12 September 2008

The Dark Knight and the return of Disappearing Worlds

I just reread my review of Iron Man, written way back on May 16. Wow. Since then, so many changes have occurred, mostly personal ones. I'm in a new city at a new school with new goals. And obviously my writing about film has suffered for it. But I like to think I'm back now. It may be sporadic at times, but I'm committed to keeping up the habit. In the next couple of days I'll be putting up a few posts detailing what I thought of the movies I saw in the theatres this summer. I'm going to try my best to keep up with the movies I've been seeing lately, which unfortunately has been next to nil. That said, I'm also going to try to post comments about older movies I watch at home, movies I am looking forward to seeing, movies I've seen again and have changed my mind about, etc.
My goal? In short, I want to move away from a formal review column. Writing a full-fledged review is a bit too daunting. It's fine when I have an actual deadline and people to report to, but it appears that self-motivation I was going to rely on just isn't enough. At least for now when I've got so much going on. I want to move toward this site being just a general discussion of film, so if you actually read this, feel free to comment with appraisals, agreements, disagreements, information, etc. I don't want a news site or a rumor blog, this is an outlet for my cinematic opinions, pure and simple. Feel free to let me know what you think.
Why now? As I said, I just reread my review of Iron Man. I stand by what I said about that movie, but I was struck most by the comments I gave about the state of comic book films. About how they were in a holding pattern. About how they needed that last artistic push. Well, odds are you saw that push this summer. Of course, I'm talking about The Dark Knight.
I've seen it three times now. The last two times I was determined to go home and write a review about it. But I never got around to it. Each time afterward there were just so many thoughts running through my head. What could I possibly say that hadn't already been said? But what struck me most about my dilemma was how it was so difficult each time to get past the raw emotions and thoughts raised within me after each viewing. There was just no way for me to formulate them all into coherent thoughts.
In short, obviously, I really really liked it, as I'm sure many of you did. It seems to have won a wider acclaim than I can ever remember for a film. It's truly a film that almost everyone can agree on. In a way, for me, I was destined to love it. I've loved Batman ever since I was a wee lad. I loved lots of superheroes. But while I seemed to grow out of several of them, I seemed to fall more and more in love with Batman as I grew older. It's a testament to the richness of the character and the depth of the material. What could be a novelty is instead, now, one of the most compelling stories in American popular culture. And seeing how it's all based on twisted psychoses, it's success is all the more amazing.
Psychology is what spurned my second phase of Batmania. I started reading more of the recent graphic novels like The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum: Serious House on Serious Earth. I felt validated. Here, finally, was an intellectual and mature reason for my boyhood fascination. Batman's psyche became much more complex, and with that, his relationship with The Joker. Relationship is not a word you can use with all superheroes and their archnemeses. But it exists here, not just on a personal level but on a literary, archetypal level. The Joker is telling the truth when he tells Batman "you complete me."
All of that psychology and that wonderful, macabre, twisted relationship was all there in the film. Heath Ledger's performance is exactly what it has been made out to be. Jack Nicholson's Joker was Jack Nicholson playing the Joker. Ledger is how the Joker has always been meant to be. I find him endlessly fascinating, not just for the acting technique, but for the fleshing out of so many facets of the Joker character that had hitherto gone unseen on film. His philosophy, his drive to "just do things" is especially poignant today. Indeed, along with Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, The Joker makes The Dark Knight one of the most significant post-9/11 films yet. Both grapple with rational people trying to contend with completely irrational violence. The randomness they employ is the most frightening weapon they have.
The Joker enough would have been enough to make me love this film. It gave me all I wanted. But The Dark Knight sparked a third phase of my Batmania. I was moved. In fact, I'll go ahead and admit that I found myself on the verge of tears with each viewing. And for the most part, it was because of Harvey Dent.
Two-Face was always interesting to me, but his transformation into such a tragic figure gives this film its emotional punch. In an age where political systems have become truly useless, he was enough to give me hope. He builds on that hope, that hope for a true change you can believe in, all throughout the first half of the film. When it comes crashing down, only then do we see the real menace behind The Joker. In Batman Begins Bruce found he could fight evil by becoming more than just a man. In The Dark Knight The Joker finds he can fight Batman by doing the same thing.
If The Dark Knight had to be boiled down to one theme, I think that would be it. That people can be more than just their life. More than a biological existence. This series of Batfilms are brilliant because they have finally shown a reason for Batman beyond the tired conventions of a revenge melodrama. That's enough to twist Bruce to the point of taking action, but by transforming into a metaphor, he starts a journey that is so much bigger than one man's desires. Harvey was more than one man's desires. He was not about wanting power. He was actually righteous. One of the most moving moments to me is Jim Gordon's desperation as he screams "We have to save Dent! I have to save Dent!" Harvey's destruction and perversion at the hands of The Joker is the most diabolical scheme in the film. It truly is The Joker, and Christopher Nolan's, "ace in the hole."
So there it is, folks. The comic-book movie I dreamed of almost four months ago. It looks beautiful, it's written beautifully, acted beautifully, directed beautifully, etc. And that's the best I can do at describing it. Sitting here writing this has made all those emotions come up again, and they're still fresh. In a way, it's hard to believe a summer blockbuster made me feel this way, but it's apparent this film has rewritten the definition of that term. It may be presumptuous to say, but The Dark Knight has put us into a whole new ballgame in terms of the film industry. I can't wait to see what happens next.

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