Friday, August 10, 2012

The Chaos


            In my review of "Batman Begins" I wrote that it is as realistic as a superhero movie gets to be. I guess I was wrong. "The Dark Knight" takes everything up a notch. The stakes stay the same, the future of Gotham and the lives of its citizens, but the chaos and panic now spread beyond just the Narrows as the people all over Gotham become aware of the threat.

The main outlines of the plot are simple, there's a new villain in town (The Joker) and his goal is to create chaos. At the same time newly appointed district attorney Harvey Dent tries to capture and convict mobsters who took on the business after the death of Carmine Falcone. The Joker offers his help to the mobsters and chaos ensues.

The first movie had some sort of mythical note to it. It involved a secret organization and their eternal mission, and it also had to explain how Batman, itself a sort of mythical figure, came to be. The second one takes a different approach. The Joker doesn't have any grandiose plan or hidden agenda, he is an "ordinary" person who just got to be smarter and crazier than most, and that's what makes the whole thing feel more realistic. He is brought to the screen in a brilliant fashion by the late Heath Ledger who won a posthumous Oscar for the role (a precedent for a comic book inspired movie) and easily made The Joker both his most prominent role and the most impressive character from a Batman movie. But it isn't just Ledger's fantastic acting which makes The Joker so memorable, it's also the way he's written (the interrogation scene with Batman and Joker is an unequaled gem of contemporary Hollywood cinema). Joker isn't there just to create chaos, he is there to show what people are capable of when they are pushed to the limits. He wants to expose people as savages with fake morals he believes them to be, and he wants to prove Batman his rules are breakable. He (partially) succeeds in both, along the way corrupting Gotham's "White Knight", Harvey Dent.

It's interesting how in the end two villains leave people's lives, one in the hands of chance and the other in the hands of other people. Neither of that being a usual villain's move. And the movie makes you wonder what's worse. It's shown that some people however bad they are can have some good in them, but it's also shown how good people can be driven over the edge, making dependence on other people not so inviting option. Chance on the other hand has a chaotic element to it, you never know what will happen, and people need some kind of rules and certainty in their lives, however illusionary they are. And there comes Batman. He's not a person as much as idea. A symbol of incorruptible force ready to do whatever is necessary to make things right, and the only possible salvation for the people of Gotham.

Another question the movie raises is that of choice and the feeling of responsibility caused by it. Many times throughout the movie the characters must choose and in the end they are held accountable for their choices no matter who or what made them do it. For example, The Joker made Batman choose between Rachel Dawes and Dent but purposely mixed up their locations. In that way he didn't just make Dent blame Batman for the consequences, but made Batman blame himself too. But why should he blame himself? He made the choice he believed was right. It wasn't his fault. But it was his choice. And if you think about it, we always hold ourselves accountable for our choices and their consequences, regardless of other factors. It's also the reason why the guy on the boat didn't push the button, he couldn't live with the consequence.

But enough about moral issues. As I said, everything is bigger in this movie, not just the amount of philosophical/moral questions. There is more action, and it takes place during the day as well as during the night making the movie somewhat brighter, if only visually. The sequences are thrilling and tense, and are made that way with the help of great cinematography and exhilarating music. The visual and sound effects are even better than in the first one, creating, with all of the above, a fantastic watching experience. The cast, many of which reprise their roles, does a superb job. I already mentioned Ledger's performance and should also point out Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent.

There are yin-yang references in the movie, representing the Chinese philosophical tradition (Joker at one point says to Batman "You complete me.", and Two-Face is a reference all by himself), but there are also some references to Christianity (Batman, Gordon and Harvey Dent form a trinity needed to save the lives and souls of Gotham and its people, in the end Batman sacrifices himself for the salvation of the people who despise him just like Jesus did), opening more questions and making the movie even more complex.

So, the movie is bigger, louder and filled with more action than its predecessor, but it's also more complex in terms of plot and the questions it raises. "Batman Begins" stretched the superhero movie genre to its limits but "The Dark Knight" broke out of it. It's an exciting action movie, a philosophical treatise on human nature, and a wonderfully crafted piece of art. And if you still haven't watched it you should correct that mistake right away.


  1. And it's this complexity and layers that the third part lacks to be really great....

  2. I'll have to go and see this one again.