing the “Some men aren’t looking for anything — just to watch the world burn” line was spoken by Michael Cain’s Alfred Pennyworth. Otherwise I agree with it completely. The most tense scene was the one with the Ferries. I wondered what I would do if I was in that situation.
    Take care
    Max

  • BIG BOSS

    This movie does not warrant a mature high school rating. A movie that would be a mature high schooler film would be something like Boogie Nights. The violence in this movie is not shown in graphic detail at all. There is only brief glimpses of Two Face’s burnt face, and every fifth grader can clearly tell that its unrealistic. There was nothing in the Austin Powers movie that warranted an R rating. I would like to be given a specific example of a R rated drama that had the same level of sexual dialogue as Austin Powers. Colleen, I’m sorry to tell you this, but in high school, your daughter’s peers will be strongly pushing an R rating. I do not understand why we live in a world where language and sex is unacceptable while violence is pushed aside. The rating for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is an adult rating on this website, but The Hills Have Eyes, which feature graphic grotesque violence, is a mature high schooler rating. Also, by the way, only one F bomb is allowed in a PG-13 movie. The MPAA gives an exception to more F bombs if they believe that they are justified.

  • Jill

    This movie needed an R rating due to the sadistic violence and disturbing images throughout. I wish I had not seen it, and in fact, walked out at the half way point. When reviewers refer to this movie as “dark”, it grossly oversimplifies and sugar coats the the sadistic, evil tone of this film. I would strongly encourage parents to not take children or young adults to see this film.

  • harkonnen

    This was an excellent movie. As a pastor with a 9-year old daughter, I will not let her see it. I let her see all of the Lord of the Rings movies. There are some truly disturbing parts to this movie. Great for adults, poor for children. Save their innocence.

  • Andreas Ulanowsky

    Hello,
    I have yet to see this film, since it has not been released in Sweden. I know this film recieved a 15 and above rating her4e in Sweden. This means ONLY those 15 and above can see this film.
    I think parrnts should be aware that films these days contain more violence thab when we were younger (I’m now 41). So, for example, a Bond film from the 1980′s is not as violent as Casino Royale.
    An interesting note, however, has to be made, concerning moral values in the USA. The film, Sex in the City, recieved an R rating for sexual content. Here, in Sweden, the same film got a rating that’s the same level of G. So, whereas the USA permits more violence in films for younger people, and restricts on sexual acts in films, Sweden does the opposite. The view of sexuality is very different, as we can see nudity on television (public) late at night, after ten. Profanity is very commonly used also.
    It’s very hard these days to set a good guideline for what PG-13 films mean, but it’s very clear to me that The Dark Knight is one of the more violent and scarier films in that catagory. So, the best advice is to excersize your own judgements, based on your home values. Do take the warnings into consideration.
    I don’t believe children should be exposed to violence or sex at an early age, but I’d say that sexuality seams more natural and less harmful, WHEN we excersize the lessons on what it’s about and isn’t about to our children.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks for the comments, Big Boss! I’d make “Boogie Nights,” a brilliant but very explicit movie about the pornography business with a lot of explicit sex, some violence, extremely strong language, and drug use, for adults only. And I do not agree with you that “every fifth grader” would understand that the extremely graphic wounds shown on Two-Face are “unrealistic.” Fifth graders, like everyone else, encompass a very wide range and it is a big mistake to extrapolate from your own impressions, experiences, or memories of your own experiences to make a universal statement like that.
    As for Austin Powers, they had explicit jokes about oral sex (“spitz or swallows?”), constant references to “shagging” and being horny, many references to various body parts and functions, a joke about Viagra, references to a sexual encounter getting “weird”and to sex toys, a silhouette of what appears to be nudity and sexual acts, etc. etc. etc. Any drama with a reference to oral sex or sex toys or any of the above would get an R.
    If you read the review of “The Hills Have Eyes,” you will note in the first paragraph that I refer to it as “a disturbingly graphic movie not suitable for sensitive audiences of any age or species.”
    I’m not sure what you mean by “justified,” but the MPAA now permits two f-words in a PG-13. It used to be one. Studios are well aware of this standard and use it to manipulate the ratings board. They also frequently put in more material just to use for negotiating, agreeing to remove some of it to get a particular rating.

  • Nell Minow

    Many thanks, Max! I have made the correction. 10 corrections and you get a free copy of my book, so keep it up! And I agree with you about the scene with the ferries. That was what I referred to as an “unforgettable moment.” But I will not give any more away!

  • Nell Minow

    Beautifully put, harkonnen. Many thanks.

  • Leon

    Good movie but not oscar worthy. I found parts of the film with poor editing and/or development – as though they were just going through the routines. But overall I was happy with the film. Nice twist at the end.

  • BIG BOSS

    I found all of the Austin Powers movies to have only innuendos and discreet references to sex acts. A joke about Viagra was made in the Pink Panther when the detective drops it in the sink. The detective said something like, “Oh no! My miracle pill for middle-aged men.” Also, I do not think that Sweeney Todd warrants an adult rating on this site. I think that any 14 year old can understand that the killings in that movie are unrealistic. The killings in Sweeney Todd were highly stylized and cartoonish, and even further mitigated by the singing. I found the throat slitting scene in High Tension to be incredibly realistic and disturbing. High Tension is a movie that I would give an adult rating.

  • Nell Minow

    Really? I do not know anyone else who would use the term “discreet” about the Austin Powers movies, which I consider much too explicit for a PG-13. I also found “Pink Panther” to be inappropriate (as well as a lousy movie). In my review, I said it has “inexcusably crude and vulgar humor for a PG movie, including potty jokes, a Viagra gag, sexual harassment humor and skimpy clothes. A woman sits on a man’s shoulders with his head in her crotch and there is what appears to be an athletic (though clothed) sexual encounter (this mistaken impression is supposed to be funny). It is also supposed to be funny that two men share a bed.”
    We disagree about “Sweeny Todd.” I do not think there can be any mitigating factors in a blood-drenched movie about serial killing and cannibalism. On the contrary, I think it is important to make it clear that while it may be a musical, it is not family-friendly. My review of “High Tension” makes it clear that it is only for fans of the genre and not for the squeamish of any age.
    I very much appreciate your willingness to engage on these issues, which I think is very helpful for readers. I recognize that no two people are alike in their response to the kinds of material in these films and so what I try to do is give parents the information they need to make a decision that is right for them and for their families, not just based on sex, violence, language, and other issues but on the context and quality of the film. That is much more important than the suggested age ranges.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks so much, Andreas! I hope you will write again when you have seen the film. Yes, different cultures look at these things differently. What I try to do here is give parents (and others) the information they need to make choices that are right for them and their families. Some readers tell me that the “parental guidance” in my reviews helps them make choices about movies for themselves or their parents!

  • SK

    My example of the oddities of MPAA ratings is last year’s “Once”. This absolutely lovely movie was rated R for language. Yes, the F word was used but never in a sexual context or in a way that affected the plot or tone of the movie. It was “bar language”. While not necessarily condoning the word, it made a wonderful movie “off-limits” to many people who would reject an R-rated movie sight unseen.
    As for “The Dark Knight”, I also did my homework prior to viewing it yesterday. I did take my nearly-13-year-old but not my 9-year-old. We enjoyed the movie immensely and discussed the good vs evil theme afterward. We do try to shield our children from violence and consider ourselves much more restrictive, though not prudish, than many other parents we know. The violence was effective and necessary but quick, with much left to the imagination. In addition to the violence, I know that my younger child would never be able to follow the plot or sit for a 2.5 hour movie!
    I agree with the “know your child” rule, and also agree that the PG-13 rating is appropriate, and emphasize the “13″.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, SK! This is very helpful. I agree with you about “Once.” Same with “Billy Elliot.” In the testimony I referred to earlier I used that as an example — “Billy Elliot” and “Kill Bill” both had the same rating, which was absurd.
    I like your standard — “Restrictive but not prudish.” And of course the important thing is the way you talk about what you’ve seen to answer questions, guage reactions, and demonstrate critical thinking.

  • carlos

    You forgot to mention THE KILLING JOKE, a one-shot graphic novel done by the great and talented Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. It was chilling enough to read 20 years ago, but still it has a resounding effect – Heath Ledger read it to prepare for his role. That story, which I highly recommend (but not for children, either), also has the premise of Batman and the Joker challenging eachother’s roles as hero or villain.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Carlos! I love to get this kind of additional background from the experts!

  • Roseanne Carey

    Hi I saw the movie with my 17 year old son and husband this weekend and I agree totally with your take of the movie. It is definitely not for children under 13, and anyone over 13 has to be a mature teenager. I was so upset because there was a man with a little girl and boy next to us that were under 10 years old. The little girl was extremely upset and was saying she didn’t want to watch it and the man and the boy just kept yelling at her to be quiet. The man, which I wasn’t sure was her father or not was not very nice to her at all. Please don’t take little children to see this movie.

  • Charm

    Wait a minute! All this talk about graphic violence, and how when we were kids movies were not this violent is just looking back on your childhood with rose coloured glasses. I grew up on violence, just like all of you did if you ever watched a cartoon. Ever take a good look at a Bugs Bunny cartoon? Or the Flintstones? The Simpsons parodied this every time they showed an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon on the show, showing this mouse torturing, and killing this cat repeatedly, and the worse the cat got hurt, the harder the children laughed. But that’s a TV show, right? Couldn’t happen in real life.
    I was watching my daughter, 5 at the time, and my friend’s son, 3, watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. Whether it was Sylvester the cat, or Wile E. Coyote, or Yosemite Sam, the worse the character got hurt, the harder they laughed.
    We don’t give children enough credit. We ride the bus everyday, and everyday there are children of all ages, using far worse language than anything I heard in that movie. I didn’t see blood spurting or body parts flying around, and quite frankly, the crime scenes they show on Law & Order are more grisly than anything I saw on that screen (with the exception of Two Face).
    Whether we want them to or not, children are going to see and here bad things. How we help them deal with them is what is important. If you lock them in an ivory tower for their entire lives, how will they cope with the real world when they land in it at 18?
    My daughter is happy and smart, and I think pretty well adjusted. No conflicts in the classroom, well liked by teachers and other students, never uses bad lauguage, has always used her words and never resorted to hitting or biting – like some other children we have encountered, and does not use bad language – but then I set the good example at home by not using it myself. At the end of the year she was invited onto the school’s morning news program to read a piece she wrote on 5 Ways To Be Good to Others. I have no problem with taking her to see The Dark Knight. We also saw Iron Man, and Indiana Jones this summer. After each movie she asked if we could get the DVD, so I don’t know how freaked out she was if she wants to see them again. I also took her to see the controversial Body Worlds exhibit. Now she wants to be a doctor.
    The problem is not what you expose your children to, but how you handle that exposure, and being there with them to explain what is good, and bad, and reminding them that this is not real life, it’s just a movie. Is there somewhere I would draw the line? Sure. I would not take her to see a horror film – that’s inappropriate. I would not take her to see Sex In the City – it would bore her. And nothing with Mike Myers or Adam Sandler, because that’s just dreck, and I want her to develope a higher sense of humour.

  • Charm

    Having just read that last comment, let me add that if at any time my daughter had wanted to leave, we would have gone. If your child is uncomfortable, you shouldn’t force them to watch a film.

  • Frank

    There is a clear difference between Bug Bunny Unrealistic violence and the Joker making a pencil “dissapear” in a man’s eye. Any attempt to put them in the same league is relativistic garbage.
    If you don’t believe you are desensitizing your kids to violence when exposing them to this level of it then you aren’t grounded in reality.

  • BigBlackRod

    Until now, all my visions of the Joker had the face of Jack Nicholson; that is no longer the case…PEACE.

  • Bobbi

    Nell,
    After reading your review I decided to allow my 15 year old son see The Dark Knight with his father, but also kept my 12 year old son home. He was disappointed as he had been looking forward to it, and my husband breifly wondered if I was being overly concerned. It was absolutely the right decision for our family, which was confirmed when my husband (who isn’t normally as sensitive as I am to violence)came home from the movie and said “Wow! That was really dark! I’m really glad that we kept ……. home.” I realize everyone has and is entiled to their own opinion, however I don’t think I am trying to lock my children away, but I would like to do all that I can to make sure that they are protected for as long as possible from the dark and disturbing violence (and language) that is, in my opinion, all to commom and prevelent in today’s media. As a mom of four children I am so grateful to have somewhere I can go to find out what they will be exposed to and it is so helpful in making a more informed decision, (instead of just being frustrated in hind-sight). I have enjoyed your reviews for years!! Oh, and thanks for the DVD!

  • Lucy

    My husband and I saw Dark Knight this weekend, and I have to agree completely with your review (we ALWAYS read your reviews before seeing a movie). We enjoyed the movie, prepared with the knowledge that it was a dark drama. Even though this is a PG-13 movie, it is most definitely NOT recommended for that age. I wish they (the movie industry) would change the ratings system–could we please have a PG-16 rating? It did sadden me to see the number of younger children in the audience…parents really should be more attentive to what their children are watching. Perhaps then violent cartoons wouldn’t seem so amusing?

  • Kyle

    If you do not allow your 11, 12, or 13 year old watch this movie because of this review then you need to start reading other reviews. This film is no more obsene than a James Bond movie. Batman is a child’s character. Granted, the story and character developement might be a tad higher than your average teen, the action in this movie is no more obsene than action you would see on primetime TV. There is barely any blood and absolutely no gore. If you think you are saving your son or daughter from anything by not permitting them to see this movie… You need to check yourself and your actions.

  • MGH

    Kyle–the point is that much of prime time TV isn’t for 11, 12, or 13 year olds either. And we should not trust the judgement of the movie or tv industry to rate what is appropriate for our kids. There is a lot of filth out there and once your kid is exposed to it, he/she becomes a little less innocent. I, too, wish that there was a PG 16 rating. I often wonder how many parents let their 9-12 year olds attend PG-13 movies. I’ll bet if there were a PG 16 less of these kids would be exposed to inappropriate situations.

  • Steve

    I don’t have kids so I can’t really speak with the experience that some of you have. However, kids know a lot more than many parents give them credit for. Hiding the way the world is from your kids will only make it that much worse when they find out how deeply disturbing it can be…especially if they have to find out on their own. It is always safer to be informed. As Lemony Snicket said, “At times the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place believe me when i say there is much more good in it than bad – all you have to do is look hard enough.”

  • BIG BOSS

    I completely agree with Steve. Many parents do not seem to understand how mature a high schooler actually is. If the average high schooler has a problem with viewing this film, then there must be something wrong with him/her. Also shielding kids from watching programs considered “to mature for their age” is also not a good decision. The more you shield your kid, the more your kid start to rebel. A fine balance between exposure and shielding is needed to effectively raise your kid, in my opinion. Now I’m not saying that No Country for Old Men should be viewed by nine year-olds or something, but your fourteen year-olds should be allowed to watch Knocked Up, Superbad, or Walk Hard if they want. Your fourteen year-old has been exposed to that type of humor whether you like it or not. Also, a PG-16 would just make things more complicated. Rating a film isn’t exactly the easiest of things to do like what most people make it out to be.

  • BIG BOSS

    A PG-16 wouldn’t stop you kids from watching a film. Besides, all of the violent films are most likely to be the films that get classified into PG-16. All of the movies with the sexual content and language will still get an R rating. Also, there are some 16 year-olds that I know that have been shielded from watching so-called “mature” films, and they are not exactly the most “innocent” of people. They are more like obnoxious, self-conscious people who feel that they will be part of the crowd if they act tough. Those people are the most annoying people to ever put up with. I know a 15 year-old who has watched the American Pie films since she was 12, and she is one of the nicest of people that I know. I would like to be given an example of a prime-time TV show that is inappropriate for a 13 year-old.

  • Andreas Ulanowsky

    I rhink the rating system here in Sweden works better than in the USA. This is based on the following:
    BT: Barn Tillåten (Children are permitted to a film) This is the same as G rated films.
    From 7 years: Children are permitted to see a film from 7 years. Children under 7 can see the film if a parent is with then
    From 11 years: Children are permitted to see a film from 11 years. Children aged 7 and above can see this film if a parent is with them.
    From 15 years: Only children from 15 and above can see this film regardless if a parent is with them or not.
    Many of the summer movies áre from 11 for summer flicks. Even PG-13 ones, like Batman Begins. But The Dark Knight and Hancock have been merrited from 15 and above. Mamma Mia and Sex in the City have been merited a “G” rating here in Sweden, as sexual content and vulger language is viewed as less harmful than the violent films.
    I do think that age set limits can be more helpful for parents in choosing the right films for their children. It can be debated, too, on what materials seem permissible for children. But I think we can all agree that graphic violent images are more harmful for children than sexual content (that’s non-violent), or foul language. A war film or a story based on reality that contains violent shootings can, and should be restricted to adults. No one under 15 would have a real grip on these issues anyways.
    We, as adults, do have a responsibility to help children understand our world. There’s only so much children can comprehend, as well. When childen are exposed to, say foul language in a film, it’s permissible to ask what the child/children think those words mean. No, we cannot possibly hide or know the exact contents of a film from childen. So we now have to talk more about how we feel about what’s happened or what we think about the language in a film. I think knowing how we feel about this will help them understand what we feel is permissible or not. Ultimately, there are going to be differences between children and their family values. Let this be a good lesson in diversity and culture differences.
    Do I support the idea of questioning the current rating system? As I see it, we do need a better age related system. But, even then, one does have to put in the moral values and cultural differnces into play. To be realistic, I’d say the chances are slim that we’ll be seeing a change in limits regarding foul language, flipping the bird or some sexual content in a PG rated movie.
    Parenting is not a perfect science. When we see or hear things that violate our values, it can be disheartning to tell our children that we disapproved of some of the material seen in the film. Ultimately, our children will appreciate it when we’ve taken the effort to help them grow, by setting limits and teaching moral values we believe in.
    The best thing to do,when we have not approved of something childen have seen is to explain why.

  • danielle

    My 8 year old son is one the the sweetest and gentlist kids you would ever want to meet. He watches all the CSI’s with me all well as many violent movies and play many violent games. It is not the media and the enterinment that makes a child violent it is the time spent with the child teaching them what behavior is expected of them and what is right and wrong.

  • Nell Minow

    Many thanks to all of you for these comments. I have a couple of points to make in response.
    Children can and should deal with some very strong material. For hundreds of years fairy tales, myths, and even lullabies and nursery rhymes have addressed fundamental and disturbing issues of loss, jealousy, greed, and passions of all kinds.
    But there is a reason these issues have been presented in what I could characterize as a secondary or metaphoric manner over the years. Developmentally, children are not designed to handle explicit material relating to sex or violence. It is only in the past few years that this kind of material has been broadly available and so studies of the impact it has on children are still underway. But overwhelmingly it shows that they do not see it the same way adults do and that while, for example, exposure to violent media does not make children more violent it does affect them in other ways, making them less empathetic and promoting a “mean world” view that distorts reality about human interaction.
    It is a mistake to say that exposing a child to violent media in some way prepares them for “the real world.” Violent media is not the real world. And it is especially a mistake to say that just because a child or young teen “knows” that certain things exist that is a justification for letting them see media intended for adults. The ability of children to repeat after you that something is “just pretend” or tell you how babies are born does not mean that they are ready to take on the complexities of adult interactions and stories.
    As I have said before, the thing I keep in mind is that when I was researching my book, I interviewed a number of people in their 20′s who were old enough to have some perspective on what they had seen but young enough to remember their reactions. Every one of them told me that they wishes their parents had been more protective. I expected most of them would say that their parents had been too concerned and that the media they saw didn’t affect them, but quite the contrary. Every one of them said they felt betrayed when their parents allowed or especially encouraged them to see material that disturbed them and that they did not feel comfortable showing how disturbed they were. Every one of them had vivid memories of violent or sexual material they wished they had not seen. So while my primary goal is to give parents the information they need to make the decisions that are right for them and for their families, I keep that in mind when I make my recommendations.

  • Derik

    Hi!
    i was just wondering if The Dark Knight was as violent as Wanted without the laungage and the other stuff Just violence Because i was thinking if the dark knight was scary. thanks!

  • Lucy

    And that, Nell, is why we appreciate and value your movie reviews so much. :)

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks for asking, Derik! This movie is not as violent as “Wanted” (which is a very hard R, almost NC-17). “Dark Knight” is PG-13, though I would have given it an R. But “Wanted” is much more graphic.

  • Nell Minow

    Oh, Lucy, you made my day!

  • Andreas Ulanowsky

    I saw the film last night here in Sweden. I thought the film was well done in capturing the essence of a darker story of Batman and the Joker. It’s a very dark, psychological story that does have some interesting points to make concerning morality and the difference between good and evil. I applaud Christopher Nolan for presenting the characters in flawed manners and faults. This, I believe, defines a new way to approach the world of Gotham. I really enjoyed seeing the performances of Heath Ledger, although the hype of his recieving an oscar seams a bit overdone by the fanboys. He does a great performance, though. Sadly, we won’t be able ro see him do another performance, since he’s dead. But, it’s a performance that will be an important part of cinematic history. It’s certainly the best portrayal of the Joker.
    I think, Nell, that your recommendation for older teens viewing this fim is accurate. The film does earn a strong PG-13 rating, as it is nearly an R Rating. I judge this not neccesarily on the violence of the film, but more on the psychological undertones, and mature subject matters. I think psychologically, children under the age of 13 would find the film disturbing. Also, I’m keeping in mind that there is more dialogue than action in this film. That dialogue is is well written, by the way.
    Parents reading this should understand that this film contains material that is, visually, very disturbing, particually with Harvey Dents transformation, The Joker’s image and evil dialogue, and a scene concerniong the hostipal, a place most associate with caring for others. I will say, though, that for older teenagerrs, this is an entertaining film that gives you second thoughts about how the characters behave in Gotham.
    I’d say this film is one of the better films I’ve seen in this decade. The performances are on the same level as in Thre Green Mile. I’d like to suggest a viewing of The Prestige, another well done film. Christopher Nolan should get recognition for his direction in The Dark Knight, if not for best film, another form of recognitoon for his work in changing the style of the comic book films. This film will change the way future films can be made.
    I’d recommend Batman Forever and Batman and Robin for the younger crowds. Both are more entertaining for that crowd and better distinguish the good and bad sides of crime. Children will enjoy both films.

  • Tim1974

    I enjoyed the Dark Knight. I particularly enjoyed the Joker. I found that I never knew what to expect when he was in the scene. Would it lead to violence or not? It put me on edge. The fact of not knowing how it would go kept me interested throughout.

  • Misha

    I am new to this site, having seen The Dark Knight with my husband last night. He is in the film industry, and we both agreed that this movie should have been rated R. Yes, the violence was implied much of the time, but it was upsetting to both of us. We went because we enjoyed Batman Begins very much, but this movie was not enjoyable.
    I felt that it made the same mistake that was made with the second Indiana Jones movie – it was too intense with no interruption.
    I am not generally a squemish person (I LOVE Nip/Tuck, which is extremely graphic). But the sadistic treatment inflicted by The Joker, the anarchy-for-anarcy’s-sake message he brings along with his sociopathic nature, and the “everyone can become a monster” message the movie seems to carry was not something we want our 13 year-old exposed to.
    My 16 year-old saw it with her father earlier in the day and thought it was great. He (my ex-husband) has taken her to many R rated movies in the past three years, and she has become hardened against such things. It saddens me that she would think it a fun movie.
    The special effects are great, and the chase sequences are certainly entertaining. But to take a 6 or 8 year-old child to this seems a mistake. They don’t process things the way adults or older children do; why allow them to think that this in any way represents reality? Who would want to go out in the real world believing it to be peopled with no one they can trust?
    As to the earlier comment about younger children seeing Knocked Up – there were some fairly graphic sexual scenes in there. You may wish to rethink that.
    There was a story in the news recently about people on a beach in Italy going about their business and sunbathing and eating lunch with the bodies of two young girls lying on the beach near them. By exposing children to the darkness of the real world too soon, are we creating that kind of bored reaction to real world violence and death? I have to wonder.

  • JJChan

    You know the problem with talking to kids about real and fake? That no one tries to connect it with visual way of proving it.
    I could watch the nightmare on elm street movies when I was 6 with 0 problems, I do not feel upset with my parents for not sheilding me and I am in my 20s now.
    Why?
    Because when they gave me the real vs. fake talk, they connected it with visual proof of what they were saying.
    They sat us down and we watched a making of feature about movies.
    It’s hard to be scared when you can point out makeup mistakes and all.
    We knew that movies and tv was not real, because we knew how they did it.
    Watching people the movies showed as being dead in full make up talking to actors as artist touched them up showed us that it was all make believe.
    Also, we could walk away at any time, if it upset us.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks so much for this very thoughtful comment, JJChan. I really appreciate it. But everyone is different, and it is always a mistake to think of yourself as standing at the top point of a bell curve when you could be at the extreme. And it depends what you mean by “problems.” Yes, some children can watch horror films at a young age without having nightmares and some can incorporate the real/pretend lesson visually, as you did. But you do not know what you would be like if you had not seen them and studies (over 2000 over many years) show a number of bad consequences from childhood exposure to this material on perception, including some numbing of emotions and lessened ability to empathize. I am honestly glad that you feel these movies didn’t bother you and I’d be glad to have your comments any time on the movies you see.

  • Mary Cataldo

    Nell:
    Just a quick couple of comments. I just discovered the “comments” part of this website, and think it’s great that you engage with your readers. How cool is that, that you can talk back to the critic and be heard?
    First, I wanted to say that I thought this particular review of Dark Knight was extremely well written. As a general rule, reviews of any kind seem to be traditionally newspaper-ish in their approach. Your use of language in this one rose to the level of outstanding prose. I am by no means a literary cricitc.. but I know a good turn of phrase when I see one. Thanks for writing… and writing well!
    Second, and more to the point of this thread, I was glad to have read your review before I went to Dark Knight! The underlying themes of chaos vs. order and the idea that the Joker’s anarchy was designed to hold up a mirror to the world, got quite lost to the younger crowd in all of the action. My 21-year-old loved the movie for the fight scenes and the cool gear (and frankly for the violence–even though he has that good understanding of real versus “fake”), and could care less about the underlying theme. That gives this movie a somewhat schizophrenic nature. I found on my first viewing I missed alot of the point (and also found myself somewhat bored on the plot development). On a second viewing I was able to look past the action to the sublteties, and think at that level it was really terrific. The scene in the jail cell between Batman and Joker (“you complete me”)for example was really good, and of course Heath Ledger’s talent made it even better.
    My 2 cents anyways.
    PS. I always set my alarm for 6:30 on Fridays so I can catch you on “Jeff and Jer.” Thanks for letting us know whether to spend our 20 bucks on the movies or going out for a burger!!
    PSS. Wondered if you caught Stephen King’s latest article on movie cuisine in Entertainment Weekly. A great read.

  • Nell Minow

    Oh, Mary, what a wonderful comment! You’ve identified two things I love about what I do — writing about movies and other aspects of popular culture and discussing (sometimes debating) it all with the people who visit the blog. I have the greatest readers and listeners in the world! I had a blast being in the studio with Jeff and Jer when I went to Comic-Con.
    I loved your comments on “Dark Knight,” very insightful. And I never miss what Stephen King writes for EW! Always makes me think and often makes me laugh, too. Can’t do better than that!

  • Alicia

    Great review, Nell. I found “The Dark Knight” to be a dark, but very moral film, unlike Tim Burton’s “Batman” which I personally found to be an amoral film.
    The Joker is my new favorite villain (previous recent favorites being “Lost’s” Benjamin Linus, and “Buffy’s” The Mayor).
    Heath Ledger’s Joker is an incorruptible villain. He is not in it for the money, or for the power. He’s not self-deluded into thinking that he is in it for “the future of humanity” or for “God” or for “the Revolution.” And unlike Jack Nicholson’s take on The Joker, he’s not a nasty nihilist or misanthrope.
    Of all the characters in “The Dark Knight” his has the most integrity. He’s a philosopher who questions the basis of civilization and forces the heroes to confront their own motives. He’s a moralist. It’s great to see such a layered, complex villain in a summer blockbuster film. And Heath Ledger’s villain evokes compassion as well as dread.

  • Alicia

    It occurred to me (if I didn’t read it somewhere) that “The Joker” and the effect that playing this character apparently had on Heath Ledger’s mental health brings to mind Nietzche’s saying “When we look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into us.”
    I also recall hearing a critic speaking of Brando and his emotional problems say that talent is a delicate thing.
    What a sad story.

  • Anonymous

    I wish I had read the review prior to agreeing to go with my husband’s spontaneous idea to see “Dark Knight” with our ten-year-old. I can see how viewers appreciated the film and the late Heath Ledger did a fantastic in his portrayal of the Joker. This movie was intense, dark, pyschological and questions our moral boundaries.
    However, I have difficulty watching any film with excessive violence let alone torture, terroristic scenes involving innocent people, and scenes where a family- mother with children- are held at gun point and the father/husband is asked to chose which one he loves most. That is the point where I walked out with my family as I was at the point of tears, and my ten year old stated that he hated the film and wanted to leave.
    Anyone that has difficulty with intense violence, guns, etc., should avoid this film. My husband will go back another time to see it by himself.

  • Nell Minow

    I am very sorry you had such a bad experience. It is my hope that the information I provide here will help parents avoid these unhappy surprises.

  • Sylocat

    Finally, a parental review of The Dark Knight that didn’t spend the whole time bashing the filmmakers for having the almighty nerve to make a comic book movie that wasn’t for little kids.
    Not that kids are incapable of liking this, it’s just not EVERY kid is fit for it, and sadly most people lump all kids together into one big “the children.” I’m relieved at least one person out there understands that not all kids are identical.

  • Nell Minow

    Thank you, Sylocat! As you can see from the site, I am a big-time comic fan and have attended Comic-Con for the last three years, and one of the things I love about comics is that there is something for everyone. But that doesn’t mean that every comic-inspired story has to be suitable for all ages. Graphic novels are the fastest-growing sector of the publishing industry (one of the few growing sectors, in fact) and the primary purchasers are adults. It is a great thrill to me to see complex issues addressed in these formats.
    I am very glad you took the time to comment and hope you will return to tell us what you think about the movies you see.

  • jared

    Personally, I absolutely loved this film. Even though I enjoyed the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher films of the 80′s and 90′s, I think this one even beats those to a pulp. The violence is definitely a lot more realistic. For that reason, I wouldn’t take anyone under the age of 12 to see it. However, for kids ages 12 and up, this is a TERRIFIC film.

  • Toby Clark

    While Heath was undeniably brilliant in this, I would not call his performance Oscar-worthy the way he was in Brokeback Mountain was, or might have been in Ned Kelly had it had more American exposure. The actor who really impressed me in this was Aaron Eckhart, who was far better than Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever.

  • http://www.pacebutler.com Cell Phone Recycling

    I watched this movie in the theater with my 12 year old son. I was kind of disturbed by the tone of the film. It had more of the sensibility of a horror movie where the Joker was like Freddy K taking extended enjoyment out of murdering.
    I made the mistake of watching the DVD release that just came out with my wife and son. She flipped out and made us turn it off. She couldn’t believe I let my son watch it the first time even.
    This movie isn’t for kids, but I did enjoy it myself.

  • Dave

    I for one am glad to see movies like this one trying to flesh out these great comic book characters I enjoyed as a kid and make them more realistic, grittier, more mature, etc. I can also sort of understand how this movie pulled off a PG-13 when so many think it deserved an R – it really blurs the line between implied violence and graphic violence, i.e., there’s a lot you don’t see on the screen, but they do show you enough that your brain fills in the blanks in graphic detail.
    But it’s not for the kids. As far as actual violence, it’s not really that much more intense than Spider-Man or Iron Man; as far as emotional/psychological impact, it’s as violent as Kill Bill.
    Problem here is the greedy marketers that insist on selling Batman action figures and Batman happy meal toys, clearly aimed at children younger than should be seeing this movie. I think it would be one thing had the marketers given us a rash of the classic grey-tights Batman toys, that wouldn’t be a definitive tie to The Dark Knight, but the kids got toys that were clearly modeled on *this* version of Batman. And ultimately that sort of marketing just leads to confuse parents; they think if there’s a Dark Knight toy in my kid’s happy meal, this must be a movie my kid can see, and they pay no attention to the PG-13 rating.
    Hollywood really needs to adopt some sort of policy governing their marketing so that it is age-appropriate. Of course, the problem with that is that those happy meal toys make the studios big money, too, so we might see the opposite effect – instead of less Dark Knight happy meals, we’ll see less Dark Knight-esque movies. And that would be a shame, because this was a fantastic movie when viewed by the appropriate audience.

  • Bruce Wayne

    This was an amazing movie. I don’t understand how Horton Hears a Who got a better rating than it though. And I think it is okay for kids 12 and up to see it. Mature high schooler is a little extreme.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks, Bruce! I like your screen name. The ratings are of course very subjective and everyone will have a different opinion. It was my disagreement with the critics I read that let me to become one myself so maybe you will do the same! I appreciate your taking the time to write and hope you will comment often on the films you see.

  • Your Name

    Very well done, but should have been rated R. I’m horrified that my 12 year old grandson saw it.

  • Emily

    My friend and I saw this movie but coming from someone who didn’t see Batman Begins before I saw this one kind of didn’t know who was which character i mean i had a idea that bruce wayne was a great character but harvey dent didn’t seem to interesting to me as bruce wayne did because now that i have seen batman begins I really do admire the actor who portrayed bruce wayne because he was awesome.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks, Emily! I’m glad you thought that seeing the first movie helped you appreciate the second.

  • AKenjiB

    I never understood why people think this should be rated R. Was it violent? Yes, but it could have been a lot worse. Now besides the violence, nothing in the film is really an issue.
    The language was mostly just terms like ass, hell, and damn. No F-bombs, no uses of terms like shit (unlike a lot of PG-13 films)
    The only parts that might be considered bad that are even remotely sexually is the part with the women in bikinis and when Bruce walks in on that couple at his party, who were probably “fooling around,” but they were still dressed. not really an issue.
    With drugs/alcohol, its limited to mainly just social drinking and a couple bar scenes. Nothing too bad.
    Now the violence. well, more violent than Batman begins. Its very intense. Guns, knives, explosions. Its intense, suspenseful, at times quite disturbing, but i’ve seen worse.
    It’s not filled with blood and gore. people dont get body parts sliced off. Harvey Dent’s wound is pretty gross, but even so, I think this film is ok for kids 12 and up. Maybe 13.
    But i suppose different kids can handle different amounts of violence.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks, AKenjiB. This will be helpful to people trying to decide whether this film is right for them and their families.

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