Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Requisite TDK article
You’re just a freak
Black and white.
Light and dark.
Good and evil.
Knight and Jester.
Heads and tails???
The Dark Knight has been praised to the skies, both by the critics and by the people who actually pay to watch the movie. The story has appealed to long time fans of the franchise, as well as people who have perhaps never picked up a comic book in their lives, or at best, given them a cursory glance. It’s a grim, dark drama of a masked vigilante and a cackling madman, and sure enough, those are the two characters you notice the most. But at its heart, the dark knight isn’t really Batman’s story. Nor is it about Joker’s violent rampage. The Dark knight is the story of Harvey dent, the tragedy of his fall from grace. It’s about how the Gotham’s white knight gives in to his dark side.
The Joker and the Batman are two obvious polar opposites. The Joker would do anything to create chaos, which is all he cares about. He burns what is literally a mountain of cash, not to make a statement but to watch it turn to ashes. Some people just want to watch the world burn, Alfred correctly surmised when Bruce Wayne was trying to figure out the why to the Joker’s seemingly directionless rampage. He kills his own henchmen in the beginning of the movie, or rather, he plays them like pawns, makes them kill each other. Just because he can.
Batman on the other hand, for all his grim and gritty demeanor, will not kill the Joker. Even when he knows what the minstrel of hate has done, what he is capable of. Over and over Batman gets the chance to do away with the madman, and over and over he refuses to, Sometimes putting himself at risk.
The two characters are moral absolutes, but right in the middle, in the deepest shadows stands Gotham’s white knight. Harvey dent starts off as the city’s great hope, the man who will clean the streets. And he will do it with the law in his side. Even Bruce Wayne sees Dent as the man who will take the great burden that is the Batman off his chest. But Dent has a dark side, and that is obvious from the get go. For a DA, Dent has surprisingly scant regard for the law, torturing one of the Joker’s henchmen for information. Information his victim might not even have. The law exists only to punish the guilty, and he is a soldier. There is wildness to his drive for justice that’s more than a little disconcerting. He puts himself in the line of fire to get to the Joker, sure. But somewhere, his psyche seems to say “Hey, I risked myself and I am a good man. Imagine what I will do to you if you are evil”
Dent’s coin is more than a symbol of his duality. He represents the middle ground, between the clean (Batman) and the scarred (Joker). But he is also Batman’s greatest defeat, because he could have gone either way. But the Joker got to him first. He keeps flipping the coin, but it is really the coin that controls him.
Aaron Eckhart’s performance is the hidden gem in TDK. While Heath Ledger’s death ensured the spotlight would be fixed firmly on his performance, and Christian Bale is already a bankable blockbuster leading man, it is the actor from small movies like Thank you for Smoking who had the most to prove. Ever since Christopher Reeve donned the red and blue tights 30 years ago, Superhero movies have always thrown up little known faces and made them big stars. Eckhart is another amazing actor who has found his first blockbuster in a capes and tights flick. His portrayal of one of the most tragic characters in the Batman franchise alternates between an overcoming desire to do good and righteous fury. And that’s before the scars appear, to mirror his duality.
TDK is a superhero movie, but is it a tragedy? It’s about a man who see-saws between two sides, and finally chooses destruction. In the end we see the hero scurrying away, running from the authorities. His beacon is smashed. Gotham’s last great hope, his white knight is perverted. But TDK is more than a grim, gritty noir movie. It’s also art, in ways movies like The Clockwork Orange will never be. Because while those movies that examine the dark side of human nature seem to revel in the nastiness of their villains (or anti-heroes), TDK ends with heroism, and hope. For all the Joker’s cool lines and chaos, the Batman wins. Not by pushing the villain off a tall building. Not by beating him to a pulp. The Batman wins because finally, he saves the city he loves so much. He is willing to be a hunted criminal, a murderer, for the sake of his city. He runs, because he has to. And because Gotham needs to chase him. For a fall of a good man, an even better man needs to rise from the ashes. Batman has to be more than a hero, because Dent failed to be one. Yes, Harvey Dent’s story is indeed a tragedy, about a good man perverted. But Bruce Wayne’s story, the quieter, subtler story, is all about redemption.