...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Day 2765: Knighty-Knight


Adopting the SECRET IDENTITY of a BILLIONAIRE PLAY-ELEPHANT, I managed to sneak both of my daddies into a crowded screening of the new Batman movie: The Dark Knight.

Holy Brilliant Movies, Batman; it was GREAT!

Some people have complained that the movie is too long or that the other performances do not live up to that of the late Mr Heath Ledger.

They are WRONG.

The only thing wrong with this movie is that they blow up the BAT CAR and replace it with a BICYCLE!

…mind you, it IS pretty cool what he does to the Joker's TRUCK.

"S/Laughter," as it says on the side, "it's the best medicine!"

Okay, obviously there IS enough material here for TWO movies, but why sit around waiting for a sequel, I say!

And Mr Heath IS very good, but so are Mr Christian as Bruce "Bat Loose" Wayne and Mr Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent and also Mr Aaron and a fleet of CGI artists as Two-Face.

If Mr Christopher Nolan's first Batman film, "Batman Begins", was his "audition piece" then "The Dark Knight" is what he was applying to do. It's a much more LINEAR film than "Batman Begins" without any of the signature flashback within flashback time-twisting story-telling. But the convolutions of the plot mean you have to keep THINKING your way back to earlier events and revaluating them.

"Batman Begins" posed a very definite question: can you do good by evil means? "The Dark Knight" takes that further, with the more complicated puzzle of "where do you draw the line?" (And notice how much of Gotham is shot in CONTRASTS: day and night, Bruce and Harvey, Batman and Joker, the two sides of Two-Face. It's not as… BLATANT as the dualism of "Batman Forever", but it's there.)

Where "Batman Begins" was thematically similar to the classic comic book "Batman: Year One" by Mr Frank Miller, THIS film – in spite of seemingly taking its name from Mr Miller's "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" – is much reminiscent of 1988's Alan-Moore-scripted "The Killing Joke" which sees the Joker kidnap Commissioner Gordon and subject him to humiliation and torture and the shooting of his daughter Barbara all in an attempt to prove his point that the line between sanity and madness is "one bad day".

This influential comic book was among those that ushered in the darker, more PSYCHOLOGICAL tone to the Batman world, and is cited by Mr Tim Burton as among the influences on his own take on the Batman and Joker.

Themes drawn from the comic include the Joker as unreliable narrator, redefining his "classic" origin story, but then also announcing that he prefers his personal history to be "multiple choice". "The Dark Knight" eschews an origin for the Joker, instead having him tell contradictory versions of his own story, leaving us without even knowing his real name. If he can be said to HAVE a real name that isn't "Joker".

"The Killing Joke" also sees the idea that the Joker and Batman DEFINE each other: Batman coming to realise that their conflict cannot ever stop and they will eventually end up killing one another. It's an idea that develops in other comic books, that the Joker doesn't see Batman as an enemy, but as almost his only friend.

But in "The Killing Joke", the Joker fails and Gordon remains both sane and convinced Batman should catch the villain "by the book" (although the ending is ambiguous enough to suggest that the Joker may have driven Batman to kill him). "The Dark Knight" sees a very similar scenario played out but, by cleverly reworking the origin story of "Two-Face", allows the Joker to SUCCEED. District Attorney Harvey Dent has one really bad day and goes cuckoo.

And then, in a twist on Doctor Who's "The Deadly Assassin", the "truth" is deemed not to "do", so the authorities conspire with the renegade in a cover-up to make-over the villain into a hero.

The PRICE of this posthumous beatification is that Batman must become the villain who takes the blame for the killing of Harvey's victims.

More subtle is what Batman GAINS from this ending of the movie. Earlier, he discovered from Boss Maroni that people will not fear him as much as they fear the Joker, because they know that he has limits that the Joker does not. They know that he will not kill. Here, Batman overcomes that weakness – at least for a while – by having people believe that he is a killer without Bruce Wayne having to break his own rule.

Like the "White Knight" Dent, the "Dark Knight" is also a necessary lie.

Actually, it was quite surprising how central to the story Harvey Two-Face proved to be. We had, probably like many people, assumed that Harvey was in it for this movie as good-guy DA Dent while being set up to play the villain for a possible third instalment. But no! Here we see the beginning middle and apparently end of Two-Face.

In a way, Harvey is seen as an "heir" by both Batman and the Joker. Bruce sees Harvey's good side, his campaign to fight crime but out in the open in a way that Batman can never do; the Joker sees his inner madness, his willingness to act without limits. The irony is that Harvey never DOES choose between them, remaining forever bifurcated, and letting his coin make the decisions.

Of course the Joker lies to Harvey – but then he tends to do that – when he claims that he's not a schemer. In fact his plans are indecently well drawn, as seemingly his entire plan to kill innocent people until Batman surrenders himself seems to be a set-up to get himself arrested and inside Gotham police HQ so that he can get to the mob's money man.

One reviewer has said "I lost track of the number of times Gordon said 'The Joker WANTED us to do this'." Since the number of times is TWICE I am not sure what this says about the state of our numeracy classes. Nevertheless, it is true that each successive set piece is another toppling domino in the Joker's crazed design: a plan ultimately to return Gotham to the state it was in before the Batman gave people hope and criminals fear.

On the other fluffy foot, you would have thought that someone would have started to spot the way that he was working: driving people to REACT, rather than letting them think and ACT. For example, he blows up a hospital – having THREATENED to blow up a hospital. He then IMPLIES that he might blow up bridges and tunnels – result, the authorities (and everyone else) turn to the ferries as the only way out of Gotham. Guess where the Joker's NEXT bombs are.

(Is it worth mentioning that for all the supposed "realism" of this vision of Batman, the Joker seems to be able to place enormous numbers of gasoline barrels at any location of his choosing merely by it being expedient to the plot?)

The Joker's "social experiment" is a delirious spin on the Prisoner's Dilemma: two ferries loaded with passengers and explosives – blow up the other boat by midnight or I blow you up.

Whatever happens in this zero-sum game, though, the Joker wins: if the criminals blow up the innocent, he's given power back to the criminals; if the innocent blow up the criminals then he's destroyed their innocence; if he has to blow them both up himself then he's made himself god of his own little domain.

That neither ferry explodes is a testament to the difference that Batman HAS made to Gotham City.

If there's a bleak side to this thoughtful film's philosophy it is that it seems to have little time for DEMOCRACY, with a clear preference for MIGHT is RIGHT. Democracy, as shown by the vote on the boat, can both choose to do the wrong thing AND be too cowardly to go through with it; in contrast the criminals come across as BETTER because they have a CODE.

Though I must just add that: "I'll do what you should have done ten minutes ago" is one of the best lines of the film.

This code may be WHY Batman fits in to the hierarchies of Gotham's underworld, like a "good" feudal overlord imposing law on the robber barons within his demesne.

The Joker is the ultimate arch-enemy for Batman here because he stands outside that code, that order and thinks that he should rule BECAUSE he himself HAS no rules.

The Joker is dishonestly honest, but honestly believes that the world is evil and that his response to it is the only honest one; Batman uses dishonesty to achieve a more noble outcome. In a way, they BOTH want an end to the criminal chaos of Gotham – it's just that the Joker wants to put himself in charge of the chaos, while Batman just longs to make himself redundant.

In another key scene, the Joker tries to turn Batman to his side, even as Batman tries to pummel him into "good", by telling him that the people who tolerate him in the extreme circumstances of a reign of terror will tear him down should he ever succeed.

But Batman, for all his feudal overtones, actually recognises that in the end his only success can be to put his own power to an end and surrender to the democratic process. Ironically this makes Batman the better ANARCHIST. (In the TRUE sense, where anarchy means without RULERS not without RULES.)

Wisely (although real life makes it tragically) Mr Nolan does NOT kill of the Joker at the end of the movie – although his giggling plunge off a high building is naughtily similar to Mr Burton's conclusion.

In a way, "The Dark Knight" is ENTIRELY a conversation between Batman and the Joker, two figures driven to extremity by the circumstances of Gotham, about where do you draw the line.

The Joker puts it explicitly when he says: "you won't kill me because you have your limits; and I won't kill you because that would be boring! We're going to be at this FOREVER!"


Jennie Rigg said...

"The only thing wrong with this movie is that they blow up the BAT CAR and replace it with a BICYCLE!"

And that it's horribly sexist and the only female characters in it are evil or WiRs... I still loved it though

* shame-faced *

MayorWatch said...

I agree it's a good film but personally I thought Ledger phoned in a shameless, sub-standard impression of Jack Nicholson with a smattering of Cesar Romero.

Millennium Dome said...

You have a good point, Ms Jennie. In fact I would say that the women in The Dark Knight are either VICTIMS (Rachel Dawes, Barbara Gordon) or BOUGHT (Ramirez by the Joker; Natasha and her ballet by Bruce).

But then you can count the number of gay daddies in the movie on your fingers. And I don’t HAVE any fingers!

(Unless Mayor Garcia’s too-heavy makeup is trying to tell us something!)

In fact, this is pretty much the STRAIGHTEST Batman EVER. And that’s PRETTY IRONIC for Bat-“look, he’s NOT gay, all right”-man.

But that is sort of not the point – for all its claims to “realism”, this is really more of a Socratic dialogue between Batman and the Joker and neither of their world views really has much time for either women or gay daddies.

PS: By an AMAZING coincidence, my comment has been given the word-verification "nutjox"... says it all, really!

Unknown said...

Tut tut Jennie ;) I couldn't see any instance of any kind of "ism" in the film, wish people wouldn't look so hard for discrimination where it doesn't exist.

-Lee Griffin

Jennie Rigg said...

Lee: "I didn't see it and therefore it doesn't exist"? Come on!