The Dark Knight

Like millions of other people I wanted to go and see The Dark Knight this last weekend. My middle son and his crew went to an early matinee and barely managed to get seats. I made the mistake of going in the evening and, despite purchasing our tickets online, still had trouble getting a seat. The first three showings were sold out so we ended up going at 10:30, a late start to an almost three hour film. There was a sort of hall monitor sorting people into lines outside the theater, then again inside. Inside the actual screening room were ushers with walkie-talkies making sure that every seat was filled and directing people back and forth between the three (!) rooms all showing The Dark Knight at 10:30. There was so much excitement and hype that it was hard to believe we were there for just a movie and not a coronation or something. Could this film live up to our expectations?

The answer is yes. Although the movie is nearly three hours long it flew by, never dragging, always interesting. Overall the plotting was well done, with plenty of surprises to keep us guessing. The acting ranged from good to superb and the music worked beautifully, building and releasing tension. Even when I had serious questions, (like how did he get on top of that building?) the story swept me along so quickly that I didn't have time to fret about them. The only major problem I had with this movie was the curious absence of Batman.

Lieutenant Gordon, played by Gary Oldman, is squabbling with Assistant DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) over a massive plan to cut off the outgo of mob money from Gotham City, forcing the mobsters to keep their money in five banks, which Gordon is planning to hit all on the same day. But while this delicate operation is in play a new chess piece enters the board, a maniac who calls himself the Joker (Heath Ledger) and, in a bold move, steals 68 million in mob money from one of the banks.

Much like another ultra villain, Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, the Joker immediately shows us what makes him tick as he eliminates someone who annoys him in a single, swift, brutal and shocking move. There's nothing campy or jocular about Ledger's Joker, despite his occasional frenzied giggling, instead he struck me as the embodiment of an archetype, specifically the Trickster. (Other examples of the Trickster include Anansi, Coyote, Loki and Brer Rabbit.) While some incarnations of the Trickster are fairly benign, say Bugs Bunny, the Joker is as malignant as they come, sprinkling fear, chaos and death around Gotham City like an overenthusiastic waiter with one of those oversized peppermills. He thrives on the pandemonium he spreads, seeming to feed off the turmoil that follows in his wake. Even his back-story is chaotic, as evidenced every time he tells the story of the scars his face bears. Heath Ledger is phenomenal in the role. He uses every aspect of his voice and body to create a paradoxical performance. He is both larger than life and completely natural. He's subtle and exaggerated, all at once. I would say Ledger's Joker is the performance of a lifetime but I vividly remember a scene where his character loses his temper in Brokeback Mountain and thinking I would never want to be alone in the same room with him, so instead I will say this role is one more in a series of astonishing portrayals by a very gifted and hardworking actor.

Unfortunately the Batman character is not nearly as developed as his nemesis. Despite the fact that he, appearing as either Bruce Wayne or Batman, is in many, many scenes it's as though he isn't really there. We see Harvey Dent's character develop, we gain insight into Gordon's soul, we see that Lucius Fox is a man of character and we see some of what makes the Joker tick but Batman remains inaccessible. While he is present in a great many scenes he's also curiously absent. Despite the fact that the other characters tell us he is tormented and torn, longing to retire, we see very little from him to back this up. There's an old adage in the entertainment industry; "Show, don't tell." In order for us to believe that the Batman is tormented we need to see it, not just hear about it. Part of the trouble may be the mask and thick costume that he wears, blocking out emotions, but when I think of Doug Jones' ability to portray incredibly subtle feelings while dressed as Abe Sapien in the Hellboy films or the Faun or the Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth, I'm not convinced that's really what’s wrong.

When we first see Batman he is surrounded by false figures, ordinary men dressed up as the Batman. Then we see his car, which is flashing instructions such as "loiter" and "intimidate." The car shows nearly as much emotion and desire as the Batman does. Which brings me to my theory; it's entirely possible Batman went on vacation, leaving an automaton in his place. Let's take a look at the first of the three laws of robotics. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Sounds a lot like Batman's "one rule" doesn't it?

Despite the plot holes I saw and the problems I had with the Batman himself, I heartily recommend this film. The rest of the film is strong enough to carry sweep you past the trouble spots, and as a whole it's wildly entertaining.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from the florist, who has some comments about a novel by Mary Jo Putney, saying, "One Perfect Rose is a beautiful love story about Stephen and Rosalind – a nobleman and an actress. Stephen is dying and traveling incognito when he meets Rosalind who has secrets of her own. She doesn't know her own secrets because she was adopted. This book is very unique and interesting." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at mailto:feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.