Friday, August 01, 2008

Dark Knight Descends

Snuck out with the wife recently for a movie night (once every six months or so, whether we need it or not) and settled on what seems to be the critical darling of the moment "The Dark Knight".

Well I have to say I was a bit floored by the film. I'm a fan of the Burton movies, Batman and Batman Returns; less so of the Schumacher sequels, especially the fourth film - what a pile of guano that one is. But this Batman movie is a whole other ball game - this time, it's for keeps.

When I was a kid (meaning 13 or so) I was pretty well hooked on comics - Daredevil by Frank Miller was my rag of choice. It was dark, it was gritty, and at times truly terrifying. And I loved it. Daredevil was a vigilante with a code of honor, that he routinely had to stretch to the limit. Even looking back on the comic today (yes, I have a glossy book of the old issues) it is hyper violent, sadistic at times, and truly, truly dark. The stakes were high, the fight looked un-winnable; but Daredevil always picked himself up and did what needed to be done. He was a true hero because he lost so much, and yet never lost his faith.

Today, having skimmed other glossy books (okay, okay, "Graphic Novel") of the old Batman comics, I can see that even in the 70's and early 80's, the comic book Batman was akin to Daredevil. His story was equally ruthless and harsh. Batman is a bad ass you do not want to tangle with. And yet he fights a hopeless battle, in the process losing those he loves most, even sacrificing his own humanity.

The movie "The Dark Knight" is faithful to this ethos. It's the very best popcorn flick (yes, even including my beloved Lord of the Rings) to illustrate to what the comic books have been telling us for years - there are things we must fight for, even at great cost. And what makes the film so powerful, as with comic books, is that the story is set in a world that feels absolutely real.

This is a post 9-11 movie in the very best sense, it is dark and disturbing - and brutal; but like Batman himself, the film carries a code of righteousness and faith that cannot be shaken. Even in the face of the psychotic Joker, who is not hammy (Cesar Romero) or exciting (Jack Nicholson) but truly both banal and terrifying in the way a real life serial killer is - the movie never misses it's focus or moral center.

In case you haven't caught on yet, this is not a movie for kids. But let me add, it is absolutely a movie for mature 13 year olds and up. Like "Saving Private Ryan", this is almost required viewing. The violence is not glamorized in any way shape or form - but the violence Batman inflicts is revealed as required in the face of true evil. This is a very mature, "growing-up" Batman flick. It's moments of chaos, despair and sadism (the Joker is not remotely glamorous) are beautifully off-set by Batman's necessary crusade.

Yes, the stunts are grand, the special effects are amazing, and the fight scenes pretty cool. But what lifts the film above it's peers is the raising of stakes and emotional impact to a higher level. Battlestar Galactica has already found this, nice to see that the movies have finally caught up.

Many have read into this film beyond what the filmmakers intended, and I am no exception. Some see it as a cynical and sadistic corporate creation - devoid of humor and heart. Others just think it's cool because shit blows up in it real good. The critics have also thrown in with their various views which mirror the many shades of the political spectrum.

Here's my personal take on the movie.

I really believe the message of "The Dark Night" mirrors what we have experienced with 9-11 and it's fall out. Batman is America, who starts out trying to do what is right. He puts criminals in jail, he makes the streets safer. Then, just as things start to look like they're getting better, the Joker (Jihadist) arrives and unleashes mayhem, for no other reason than just wanting to watch the world burn.

It is an untenable situation. How to you fight an enemy with no morals, no qualms about slaughtering the innocent? How do you put a stop to him without becoming him? Batman finds a way. But it isn't easy. And by standing up to evil, when no one else will, Batman makes things worse. MUCH worse. But he knows he has to. He knows the road is long, and maybe even unending. But a price must be paid, evil MUST be confronted.

Batman must sacrifice everything. He loses the woman he loves. His once cooperative relationship with the police evaporates. And even the once unquenchable love from the citizens of Gotham vanishes. Whatever tiny shreds of humanity he has at the start of the film, are long gone by the end. Just before the credits roll, Batman is universally hated by everyone. And to him, because he can see the big picture, it doesn't matter. He may have to endure hatred (and the lowest approval ratings in the history of super heroes) but at night the children of Gotham will sleep safer - they and their parents will remain oblivious to the protection the Dark Knight provides. He does what he has to, because no one else will.

Sound familiar?

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