Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The dark knight plays devil's advocate

SPOILER ALERT - read after you've seen the film



Batman, silhouetted against the gloomy backdrop of a 9/11-esque bomb site, the Joker taking shoddy video footage of a hooded hostage right before his maiming, the sight of a Federal building being blown up in the hard afternoon sunlight.  The images purposefully evoke memories of our terror filled recent history.  The new Batman film is powerful not only for its action sequences but because it's unafraid to reopen wounds we forgot still existed.  There's a grim edginess there that's unexpected. 

At one point Alfred referring to the Joker says to Bruce,

"Some men can't be reasoned with.  Some men just want to see the world burn"

There's something profound about the way Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger reinvents the Joker.  The genius is the ambiguity of his motivations.  There is something comforting about a villain we understand.  All cartoon bandits wanted were sacks with dollar signs on them.  In that sense what motivates them, by and large, motivates us as well.  The difference between good and evil, is in the implementation.  Stealing those sacks vs. earning them.  The Joker's morbid nihilism flips the traditional villain on it's head.  He robs the bank only to watch the mountain of cash burn.  He is a smiling clown one moment, and a psychopath with a knife to our face the next.  Ambiguity.  Unpredictability.  Craziness.  This more than anything chills us to the bone.

In many ways the Joker is the perfect character to tap the demons that Americans live with and Mr. Nolan has played him beautifully.  In the post-Nazi, post-communist era of ubiquitous globalized terror, the struggle often is not with the terrorist but with ourselves.  The Dark Knight puts all our insecurities on screen.  It tells us that we can triumph but the road to do so is more complicated than we think.

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