The Dark Knight

Paul Yim Paul Yim: (paulyim-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-07-26 02:40:21

The Dark Knight - Rank S


What would cause an otherwise perfectly normal man to suddenly decide that he's going to kill his wife and mother then finish off his day shooting college students from a campus clock tower? In Charles Whitman's suicide note he stated that he loved his wife very much and that letting her live on after his demise would be an act of cruelty. When she came home from work he repeatedly stabbed her in the chest with a large hunting knife until she expired. He later strangled his mother from behind with a length of rubber tubing. Human beings, as a whole, like to distance ourselves from that which we do not understand. We fear what we do not know and our fear compels us to create fictions that satisfy our deep inner need to justify the existence of such aberrations. We like to think of people like Charles Whitman as monsters who steal into people's homes at night to eat their children. In fact, while he was writing his last words, he was interrupted by a visit by some friends (yes, he had friends) who later testified that he was perfectly in his right mind when they went to see him. He had no affiliations with any known cults, he didn't associate with any societal deviants, and he wasn't addicted to any known mind-altering substances. So the question still remains: why? Perhaps the answer is far simpler than we'd like to think: some men just want to see the world burn.

Writer/Director Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight features strong themes about the fragile state of the human psyche. The film is part spectacle and part thesis on the human psychological condition. It is the Empire Strikes Back of the Batman franchise as it delves into the mind and soul of The Batman just as the second movie of the Star Wars trilogy revealed the inner workings of the mystical Jedi. In Batman Begins Bruce Wayne had to conquer his inner demons, overcoming his fear to become a man. In The Dark Knight he must confront the all-important question of his real self. Is he a hero who stands for justice and light or is he merely another thug – an outlaw – who exerts his twisted sense of right and wrong upon society through barbarism? Batman has classically been the anti-hero. Even in his earliest iterations he was always depicted as someone who works outside of society's norms (he carried a gun for crying out loud!).

The filmmakers utilize obvious Jungian archetypes in such a way as to make the characters in the film believable as real people. Rachel is the maiden archetype who falls in love with her hero Harvey Dent. Alfred is the wise old man to Bruce Wayne's persona. Batman is the animus archetype and The Joker is the shadow. What does this all mean? The most important thing to take away from the film's overriding subtext is that we're no longer watching a mere comic book movie but a study in how the collective human consciousness rises to overcome or crumbles in defeat when faced with inexplicable cruelty. **SPOILER ALERT** How does the mind cope when the hero fails to save the maiden? Does he become a part of shadow? **END SPOILER ALERT** Who is Bruce Wayne/Batman? Is he a man in a mask and cape who likes to beat up people or is he the embodiment of his animus (the bat) sometimes utilizing his persona (millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne) to mask his true identity? And where does shadow fit into all of this? Is The Joker a madman not in full control of his own faculties or is he that part of us that's full-on animal instinct – utterly amoral? He even says of himself that he's like a dog chasing a car: he wouldn't know what to do with it once he got it.

The Joker, once again, steals the show from Batman. Heath Ledger IS The Joker. Period. From the way he looks, the way he talks, the way he nervously licks his lips, to the way he outright nails Batman's polar opposite, Heath Ledger is simply the best Joker ever. The Joker has been depicted in varied forms in comics, TV, and movies. He is the trickster, the Mad Hatter (of Alice in Wonderland not DC Comics), the flamboyant nightclub act, and master criminal extraordinaire. In the best characterizations of The Joker we get that he is as well-prepared as Batman, just as unpredictable, and shares a bizarre kind of symbiotic relationship with him. The one trait that separates the two is the fact that Batman is an agent of Order while Joker is an agent of Chaos, so it could be said that they are two sides of the same coin. The Joker says to Batman, "Kill you? Why would I want to kill you? You complete me!" I've personally never been a fan of Jokers who were mere lunatics running around Gotham robbing banks and stealing candy from babies, prancing around like clowns with too much laughing gas. Heath Ledger's Joker is none of that. He is a sociopath with serious homicidal tendencies. He is a force of nature unleashed upon an otherwise unprepared and unsuspecting city. If The Devil were made flesh to walk upon the earth he would not appear as some frightful demon, standing 10 feet tall with batwings and red scaly skin. He would be wearing a purple suit with a flower in his lapel, tossing a stiletto between his hands asking, "Why so serious?"

Lastly, I want to mention that The Dark Knight is an important step in the evolution of the character of Batman. The seeming innocence of Batman Begins is gone. He is no longer the hero trying to figure out a way to fight crime on the streets, helping the cops along the way. When Jim Gordon says to him, "I never got to thank you," Batman replies, "And you'll never have to," just before diving into the night. This kind of sentimentality is absent at the end of the sequel. In fact, Batman's PR department should be fired because he really takes public opinion to new lows in this film. The movie doesn't end with him flying off into the sunset. Rather, it ends with him running like a hunted animal. If the dashing District Attorney Harvey Dent is Gotham's "white knight" what does that make The Batman?

The second link is the 2-disc Collector's version of the film, and the third is the Blu-ray edition.

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