It is a dark soul indeed, and that is what makes the movie–which I saw last (k)night–so powerful.
I can’t qualify as a comic-book or action-hero or sci-fi geek (though my geekiness is evident in other areas), and I am completely insensate as far as the whole LOTR phenomenon and its ilk go. (I love using “LOTR” as it took me so long to figure out what it meant.) But for whatever reason I do invest a great deal of anticipation into these summer comic blockbusters, if only the first Spider-Man movie really paid off for me. Perhaps it is the appeal of religious themes that are veiled enough to seem literary yet obvious enough so that I don’t have to try too hard to discern them, and thus can feel smart as I exit the theater parsing its various ideas and metaphors.
Several threads emerge brightly from The Dark Knight, not least of which is my own (surely it’s been noted elesewhere in all the blogosphere blather) clear sense of the wartime warnings of how easily we can be corrupted by fear, and thus enlisted in the project of evil. Besides DC Comics, a good companion reader to the film would be Jane Mayer’s disturbing new book, “The Dark Side,” about the moral and legal corruption of the Bush White House and the “war on terror.”
It is a corruption we all share, however, and which the movie suggests we can all choose to defeat, as well.
The principal drama though, is about how that corruption tempts those most involved in the fight of good and evil, as we all should be, and the moral ambiguity is as dense as some of the action sequences. “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” as Alfred tells Bruce.
Speaking of action, there are some of the usual missteps, for me, like video-game action sequences you can’t follow without a rewind button (granted, I’m middle-aged) and key bits of dialogue rendered inaudible by the heaving soundtrack. The sonar-cellphone technology was weird and way too confusing to watch; don’t know how Bruce Wayne figured out what was happening inside that fishbowl or a mask. And lots of terrible wounds that never hurt. But some funny moments and lines…Such as when The Joker tells Batman, “You complete me.” Take that, Katie Holmes, via Tom Cruise.
That mutual embrace of good and evil, however, is at the heart of the film, and what makes it so good–and so disturbing. A friend of mine, a pseudo-geek but by no means a prude, wondered if the movie should be rated R.
Over at the Dallas Morning News, the omnivorous Jeff Weiss has several posts which get at the dark heart of the matter, including a parsing of the classic “Trolley Question” which provides the drama of the finale (and is the favored plot device for so many shows these days, like “24,” that some poor social scientist should be getting royalties.) But Jeff also gets at the darker side of merchandising such violence to kids. Jeff writes:
“Dark Knight” is a staggeringly violent and disturbing film. Thought-provoking for adults, but potentially terrifying for children. Yeah, yeah, marketers can say they’re just playing off the longstanding Batman “brand.” But these products will make kids beg to see the movie — and will dupe less-attentive parents into thinking it’s a safe “comic book” flick. The PG-13 rating should offer some warning, yes. But this film dances just south of an R in my book.
Jeff also points to a very Christian take on the film by a Halifax, Va., pastor, Mike Parnell, who writes at EthicsDaily.com, who calls it the best movie of 2008 so far, and notes its Clockwork Orange references. Over at First Things, Thomas Hibbs has a longer reflection (it is First Things, after all) on director Christopher Nolan’s “achievement,” which is a comprehensive wrap.
Of course the presence Heath Ledger, who died from a drug overdose after the movie wrapped, and whose almost steals the show with his protryal of the Joker, makes all of this moralizing both more dangerous–it’s a movie, after all, and he was a real person who suffered a real tragedy. But Ledger’s real story also makes it more poignant, pointing toward the dark night that awaits.