Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan

The Dark Knight is the second Batman film directed by Christopher Nolan. The first was the entertaining but average Batman Begins.

The film has garnered immense and superlative praise from a large number of critics. It is currently at #1 on the IMDB Top 250 films of all time, and has a rating of 9.3/10 with close to 200,000 votes.

I have seen the film twice in theater, and there are certainly some great moments in the film. However, I don't think it is the "best film ever made" or anything like that. This is not a great film, just an enjoyable one, because it is not content with whatever subtlety it has (which in itself is debatable) but wants to indulge in crowd-pleasing tricks.

Cinematically the film has some great moments: the images of the Batman cruising on his motorcycle, the lonely Batman perched at the top of a building at night, the feverish acting of Heath Ledger, the sound design (the static hum when Joker enters the frame, the action sequences, and especially the ending). The editing and the sound design in the end sequence of the film (The creation of the Dark Knight) is superlative.

But the techniques of the film can also be faulted for a number of reasons. The narrative is slightly disjointed (though well-paced). Some crucial scenes have been edited in less than satisfactory ways. The bank heist, the chase, the Joker's jail-room antics, the final showdown with the SWAT teams had the potential to become cinematic milestones. Instead, the editor juggles too much, as if he's not too sure of himself.

Also, some narrative elements are not fully formed. The film seems episodic rather than fluid. Some smarty-pants bits of dialogue ("Cuz I'm not wearing Hockey Pants") cheapen the tone of the film.

Coming to the serious thematic issues raised by the film, here is my take on them:

Anarchy versus Planning: The Joker claims he does not plan, but actually he plans to a fault. Sometimes his plans don't work, but there is definitely a method in his so-called madness. If anything, it seems like he has planned every step of the film leading to the final showdown.

The Dark Side of a man: To an audience nourished on black and white characters, it would probably seem deep to see the creation of Two-Face. But is there anything new in saying that men can be corrupted and pushed over the edge?

Rules: The Joker wants to defeat the Batman who plays by certain rules. And the film tries to show that rules are limiting when fighting with a madman. This is one of the most serious issues raised by this film, and one which does tend to make one think.

Surveillance: A deus ex machina defense of an Orwellian device. See The Conversation for a far more interesting take on this theme. I have written more about it here.

US as the Dark Knight: The parallels are unmistakable. But what dilutes the whole treatment is the inexplicable motives of Joker. To equate terrorism with madness is unfair, and only (falsely) affirms that US was not culpable in a number of international crimes, and that the escalation is completely the fault of those criminals and terrorists. It is just not true.

The Good People: I didn't buy the final response of the people on the ferries for one minute. In the real world, there would have been riots. And it is grossly misleading to boot. In fact, preemptive strikes has long been a major part of US foreign policy. The US has bombed and destroyed faraway regions faced with far less provocation than shown in this film.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and recommend it to everybody as a cinematic experience. But don't take it too seriously (as the Joker would say)!


Umang said...

The IMDB rating for most recent films seem very skewed. I think a large part of that is because more people are online and a lot more are participating, rather than just consuming information.

I agree on the part about ferries. Even the ending was sloppy.

But Heath Ledger was brilliant. I walked in a Batman fan, and walked out a Joker fan.

Anonymous said...

amen. even my reaction to the movie was "whats all the ado about"?? i couldnt see any of the depth as touted by the critics. whats with ebert eh?? either he gets a cut or hes come the full circle in his old age.

Anonymous said...

Preferably, for everyone who isn't a viral marketer, the next Batman will have a better, relevant, screenplay, a better director and better actors, especially as Batman. The major complaint, obviously, was the terrible, yet overhyped, movie, the atrocious directing, and the terrible, badly-cast, gay actors. If this were imdb there would be more viral marketers here. They're like the cheap hustler telemarketers and telephone technical support of internet media. The next Batman movie needs to be just plain better. Meaning, NO BS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Arun Kumar said...

Someone else's review on this movie (you may like to read) -

Anonymous said...

I think one of the factors adding to the hype was the unfortunate turn of events relating to Heath Ledger. No doubt that his work is very good, but personally I feel Jack Nicholson was better.

Totally agree with the thing about method in madness and the fact that humans can be corrupted.

As a true Batman Fan, I think Chritopher Nolan's work on the two Batman movies is a blessing compared to the earlier Batman capers which almosts created a Joker out of the superhero. They are now talking about another edition which will feature Catwoman.