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Dark Knight – Review and two questions

Saw it last night. It was that or its polar opposite: That ABBA movie.

It left me oddly unsatisfied — odd given its virtues — the way professional wrestling does. The plot has no natural momentum, which is disappointing given that it was written by the folks who brought us Memento and The Prestige, two movies driven by strong plot ideas and ornate, wonderful plotting. Instead, it seems to be a movie written by The Joker, the principle of chaos. So, you’re left with booms, beatings, and a dark mood. It kept my attention without actually being entertaining, and I came out feeling worse than when I went in.


I also came out with two questions:

1. I found the car chase (ok, so now I spoiled it; there’s a car chase) hard to follow. It wasn’t the worse of the shaky-cam extravaganzas we’ve seen in the past few years, but it was bad enough. Shaky-cam editing has become so common that I’m beginning to think it’s my problem, not the director’s. Maybe I’m just too old to keep up with the rapid, blurry editing. Is it just me?

2. If you saw The Dark Knight, were you also bothered by the implicit endorsement of torture as a morally acceptable (i.e., Batman’s) way of getting information when dealing with terrorists?

NOTE: There are some spoilers in the comments …

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23 Responses to “Dark Knight – Review and two questions”

  1. Batman is morally ambiguous. He is no Superman.

  2. Same feeling. Weak Plot.

    And same thing for car chase, or any other scene where 24 frame per second are not enough to catch the whole action. It’s not you.

    And about question two: you can’t have a moral relation with the Joker.

  3. About point #2, I guess this is one of the reasons he’s a _dark_ knight, let aside the color of his costume.

    Haven’t seen the film yet, but in the graphic novel he was _really_ dark, with darkest thoughts, feelings, ethics, moral, philosophy, etc.

    Indeed, this actually was what brought the character back to life, wasn’t it?

  4. Car chase was yeah, confusing to me. And the torture thing did seem to be a good way of getting the point across that this Batman is really not a hero in the traditional sense, there’s a lot of ambiguity about why he does what he does, and how he channels his rage, etc.

    I enjoyed the movie — I see about one big screen movie a year so this was a big deal, but the relentless sadism and the lack of central plot momentum was a problem for me.

  5. I think others are right to point out batman’s ambiguous role. But if anything, I think the movie is suggesting that torture can result in false information.

    The joker switched the addresses he gave. Batman thought he was going to rescue Rachel. Most likely He was just waiting until he was under duress so batman would believe him.

  6. I don’t think we’re asked to take the morals of Batman seriously. Certainly in Batman Begins the morals were ridiculous throughout. It’s about the comic-book conception of ‘justice’.

  7. I don’t think we’re asked to take the morals of Batman seriously. Certainly in Batman Begins the morals were ridiculous throughout. It’s about the comic-book conception of ‘justice’.

  8. One of the overarching themes of the movie is moral and ethical ambiguity, albeit for those who don’t have that attention span to think through Crash (2005). In a way, The Joker is Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo writ weird. Let’s face it, David, you and I (and a bunch of others) grew up at a time when there was a clear demarcation between heroes and villains. Our Superman, Batman, and the rest were on the side of capital-J Justice, whereas in today’s reality, the so-called good guys aren’t nearly as good as we might want to believe (as demonstrated in the movie by the variation on Prisoner’s Dilemma).

    For me, part of the strange feeling that I had at the end had to do with the non-stop intensity of the piece, and the ultimate injustices suffered by he who became the anti-hero. It’s too easy, not to mention too tempting, to read The Dark Knight as menippean commentary on the present day. Perhaps better to just enjoy it on the visceral level, as flawed in its way as the protagonist himself.

  9. Yeah, I didn’t get the idea that the torture actually got the results that anyone wanted–except the joker. He actually seemed to enjoy it for one or more reasons.
    1. The more he laughed and the beating, the more the Batman seemed to lose it, and he enjoyed that.
    2. The more the Batman beat him up, the more time was wasted, so the Joker got him to the point where he wouldn’t be able to save both.
    3. The fact that the authorities left them in there together played into the Joker’s philosophy.
    4. He finally got an “audience” with the Batman, which may have been the whole point.

  10. I agree with Bob. The torture didn’t really get any results. So it didn’t satisfy torture fans, and those of us who are sickened by our now established role as a torturing country probably didn’t get much satisfaction out of it either. I know I didn’t.
    Strangely, given my reading of The Dark Side by Jane Mayer, the torture in Batman seems to be in sync with reality: it’s brutal and produces ambiguous results.

  11. How do you think Bruce Wayne ran Wayne enterprises so effectively? He read this book…. http://www.readtheanswer.com/index.php?RTA=web2

  12. You might find this interesting:

    http://www.alternet.org/movies/92385/batman%27s_take_on_9_11_era_politics_drop_the_fearmongering/?page=entire

  13. I don’t think it was necessarily an implicit endorsement. Just that it might come to show that there is a blurry line between good and evil. In other words, our super hero is as flawed as the rest of us, and maybe even as flawed as the joker.

  14. In Dark Knight, there was an issue that I objected to. Batman and Two-Face were arguing about what role Batman was to play in trying to fight evil in Gotham. Batman said that he must be seen as an outlaw, so that can use extra-legal means to fight evil (read torture). Batman then tells Two-Face that he is going to lie to the media and shoulder the blame that should have accrued to Two-Face. In other words, he was willing to use “The noble lie” as a political expedient to further a good goal – the same philosophical tool that the founder of the Neocon movement, Leo Strauss, extolled. That’s how government lies and torture begin, to protect our values which, paradoxically, ends up undermining them.

  15. Bob, that Alternet article (three comments above this one) is really interesting. It makes a coherent, detailed case that comes to the opposite conclusion that I came to. Thanks for the link!

    OTOH, I think the author got more out of the movie than most movie-goers (= me) will. I think most of us (= me) will see Batman extract true and valuable info by breaking Eric Roberts legs and thus conclude that the movie is casually assuming that torture works, except when waged against a villain as supernaturally wily as the Joker.

  16. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I read the Alternet article by Michael Dudley and found his ideas really compelling (many thx @Bob).

    There’s another take I just came across, by Jim Kunstler, but it’s a real sledge-hammer attack: see
    http://jameshowardkunstler.typepad.com/clusterfuck_nation/2008/08/dark-knight.html

    He’s suggesting that the film is essentially a work of sado-masochistic porn, and that it’s popular because we’re all f*cked up, just loving this sort of stuff because we’re …well, big-time sado-masochists and wanna-be Nazis.

    Hmm…

    QUOTE (from Kunstler):
    The rich symbolism in this spectacle represents the tenor of contemporary America as something a few notches worse than whatever the Nazis were heading toward around 1933. We like nothing better than to see people suffer and watch things get broken. The more slowly people are tortured (including the movie audience) the more exquisite the pleasure derived from the act. Civilization offers no consolation. In fact, its a mug’s game. Thus, civilization is composed only of torturers and their mug victims.
    UNQUOTE

    (Full disclaimer: James Kunstler’s take on cities really annoys the heck out of me; he’s one of these “theorists” who’s just itching for the apocalypse to arrive so he can say, “I told you so.” He’s convinced that Peak Oil’s imminence will mean we’ll all be using horse and drey rigs soon, and that highrise buildings are a priori evil. There’s a weird melding of Luddite tendencies with a Malthusian faith in scarcity. Technology is a mirage.)

    Here’s an example of how he manages to drive the knife into cities (obviously, Gotham is to be loathed), and turn the blade:
    QUOTE:
    By the way, Hitler had a brighter sense of decor in the final days of the bunker. Bruce Wayne’s personal apartment is one of those horrid glass-walled tower condos beloved of the starchitects, which, in its florid exposure to everything external practically screams “no shelter here!”
    UNQUOTE

    I’m not sure what that last clause (“florid exposure to everything external”) actually means, but maybe I’m just thick.

    OTOH, he really gets into some masterful rhetoric in shredding this movie (and what he sees as the “us” who like it, but who are beyond redemption — and therefore just ripe for the picking, too).

    Since you saw the movie (as did all the people who’ve commented so far), do you any thoughts on Kunstler’s take?

    Or is Kunstler (like Dudley) reading a tad too much into a mere film?

  17. For god Sake people, its a MOVIE! Your all reading too far into it! The Joker is a sick and twisted fiend, he was the puppet master during pretty much the whole movie, especially during the Interrogation scene. Batman had to be scene as an outlaw because if people knew of the fate befallen Dent, they would lose hope, and crime would once again plague the city. If everyone thought Batman did it, then Dent would still be a hero, and Batman would continue to be just that, an outlaw, the dangerous protector of the night.

  18. Also the car chase was not THAT hard to follow…

  19. Bob – thanks for the article. That was excellent.

    I for one loved this movie, simply because the heroes and villians were so twisted up into each other. My friends have spent the last two weeks arguing the tactics of Harvey Dent/Two Face. The Joker we see today is the product of Alan Moore’s interpretation of Batman, when DC had him release the tremendously dark The Killing Joke in 1988. What discomfort we feel for Batman’s tactics (which I do believe were written to have failed), we are surley going to feel tenfold upon next year’s release of Moore’s graphic novel classic The Watchmen. I’m certain these conversations will come up again.

    We may very well want to be concerned about how those of us who aren’t looking at the movie so analytically will take these torture and wiretapping issues. Crooks and Liars posted a clip this morning of Glenn Beck using Batman as a defense for the very things Michael Dudley’s article rejects.

    http://www.crooksandliars.com/2008/08/07/glenn-beck-bush-is-batman/

  20. there is a double standard with how these movies get reviewed, the critics give them way too much credit if they’re not completely terrible. My experience with the whole superhero movie genre is consistently disappointing– the contributors and actors may be highbrow (Michael Chabon on the spiderman script! Ang Lee directs the Hulk! ) but they rarely transcend the overproduced, overextended, oversoundtracked Hollywood awfulness. And I love Hollywood! and superheroes! I wish they’d bring the old Batman series back on tv; that’s how to do a superhero show.

  21. For us, those tuned to popular land in America, we all witness a brilliant film. THE DARK KNIGHT. Enough said! This was truly a well-written screenplay, well directed, well acted, outstanding visual effects, and had a plot that kept you connected to the entire story, on and so on and so on… What is left to say but “OSCAR”!

    Personally, I believe that this was the best comic book movie ever. For those who did not grow up with comic books, this was their revelation and initiation to that world in a very seductive and irresistible manner.

    WoW! Heath Ledger! He simply made you want to be a bad guy. OSCAR, OSCAR, OSCAR! His death was certainly and truly a sad experience for many of us, but his performance was uncanny! Maybe the psychology behind this sad clown drove him to madness but was certain was that the character he created for us was a diabolical genius with so many mental issues that would drive any average individual to madness.

    Many of us would agree that even the first sequence of the movie was a plan with a superior mastermind individual behind the whole thing. You haven’t seen the movie yet, once you do, you’ll see that you get hooked right away from the very moment the story starts. Once you are submerged into the storyline, you wake up to reality not even noticing that you were watching a movie the whole time.

    All I have to say is congratulations to the entire cast. Every single actor played a marvelous job. Shout out to Christopher Nolan for writing and directing this brilliant movie. Christian Bale, Heath Ledger
    Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Gary Oldman. Basically, Batman himself was what you need to add to your ketchup and make it taste like an Italian grandmother’s pasta sauce that she has been cooking for over a day. Can’t have a Batman movie without Batman doing batman stuff.

    At the end of the day, whether you are starting to learn about all these comic book heroes for the first time just like me, or you are a big fan, GO TO THE THEATER AND SEE BATMAN!!! Please go watch this phenomenal movie and help THE DARK KNIGHT beat Titanic to become the largest grossing movie of all time. GO NOW!!!

  22. You’re right…Batman is no Superman, and that’s what is absolutely intriguing about him. He is dark, and different, and takes the blame for others’ actions. He is conflicted with himself, because he is a man, like any other man. He has morals and a conscience, but lives such a secret life that it gets to him. The only difference is his money for gadgets and technology, and his strength and fighting training. Superman has all these mystical, other-worldly powers born to him, and naturally becomes a superhero, whereas Batman makes himself a superhero. Which is why is he so, freaking AWESOME! He uses his money for a purpose, and wants to give hope and safety to his city.

    The Dark Knight was the best film I’ve ever seen. Hands down, no competition. Maybe the camera was shaky or whatever, but that made it all the more real and believable. And as for the torture aspect? No one in the movie ever said it was acceptable. In fact, the Commissioner even tried to get in and stop him when he was beating the Joker up. But, with someone as crazy, irrational, sociopathic and mentally unstable as the Joker, how could you expect that cops or Batman would sit politely in a chair across from him and try to get an explanation out of him?? They’d be going in circles for hours, days! The Joker doesn’t listen to reason, so Batman starts beating him up out of anger. It’s a pretty natural response to a criminal like the Joker. Anyway, the movie rocked my world…all 4 times I saw it. Everyone should see it at least once.

  23. I thought the Dark Knight sucked……..I was looking for it on Imdb, but this blog entry came up in the search!

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