Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday Movie Day Reviews: The Dark Knight

For three weeks in Europe, The Dark Knight was in the back of my mind. I had been anticipating this film for a long, long time. On Saturday afternoon, my moment had finally arrived--watching the film in IMAX with my wife.

This film can be best described as immense. With a vast amount of characters, sub-plots, and action sequences, along with a 2 hour, 32 minute running time, all on an IMAX screen, the film is both exhilarating and exhausting in its immensity. With that immensity, there is a lot to process. Viewed as an action film, it has some of the most well-made action sequences I've seen on film. Director Christopher Nolan cites the film Heat as a source for inspiration, and it shows. Most superhero movies rely on CGI and a serious suspension of belief from the audience to be effective. This is definitely not the case with Knight. While the action remains over-the-top and incredibly intense, it doesn't cross over to being unrealistic. I was especially impressed with the car and semi-truck chase scene. There is one moment in particular in that sequence--I won't spoil it, but it may involve a truck flipping--that our entire theater sat in stunned silence for a moment. It's one of the only films where I've gotten chills multiple times due to the onscreen intensity.

Viewed in terms of acting, there are solid performances all around. But in particular, Heath Ledger lives up to all the hype surrounding his portrayal of the Joker. I have never seen such a perfect personification of sin or the devil in film. His appearance is disturbing, his nonchalant demeanor unnerving. Nolan was intentional about giving the character a lack of background; the character becomes timeless, eternal even. But I think the most frightening aspect of the Joker is his complete lack of rules. Scripture defines sin as lawlessness, and the Joker embodies lawlessness. He isn't flippant--even though he tells Harvey Dent and others that he has no plan, he is very intentional about every action he takes. You get the sense that at one time in his past, he might have been an okay guy who simply had a few misfortunes. But somewhere along the way, he hits a breaking point that drives him to a devotion to creating chaos in the lives of others. Like Alfred describes, he can't be bargained or reasoned with; he simply lives to see the world burn. (For a great post about the Joker and evil in cinema, click here). I am convinced that Ledger will win an Oscar for the performance, not simply because it tragically was his final role, but because he literally embodies sin in the film. It's a dark role in a very dark film, and one that will place Ledger in film history for a long time.

Viewed on a spiritual/redemptive level, the film raises a wide variety of moral questions. The whole concept of black-and-white is characterized by the Joker and Harvey Dent. The Joker lives his life based on creating as much evil and chaos as possible, viewing human beings as inherently dark and worthless. Dent, on the other hand, lives based on a set of principles (flawed ones, but principles nonetheless) and views human beings as capable of being good and doing what's right. Caught in the middle is Batman who wants to do what is best for the people of Gotham, but is caught in a number of moral dilemmas. My friend Brian pointed out to me that each main character seems make moral compromises at some point in the film, usually with the motives that the "ends justify the means." Each character shows that while they are striving for good, they are also broken and capable of evil themselves. On the other hand, the film also shows people making the tough-but-right choice to do good, such as in the scene on the ferry boats where each boat is compelled by the Joker to blow up the other boat. In fact, that may have been one of my favorite scenes of the film. I had to ask myself, what would I have done in that situation? Would I have pulled the trigger? The scene also shows how complex people really are and captures a profound truth about humanity: we contain both good and evil in ourselves and are on a lifelong journey towards becoming one or the other. 

Even the ending of the film suggests that none of our heroes are as pure or true as we suspect. I disagreed with Batman's choice at the end to take the fall for Harvey Dent. His motives were good, but good motives don't always equal the best actions. In this case, choosing to deceive the people of Gotham into thinking a morally twisted leader was actually a hero is not an action I'd condone. And I'm not convinced that the filmmakers condone it either; they simply present it as what Batman feels has to be done, while also making us think about our own heroes in real life. How many of our heroes (politicians, sports stars, celebrities, pastors, etc.) have publicly fallen in their moral lives? How many more are covering up their faults, fearing the day that they'll be exposed? It's a rather disturbing thought, and one that inspires me to strive to be a man of integrity instead of moral compromise. We can never remain flawless, but we can strive towards being honest about our flaws and being intentional about working through them instead of covering them up.

Overall, the film is very well done and the best superhero film I've ever seen. It currently has the top spot on IMDB and has set numerous box-office records. The Joker put it best in his remark to Batman: "You've changed things." Nolan has changed things for both the Batman franchise and film history. I can't wait for the third one!


  1. I'm glad to hear that you liked it, Joel.

    I loved when Joker was explaining that he was like a dog chasing a car. That analogy summed up his character perfectly for me.

    As for the ending, I agree with you. Taking the fall for Harvey was pretty lame and could have easily been avoided. Why not blame the Joker? Perhaps a bit of a plot hole there, but the film is definitely far from flawless.

  2. Glad you got to finally see it Joel. I really liked it although wouldn't have minded if it was about 15-20 minutes shorter. But the kicker of the night was my husband falling asleep. I couldn't believe it! Glad you and Katie are back safely!

  3. Cam-
    I wouldn't call the ending a plot hole, as I get the impression that the filmmakers were deliberate in making Batman take the fall, thus his whole "Dark Knight" moniker. But it's a less-than-redemptive ending for a film that brings up a lot of good moral questions. And yes, it's definitely not flawless...but it's still really really good! :)

    Fell asleep during The Dark Knight?! I must admit, I'm impressed; that takes a certain kind of sleeper, one who can sleep through anything! :) Thanks for reading about our European adventures, we're glad to be back too.

  4. Heya,

    Nice review, but could you please take down your link to the photo on Pop Critics.

    Some courtesy would be nice...if you use the image, link back to our site.

    But the better way is to just save it and upload it to Blogger on your own :)



  5. Mike-
    Sorry about that. I thought by using the picture's link through Blogger it would link to your page, but I guess I was mistaken. I uploaded it on my own now.