It’s not often I believe a movie deserves the praise it receives, and Hollywood suffers a fair deluge of not entirely undeserved criticism concerning its dearth of ideas lately. But The Dark Knight, oddly enough a “sequel” to 2005’s Batman Begins–the most recent in a long line of Batman based cinema stretching back to Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989 (I don’t count previous attempts)–proves the industry isn’t entirely staffed by unimaginative, self-gratifying hacks. That in itself is a significant win for the movie-watching public, and though the trend isn’t likely to continue, The Dark Knight is an excellent film, and future entertainment industry ineptitude is unlikely to rob us of this unexpected bounty.
I don’t agree with my esteemed friend in his reception that the film somehow deserves a higher rating due to the subject matter. An R or NC-17 rating for disturbing underlying implications implies firstly that immature minds would even notice such subtlety under all the explody bits, and secondly that the philosophical, sociological, and psychological concepts contained therein provide more than intriguing conversational material for those who do. The simple fact, is that The Dark Knight is as mentally engaging as it is entertaining.
Heath Ledger’s Joker isn’t really any Better than Jack Nicholson’s, they’re both staggeringly intense in their portrayal of madmen, and it would be unfair and more importantly inaccurate to claim superiority in either case. That said, the writing in The Dark Knight is demonstrably superior, and paints The Joker as far more than a crazed psychopath. No, here The Joker reflects the better implications from the comic writers unafraid of taking chances over the years, and avoid reducing his character to a comical maniac. This Joker subverts as often as he overtly triggers mayhem, replacing chaos for order, betrayal for trust, cataclysm for safety, all by carefully foiling everyone’s plans and injecting his own peculiar brand of morality into the equation.
Back in the 90’s, the comics featured the Joker returning from a stay at Arkham, and encountering his old gang being led by… “The Joker.” The Joker has a little laugh, grabs a baseball bat, and unceremoniously beats the impostor to death before continuing the meeting with his usual demented aplomb. The Dark Knight features this joker, a dangerous lunatic, unpredictable, unstable, pushing a chaotic agenda and absolutely, unequivocally indifferent to the outcome of his efforts. The point of this movie is that The Joker effortlessly introduces his viewpoint into society at large, turning it upon itself in an orgy of violence that Batman narrowly preempts. The Joker is a shameless genius manipulator of psychological weakness, and proves nobody is really safe from themselves or even normally exemplary citizens under the right circumstances.
I wouldn’t go as far to call this The Lord of the Flies of the modern age, but there are certain parallels. The Joker says it himself concerning the results of his schemes: all it takes is a little push. And while his inevitable defeat at the hands of Batman seems anticlimactic, the question over who actually prevailed is deliciously ambiguous thanks to his meticulously crafted groundwork. His mere presence corrupts and ruins not just life and limb, but potential and innocence with reverberations that, in this film, will profoundly taint both Batman and Gotham’s futures.
To be honest, I’m shocked something this subtle was produced by Hollywood at all. It’s just so perfect, I actually had trouble finding flaws in its execution. It’s not without questionable and glossed-over abilities and technologies, and there is a certain amount of hand-waving concerning the plot, but I’d feel like a banal cynic were I to dwell upon them. It’s that good. You were going to see it anyway, but I’ll recommend it just in case. But be warned: this film weighs in at two and a half hours not counting previews, and every minute is worth the ride.