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'The Dark Knight' Is Chilling
The more Batman reduces crime, the more he can't avoid challenging the state
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
Published 2008-07-15 06:04 (KST)   

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©2008 Warner Bros. Pictures
Before you know it, you've stepped right into the thick of this flick. There are no opening credits, no titles. There is just black fire and the smoky blue Batman symbol and then you're right there on a pavement in Gotham, in broad daylight.

It almost seems too real, too ordinary. Get ready for a ride that is so gritty, you might catch yourself initially feeling bored with the realism. Be careful though, just when you least expect it, you'll have found the world around you has suddenly unraveled.

Anarchy, incidentally, is what Batman fights on our behalf, and anyone who has any sense knows that anarchy in a city is frightening. Stay alert because the trickster who thrives on unleashing chaos will smack you to attention again and again with his hellish Holy Toledo trickery.

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The Joker: "Introduce a little anarchy Upset the established order Well then everyone loses their minds!"

By the way, the Joker doesn't mess around. We need to hope and pray that no one like this ever manifests in a major city. Ledger's performance is powerful and haunting. Even if Ledger hadn't died, his Joker remains disturbing and credible. One of the reasons for this is the Joker is so incredibly right, and so incredibly wrong.

Director Christopher Nolan and his cast have done an impeccable job. Those swimming cityscapes, the reverberating land and air machines, the deep growing hum and din of brooding insight as the flick gains momentum, all these energize the blood, and a realization: our human condition has become dark, very dark. You think "The Dark Knight" isn't allegorical?

Director Nolan says, "Batman exists in this very precarious state of somebody who has very negative impulses but tries to channel them into something good and I think that's a very human dilemma and one that in this film we see infect more and more people, and I think the Joker is very much the catalyst for that infection."

Nolan describes the Joker as a catalyst rather than a fully-fledged character. A catalyst for what? For chaos and anarchy. The Joker makes it his life's work to duel with Batman's seriously sensible world. At one point he says to the Batman: "I don't want to kill you. You complete me." The Joker believes it takes one bad day to make anyone corruptible, and in this mission he finds a life's work in Batman.

There are some serious surprises in this flick. I'd love to tell you about them. The good news is the story itself is riveting, the acting superb, there are plenty of twists and turns and the visual journey compelling.

But "The Dark Knight" is a lot more than that. This is A VERY BIG FLICK. It is a commentary about the human condition, right now. As such, the rhetorical question the Joker poses -- more than once -- is apt: "Why (are we) so serious?" Indeed, when you think about it, there are enough reasons.

At one point in the flick, I felt a creepy crawly sense that the film and reality were infected with one another, and I had the sudden compulsion to stand up, and demand the lights be turned on, the flick discarded and all journalists sent home. Why? Because what if the cleverly colorful chaos in the flick actually gave some crazy whack jobs out there some brand new ideas?

But we already know that in the real world there are Jokers aplenty. There are teams of nutters out there who have given up playing by the rules. Their way of coping with the world is to take nothing seriously.

In the real world, anarchy, chaos, madness, nonsensical-ness is a growing shadow that threatens the fabric of society. We've seen how quickly a city can collapse (think about New Orleans and parts of New York). We have every reason to worry about our safety in the world.

Indeed, on the drive from the cinema I heard that several people had died in a horror truck smash. By the way, that's in the movie too.

Yes, "The Dark Knight" is a chilling and disturbing look at ourselves. In the book, Batman and Philosophy, The Dark Knight of the Soul, Mark D. White poses the question: "Why doesn't Batman kill the Joker?"

In fact, isn't it Batman's duty to kill someone who lives to kill innocent people? As long as Batman allows the Joker to live, innocent people are at risk, and so it becomes Batman's responsibility, right? Simple, right? Not so fast.

Imagine, White, suggests, that there is a trolley on a track. You stand at a lever. The trolley will either go down and kill one person or down another track, killing five people tied to the track. What do you do?

You might reason that one person is expendable, but what if the five people are murderers, and the one is an innocent child? Now you begin to see the dilemma.

Nolan places a similar dilemma in "The Dark Knight," and it is here, when this dilemma is taken to some extent out of Batman's hand, and put into the general public's, that we begin to worry about consequences. See, Batman always places the responsibility for deaths the Joker causes at the Joker's door. All he can do is his best to prevent that.

In the same book, Stephen Kershnar writes about "Batman's Virtuous Hatred." It takes the entire movie to demonstrate what that is. But here's a clue: "Batman's hatred makes the world a much better place even if it makes his life worse."

The flick is about escalation, and true to form, the momentum builds towards a crescendo. Some of the techno-wizardry near the end is the perfect precursor for the Batman game (and there is one in the works). I can hear Morgan's voice now, giving instructions to voyeur vigilantes.

There is another scene that I want to single out for you. The Batman interrogates the Joker under full incandescent lighting. Both are brightly lit, but Batman's eyes are two small pinpricks of light in his dark, dark mask. Impeccable.

What is remarkable when studying the Batman persona, the Batman iconography and all the metaphor that's involved, is that this is the only character, the only superhero, that made himself. The boy Bruce Wayne made a decision after his parents were murdered, and then dedicated his life to transforming himself into a crime cancer. As such, Bruce Wayne is a caricature; Bruce Wayne is merely a pretense.

Who then is real? Batman or Bruce? The answer is, a little bit of both.

In exactly the same sense, each of us has a dark side. Each of us shows a different face to different people. What is magnificent about Batman is that this lantern-jawed character is incredibly courageous, and yet human like the rest of us.

But it is in the guise of Batman that he gets to operate beyond the limits of the law, and of any other person. Batman is the exception, because he chooses to be. It's a choice -- and a lonely one -- no other hero, but some of the worst villains, choose to take. And for that we owe the caped crusader at least the price of a movie ticket.

This is undoubtedly the best flick of 2008. There's such a rise of giddy power in this flick, I won't be surprised if "The Dark Knight" breaks all the box office records we've seen so far. I for one am going back for another look.

For more on the writer, visit www.nickvanderleek.com.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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