That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

The Dark Knight

Friday, August 15th, 2008 8:33 pm—Film

The Dark Knight (USA 2008, Action/Crime/Drama/Thriller), Writers: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan; Director: Christopher Nolan

Let me say first that there are flaws in this film. It’s no Memento (Christopher Nolan’s brilliant, highly original directorial claim to fame), and the story is a little lackluster when compared with Batman Begins, given that we already know “the secret” of why Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) created his alter ego. My good friend TS came down pretty hard on The Dark Knight, saying that it tries to mix “comic book logic” with an otherwise “highbrow” script that takes itself too seriously.

That said, I still loved the film, because of the dark tension that never lets up, because I never tire of watching Bale’s performances even when he doesn’t have much to do, because part of me would love to be a superhero, and, far and away most significantly, because Heath Ledger is absolutely phenomenal as The Joker.

When I saw The Dark Knight, there was a trailer for the latest Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. Here’s another action franchise that has moved towards hyperrealism (as far as action films will allow) and plundering new depths to discover the darkness and turmoil that lies at the heart of its characters.

The trailer made me wonder why there’s been such a strong movement in that direction over the past few years. I’ve always loved that kind of character development, and uncovering why dark, twisted people are the way they are. It’s the reason I focused on abnormal psychology in my undergraduate thesis. But in the past, the movies tended to go more for escapism and fantasy than cold hard “truths.” Is there really an increasing demand for this kind of exploration that is less uplifting than the escapist fun we used to go to action movies in search of, or are the filmmakers dictating what we “want”?

So here we have The Dark Knight, which picks up with Batman’s heart and soul already laid bare for us to dissect. And into the mix is thrown The Joker. We don’t get the same glimpse into his psyche. Nolan and Ledger let us think we do, but before we know it, it’s completely turned on its face and we realize The Joker has been screwing with us. It’s just another practical joke. And isn’t that an interesting twist on the newfangled trend of digging in and really trying to understand why bad—or at least dark—people are the way they are.

The Joker takes that away from us. It’s an interesting choice to make in the sequel to a film whose success came from convincingly revealing the inner workings of a legendary and very complicated mind. The Dark Knight still presents a brutally raw portrayal of The Joker as a disturbed psychopath; it’s a far cry from the cute, cartoon version of the character Jack Nicholson embodied. But with The Joker, Nolan makes it clear that there aren’t always pat answers to why people are the way they are. There doesn’t have to be a rhyme or reason. As Alfred (Michael Caine) says, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” That was a much more satisfying explanation to me than the implausible transformation Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) supposedly underwent to become Two Face.

I think that’s why The Joker makes this film so wonderful for me: Batman Begins explains how the man (Bruce Wayne) became the myth (Batman); The Dark Knight reveals that there might not always be an explanation.

There are other reasons to see the film. Like its predecessor, The Dark Knight is well directed, features some incredible technology, and has a strong supporting cast (with the fantastic Maggie Gyllenhaal taking over the role of Rachel Dawes in the latest film). And there’s more to say about the plot; I’m selling the movie short by implying that it’s just a one-man show. It brings up some interesting issues, including the role that crime has to play in society (should it be wiped out or simply managed?), and the obvious parallels to violence and terror in today’s world (is Batman’s justified violence the answer to The Joker’s foreign, irrational attacks?). But I’d have to see it again to really speak to that. And truly, The Joker is more than reason enough to see this movie. I spent every scene he wasn’t in eagerly awaiting his return. Even when the great Christian Bale was onscreen.

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