Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Pawn

Let's get one thing straight. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is not the new Batman film. The character who calls himself Batman in the film bears a passing resemblance to that superhero, it's true - he has the flying cape, the mask with the pointy ears and a certain facility in hand to hand combat. But there the resemblance ends. This Batman is nothing like the noir crimefighter we know and love. This Batman is all sentiment: he's lovestruck, he has qualms; he's so bad at concealing his secret identity that a quick audit of the Wayne Corporation's accounts will tell you who he is; he likes cooperating with the police and putting criminals in jail but dislikes killing, in fact, he gets so upset when he realizes that people are being killed because of him that he has an existential crisis and decides to give himself up. He doesn't quite say "with great power comes great responsibility" but you can see him thinking it, and it makes you realize that with a different costume this guy could be Spiderman or Captain America or any of a half dozen other superheroes. In short, he's a nauseatingly all-American goody two-shoes, and the most vanilla incarnation of the caped crusader since Adam West's 1966 appraisal of the role. Hell, even George Clooney was edgier than this guy (though only just).

No, what The Dark Knight really is is the new Joker film. Because Heath Ledger's Joker isn't just far and away the darkest villain ever to appear in a Batman film, he is the scariest, most bruisingly magnificent vision of pure evil to appear on screen since Hannibal Lecter. Sadistic, psychopathic and machiavellan, Ledger's Joker is chaos brought to life, a whirlwind of destruction that whirls through the film leaving human debris in its wake. To call him a megalomaniac would be to miss the point, so powerfully does he tower over his opponents that what you're seeing is not delusions of grandeur, but grandeur itself. Callous violence one expects from a comic-book super-villain and a certain amount of maniacal bloodthirstiness is par for the course, but it's the insidiousness of the Joker's villainy, the casual cruelty that hides behind the grotesque slurping exterior, the sense of murder as a vocation, the ease with which the Joker finds the weakness of his opponent, or uses his strength against him, that is both hypnotic and chilling. Ledger's Joker is a modern-day Iago - a villain of such elemental proportions that he transcends the trivial details of plot and action. It's an indelible performance.

Perhaps a little too indelible. The trouble with Ledger's Joker is that he makes everyone else in the film look tame by comparison, so that the movie seems deeply unbalanced, with the viewer wishing the good guys would go away so he / she could see more of the Joker. It is a good thing that the plot, for the most part, goes along with this, ceding almost all control to the Joker and reducing the good guys to little more than trained circus animals dutifully jumping through the hoops the villain lays for them, otherwise the contrast between Ledger's dominance and the Joker's subservience would tear the film apart. As it is, the Joker seems to preside over the action like some anarchic deity, some leering Beelzebub or red-nosed Baal. Even the end seems not so much a defeat as a conclusion - the Joker gets his comeuppance, of course, and Batman 'wins', but it is a pyrrhic victory, and one is left with the distinct impression that the Joker, having inflicted irreparable damage on Batman, has got exactly what he wants.

But all that is not enough. The central conceit of the film (aside from extremely overdone references to the 'two sides of a coin' analogy [1]) is that the confrontation between Batman and the Joker is a face-off between two people who play by very different sets of rules (the Dark Knight and the Joker, chess and poker, see?) with the obligatory connections to 9/11, the war on terror, etc. etc. In truth, however, what we see is a confrontation between two different genres - a scarily real villain matched against a cast of make-believe heroes. The genius of Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the Joker, two decades ago, was precisely that he was a comic-book villian; a bizarre, larger-than-life arch-fiend, who seemed to have stepped straight out of an animation. He was psychotic and scary, but in a way that conformed to the boundaries of the genre, so that the battle between him and Batman was a comic-book battle fought by comic-book rules. And every Batman villain since has more or less conformed to that standard. What Ledger does, however, is step out of that frame, and give us a villain who is not so much larger than life as viciously life-like, a villain who belongs in a hard-nosed crime thriller, not in the make-believe world of Gotham, a villain, in short, who makes the rest of the film's enterprise seem ridiculous by comparison. Watching him toy with Batman is like watching a man-eating tiger take on Mickey Mouse.

To be fair, Nolan tries desperately to find a way to match the gravity of this Joker. The body count gets ratcheted up, both qualitatively and quantitatively, there's a great deal of heartbreak, a lot of 'serious issues' get discussed. There's even a 'people are fundamentally good at heart' scene, which I suspect is meant to be a poignant affirmation of some sort, but comes across as just being corny. None of this does any good. So wholly does the spirit of the Joker rule this film that all Nolan's attempts to counter it just end up weighing the film down further - robbing it off momentum without adding anything of consequence. Nolan even goes to the trouble of giving us a second villain, but compared to the Joker what's-his-face seems so trivial that his scenes prove unintentionally hilarious, as though someone had wandered off the sets of the Mummy [2] to provide light comic relief.

All in all, The Dark Knight is a film worth watching only for Heath Ledger's performance. But that performance alone more than justifies the price of the ticket.


[1] People who've seen Sholay - which is probably all of you - may recognize a familiar plot device.

[2] Did you know they're making a third Mummy film? I saw a trailer for it today. So apparently Shrek Goes Fourth will not be the most unnecessary sequel ever made. Pity.


??! said...

Umm...actually the Bat never liked killing. That was his whole schtick.

Which is why he always believed the villians could be rehabilitated - and which is why they always came back.

Which is why he had issues with Dick and Jason - and which is why Jason turned against him (in the 'Red Hood' series). And which is why everybody was so outraged at 'The Dark Knight Strikes Again', because Miller let him kill.

...I'm not a fanboy. No?

Annamari said...

Dreamworks' shares are going down. If they are making Shrek Goes Fourth, they deserve whatever comes to them...
" The Dark Knight" - it seems that making the movie around Joker was not that bad after all. Now, with Ledger being dead and all, it made $155.3 millions over the weekend. These movies are not so much about art as they are about money. Sometimes, the big guys do not pay attention, and they let some good stuff slip through.

Alok said...

the irrational evil and the almost cosmic agent of chaos makes for a very interesting villain but in the context of the film, specially when it scavenges on so many contemporary political metaphors, it also feels disturbing, almost too close to the Bush & Co's philosophy of good and evil which is quite dangerous in politics.

I think Hollywood is even worse when it tries to give sociological, psychological or political explanations of evil so I am glad they had a joker like the one in the film but still this thought kept going through my mind... (still the sequence with the "sociological experiment" in the ferry felt really naive and ridiculous)

And in reality for ordinary people the violence, the anarchy in our world does feel totally decontextualized.. much like this elemental evil as portrayed in this film. Overall I was quite impressed with it... even for someone who feels very bitter going to the multiplexes and being assaulted by that unending torrent of "coming attractions" of the summer.

Falstaff said...

??!: I bow to your superior expertise. Though I have to say I think Batman with a conscience is significantly less interesting, even if he's more authentic.

Also, I do think there's a difference between a Bat who doesn't like killing and a Batman who gets all teary-eyed when people get killed. There's a point in the film when Batman is going on about how terrible all this killing is and how he can't take it anymore and Alfred basically tells him - what were you expecting?

I think overall my trouble with this Batman is that he's so dumb. He's agile and fights well and has all these cool gadgets, but he doesn't seem to be able to comprehend what he's up against and is constantly some 5 steps behind the Joker, bumbling his way through. So the whole film becomes a battle between intelligence and psychological acuity (the Joker) and cool weapons, fast reflexes and resilience to pain (Batman). So it's not surprising that I'm on the Joker's side.

Annamari: Oh, but this movie is about 'Art' - Ledger's performance is beautiful in the best dramatic sense, and while there's certainly some effect of Ledger's death, I feel fairly certain that the film would have been just as powerful, and just as popular, if he were still alive.

alok: I don't know. I think the film is fairly clear that the kind of elemental evil that the Joker represents is more the exception than the rule, and is generally good at emphasizing the importance of due process and decrying vigilantism (as much as possible in a film whose 'hero' is a vigilante), which is a clear contrast from Bush & co. And as you say, on the whole I'd prefer to see a Joker who just is evil than have to endure the Hollywood back story. Also, totally agree about the ferry sequence - that was such a wrong note.

Oh, and "going to the multiplexes and being assaulted by that unending torrent of "coming attractions" of the summer". I feel your pain.

Anonymous said...

I do not agree with your comment on batman being docile and shedding tears and not killing. If I remember correctly, batman was created and structured in this manner. He believed in killing the evil in the person and not the person himself.

But yes, no actor truly portrayed the character of Joker as it was meant to be; as Ledger portrayed it. The true viciousness drooling from the eyes, the evil vibe surrounding the joker did send a chill while watching the movie.

A brilliantly written blog. Thanks!

Annamari said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annamari said...

I do not doubt Ledger’s performance is great. As I said, ‘Art’ happens in big budget movies as well, even if merely by accident. I do not set my expectation to high though – I just enjoy as much as it is given to me. I liked American Beauty (because of Kevin Spacey) and I liked Being Julia (because of Annette Bening)
I haven’t seen the movie yet, I will probably have to see it soon- my teenage son that is all about comic books.

??! said...

I bow to your superior expertise
Oh my. Is this a first? Oh glory, glory me.

I'll take your word for the way the Bat is portrayed (as I said on KM's - it only comes out this Friday here). And that's a pity, because in the originals, besides his almost-superhuman speed and agility, his USP is his keen detecting abilities (in fact, for a while, DC were portraying him as 'The World's Greatest Detective'). Actually, come to think of it, even the first film wasn't so hot on his brainy activities.

patrick said...

at times the Joker seemed almost too smart, borderline clairvoyant, but i guess that what makes him a good foe for the Batman...

. said...

I liked this movie. Although there is a part of me that wishes it was obscure enough for me to say that aloud.

Venky said...

the Bat's attitude to killing bothers me on 2 counts

1. Disingenuity - In Batman Begins, are we supposed to believe that no cops were killed during the freeway scene (where he rushes to get Rachel the antidote) when cop cars were smashing into concrete or turning cartwheels ? or are we expected to view them as accidents - after all, when the Batman dropped a bunch of spikes on the freeway in front of a cop car travelling at 120 mph, he didnt expect anything more than a few flesh wounds ! I mean, the attitude seems to be "I will set in a motion a sequence of events in which there is a 99% chance that someone will get killed, but I will not pull a trigger or use a knife".

2. I am willing to concede one human folly per superhero - most of them seem pretty happy with Love, but the Bat wants more - he wants us to grant him Faith as well. His allegiance to the no-killing rule seems to be built on blind faith. If the rule were built upon a denial of the ultimate evil, then you dont need to be the the WGD to know the rule doesnt apply to the Joker. Maybe this is what makes him more human than the others - but I have to agree with Falstaff that this makes for a much less interesting superhero.

Aditya said...

i personally think that this was an amazing movie and the concept was brilliant, and also on a second note, u don't know how to write a review, and you seem to have somewhat missed the subtle theme of the movie. of course pretending to be a critic you do what critics do, criticize everything that the director has tried to portray.

scout said...

you know that coin thing irritated me too. but some comic geeks informed me that that was part of the comic books. was two-face's thing. but still corny and annoying.

and christian bale is BORING. like you said, i kept getting impatient, waiting for the joker's scenes.

also, i suppose "why so serious?" is going down in pop culture now? it's already become a common phrase amongst my uber-cool friends.

shakester said...

I have to concur with ??! about the Batman's persona- he always struggled with killing till Miller came and made him terribly violent.
The thing is, that this superhero/vigilante needs to match up to Batman (comic) fans who need to see some of the 'real' character incorporated into film, and 'normal' viewers like yourself, who need to see an 'interesting' hero character rather than one who conforms to his origins.

Having said that,its hard to find too many superheroes who are not often outdone by their villains. Arch enemies are frequently more 'interesting', fascinating, even perversely enjoyable, precisely because they do not have to adhere to the rules our superhero does, and succeed at least at times in making that trait irresistible.

On another note, the other reason I can see this Batman being still uneasy with all this killing is because this is still early days in Batman's life. (Year 2, if you will). To that extent, it is a credit that the film has been true to the character development and not jumped into a terribly evolved Batman.

enough rambling now.

shakester said...


Vaishna said...

This is a great review in that the language is brilliant, but it has not, in my opinion, quite got the point. Of course, Ledger is brilliant as the Joker but Batman comes across as an extremely strong personality himself. More so because he is so human against so inhuman an adversary.

I think the point this reviewer misses is the fact that evil is always far easier to do. It gets the better lines, the better make-up, and can get away with so much more. Remember Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost?

And when you have a supra-human hero, it becomes essential to keep upping the ante. You have to throw betterer and biggerer villains at him all the time. And as they get so much more evil, the hero's final victory gets that much more tainted with blood. And that's purely because we demand more from them. We are no longer satisfied with facile happily-ever-after wins.

I think this Batman was one of the most credible and nuanced portrayals of a superhero in recent times. He wants a life desperately and yet tries to do justice to a tiresome and extremely thankless job thrust on him. He doesnt lose his cool, his sense of humour, or his presence of mind and, equally important, you can see he's still having fun with those gadgets of his.

Another point: to appreciate this film, it's very important to understand the sheer difficulty, in real life, of the fight against terror from the security guys' point of view.

Believe me, when you are faced with one insane criminal, it is next to impossible for even an army to stop him. I know. Knowing this, I found the Batman's efforts not wimpy but super-human and very reassuring.

My crib with this movie was the love angle. Not for one moment could I believe that Batman was passionately in love with the woman, or she with him, or that he would ever contemplate leaving Bat-life to settle into suburban bliss. Come to think of it, I couldn't believe she was in love with the DA either...

I rather suspect it's the fashionable thing to do -- rave about the nasty one -- but to want him to continue carving up people cos it's more entertaining to watch? Hmmm... :-)

Falstaff said...

[Warning: Spoilers]

Sigh. People - this has nothing to do with good vs. evil or how evil is so much easier to do than good. As I've said before, my big problem with this Batman is that he's extraordinarily dumb, with the result that the fight between him and the Joker is not so much a fight between good and evil as it is a fight between brawn and brains. Right till the very end, this Batman has no real understanding of the kind of villain he's dealing with - hell, even Alfred understands the Joker better than him - and all he does is react to what the Joker does, thereby effectively becoming a puppet in the Joker's hands. Think about it. That whole 'the Joker is killing people to get to me, I can't let that happen so I'll give myself up' thing may be very noble, it's also about the silliest thing ever. Is the Joker really going to stop killing people after he takes Batman out? Of course not. And what kind of precedent is it going to set for criminals in Gotham if all they have to do is off a few innocents to bring Batman / the city to its knees. The whole giving himself up thing is all sentiment and zero logic. And the worst part is that everyone else sees this - Dent, Alfred, Gordon - Batman is the only one dense enough not to.

Or take another example. The Joker has kidnapped Harvey Dent. What does Batman do? Does he fire up his new ultra-cool scanning device and try to locate Dent's voice? Does he make any attempts to track down Dent's whereabouts? No, he figures he'll just beat it out of the Joker. No tricks, no clever interrogation techniques, just good old fashioned physical intimidation. And if that wasn't bad enough, he then proceeds to let the Joker push all his buttons, get him all riled up, and goes charging off to rescue his lady love without even considering, what should have been obvious to a three-year old, that if the Joker had planned all this through then he must also have planned some kind of escape. This isn't Batman, the great Detective, this is Joe Flatfoot in a pointy-eared suit.

Or take the whole bomb in the hospital thing. Dent is (supposedly) the city's White Knight, the key to a law-abiding future for Gotham. Dent is in hospital. The Joker has threatened to bomb a hospital, forcing them all to be evacuated. Even Bambi could figure out, in, oh, thirty seconds, that the Joker is going to go after Dent. But what does Batman do? He goes off to protect some sniveling accountant who already has half the Gotham police force protecting him, rather than trying to protect Dent and track down the Joker. Forget crimefighting, this guy is so bad at prioritizing tasks I wouldn't trust him to paint my house. If the notion that our bulwark against terror is some over-emotional homunculus in a bat-suit is one you find comforting, I feel happy for you, but personally I'd rather cheer a crimefighter who occasionally used his head.

And, for the record, I totally agree with Venky's first point - Batman's actions consistently put dozens of innocent / quasi-innocent people's lives in jeopardy. So this whole "I won't kill" thing is a farce.

Oh, and it isn't just the Joker he finds hard to read. He's also totally clueless about his Childhood Sweetheart and One True Love. Basically, the man has the psychological acuity of an ironing board.

And if all that wasn't bad enough, the man can't even really fight. Take his final confrontation with the Joker. The man has the whole sonar thing going for him, which means he can see, from the floor below, exactly where the Joker is and that he's got three dogs with him. Does he use this information? No! He just toodles up there and walks right up to the Joker, doesn't even try to surprise him, and then, despite his armor, despite his cool gadgets, despite his much vaunted fighting skills, almost gets his ass kicked. The Joker doesn't even have a gun! And the same thing with the Two-Face face-off. Villain has a ten year old kid hostage. He's a deranged madman with a gun. How does Batman handle this? Does he use his ability to blend with the shadows to creep up behind Two Face, maybe take him out while he's off his guard (he has several opportunities to do this, btw) No, he walks out from a convenient shadow, announces himself, tries to reason with Two-Face, gets himself shot, then, at the very last minute, uses a super risky move to disarm Two-Face, putting the kid in extreme jeopardy. He doesn't even jump on Two-Face when he's tossing a coin or holding a gun to his own head, he waits till he has the gun at the kid's temple before he attacks him. Come on!

Vaishna said...

ah well... each to his own.

i saw the movie once, and found it a fairly engaging spectacle. Far better than other recent superhero movies. It's not exactly high art but one doesnt quite expect that from this genre. And I am hopeless about fight/action sequences, so all your points are probably correct.

But the crux: Did the Joker overshadow the movie to the point that he and his motives seemed desirable and convincing while everything else seemed pointless? No. Decidedly not.

Falstaff said...

Oh, and another thing, if Batman is so serious about not killing, how come he doesn't use more non-lethal weapons? Tasers, fast-acting tranquilizers, that sort of thing. As anti-terrorist tactics go, "don't worry I'll just beat him into submission and take the detonator away from him" is not a particularly intelligent way to deal with a psychopath who has two ferryloads of people rigged to explode at the press of a button.

Vaishna: Did the Joker overshadow the movie to the point that he and his motives seemed desirable and convincing while everything else seemed pointless?

Desirable no. Convincing yes. And that's really all I care about, at least with superhero action flicks. The most unconvincing thing about the film is the idea that someone as unintelligent as the Batman in the film could succeed against someone as clever as the Joker. Aside from the fact that it's a Hollywood film and Batman *has* to win, there's nothing in the inherent logic of the movie that makes that either likely or even credible. Stupid and sentimental does not beat smart and ruthless.

CrazyDiamond said...

But that's the thing isn't it. The vulnerability.

Batman is vulnerable. He's smart, but he makes mistakes. He takes time to understand this new crop of supervillain (as opposed to the Mob). He wants to take down villains without killing them, but he can't carry tasers, or shoot ridiculously bending bullets. Just silly stars to knock them out and then a little pow wow.

He has opnions (not killing people), falls in love (irrationaly so) and takes rash decisions (removes himself from the scene when the Joker threatens)

He is indeed always adapting. But since he can't obviously die, he comes up one step ahead at the end. It's after all a comic book.

You see what I'm doing.

I'm trying to show that the vulnerability, the stupidness and the mistakes make him more relatable than a superman or a spiderman or what have you.

If it were you in a black costume with some martial art training and a few fancy gadgets, and five mins to think, wouldn't you "beat the terrorist into submission and take the detonator away from him".

Falstaff said...

Crazydiamond: Nice try, but it won't wash. The point is that it wouldn't be me wearing an armor and trying to fight crime with a few fancy gadgets and a little martial arts training, because I'm smart enough to know that I have neither the aptitude nor the mental toughness to take on someone like the Joker single-handedly, and that going after a dangerous villain if I'm unprepared is deeply irresponsible and will end with me getting myself and a lot of other innocent people killed. If you're going to put on that suit and fight that fight you'd better be damn sure you're up to it. If Batman doesn't have the preternatural instincts and / or intelligence he needs to do what he does then he shouldn't be doing it. Playing superhero without thinking through the consequences first (and it's not difficult to foresee that if you're going to fight crime with violence you're going to get people killed, or that if you don't want to kill people you need to have non-lethal weapons) is just about the stupidest thing of all.

Also, if we want to go down the 'if it were you' line of reasoning, notice that we wouldn't get to that point in the film because I'd have no qualms about killing the Joker much before that. The way I see it, there's a difference between not liking killing and refusing to kill under any and all circumstances - the first is crucial, the second naive.

shakester said...

actually, CrazyDiamond's try washes well precisely because of the reasons you write about. You realise you have moved away from how it worked (or not) as a movie plot; to how Batman is a good/wothwhile/relevant superhero or not. I think Mr Nolan would be quite happy with that...
Batman's point is always that he is not perfect, not ideal, not even always likeable, and defintley not alwyas a 'superhero'. Do revisit the last 5 minutes of dialogue for that.

Also, I have to repeat, i believe this is vey well handled keeping in mind a larger Batman story arc, rather than a one off batman film. Its still pretty much Year One for this (yes, naive) Batman, and the entrance of Joker as well as the toll it takes is what shapes Batman for times to come...

ReadnRyte said...

Why does someone who is taking on a cause(including superheros) have to be the perfect in everything he does...why can't he have flaws?

This is exactly what differentiates Batman from other that he is a vigilante, not a blue-eyed all american superhero who is perfect in everything he does. Also with this Batman series Mr. Nolan has tried to explore an individual who maybe flawed, makes mistakes and has issues with the consequences of his actions and this I believe makes him even more interesting. It is never claimed he was this supersmart ideal of a perfect superhero...

Falstaff said...

shakester / readnryte: No one is saying Batman has to be perfect, or a 'superhero'. All I'm saying is that he should at least have the IQ of the average Joe on the street. Which in the way he's depicted in this movie he doesn't. There's a difference between being flawed and imperfect and being actively dense. Crazyfinger's point was that Batman's imperfections made him easy to relate to. My point is that that level of stupidity may be something you folks can relate to, but I can't and don't.

As for, "You realise you have moved away from how it worked (or not) as a movie plot; to how Batman is a good/wothwhile/relevant superhero or not." The whole point is that the reason the movie plot doesn't work is that Batman isn't a worthwhile opponent for the joker - he's a sentimental fool, and precisely because he's a sentimental fool his victory over the Joker is flawed and unconvincing.

Look, consider by contrast the other incarnation of pure evil we've seen recently - Javier Barden's Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. Tommy Lee Jones's Sherrif is no 'match' for Chigurh in the action hero sense - he's human, aging, weak, has scruples, etc. But he's a convincing character because a) he's wise enough to understand his limitations and what he's up against and the gravity of his patience is what keeps that film (and the book it's based on) grounded b) he works within the law and doesn't claim his right to be above it, therefore he doesn't need or claim to be anything but a regular guy c) (and most critically) he DOESN'T win - because it would be dramatically unconvincing if he did, a violation of the logic of the narrative. That's why the Sheriff is a believable, consoling and ultimately worthy opponent for pure evil. And that's why Batman is not.

As for whether the film is true to the comic book in its depiction of Batman, there I have no opinion, because, as I've already said, I don't know enough to judge. It's possible that in the original comic as well Batman is a sentimental fool who is, intellectually at least, no match for the Joker. That isn't my impression, but it may be true. That doesn't make the movie more convincing - it just means that the comic books were flawed and unconvincing as well.

Falstaff said...

[warning: spoilers continue]

Oh, and the last five minutes of the film are actually the perfect encapsulation of everything that's wrong with it. Never mind the cheesiness of that entire scene, its descent into visual cliche, the mock-heroic feel of the thing that tells you how you're supposed to feel but doesn't actually make you feel it. Never mind the glaring inconsistency of Batman claiming that he and Gordon have built up Dent to be the city's sole hope, when a mere two hours of cinematic time ago he was asking Gordon, somewhat sceptically, whether he trusted Dent. Never mind the inherent stupidity of putting the entire burden of being the public face of the city's fight against crime on one man, and not realizing / expecting that this would only serve to get him killed. Never mind that the movie has never credibly established this larger than life importance of Dent, so that it's hard to take seriously Gordon and Batman's dismay over his undoing. And never mind that the obvious solution to the problem is to make neither Dent nor Batman the villain but to place the burden of it on some unnamed other, some associate of the Joker perhaps (why not?) who killed Dent and got away before Batman could arrive (a solution, I might add, that never even seems to occur to Batman or to Gordon, though it struck me as fairly obvious even as I was watching the film).

Let's just think about the situation the way Batman sees it, taking his conception of the problem at face value. Gotham has two prominent public figures who fight crime - a white knight and a dark knight. One of them is dead, the other isn't. So who should we restore the public's faith in? The dead guy, of course! Because he's the one who's going to need good PR going forward. And because it's so much more comforting for the ordinary citizens to think that a masked vigilante who roams around the city armed with lethal weapons just went and killed five people for no reason at all, than it would be for them to learn (horrors!) that a decent citizen who'd just lost his fiance in a terrorist attack, had half his face blown off and then been kidnapped and tortured by the Joker (ok, so that last bit never happened, but you could always say it did) went insane and started killing people, at which point he was shot by the police and is therefore no longer a threat. And because the specter of a long-dead DA is going to be so much more effective a deterrent to future crime, than an active working partnership between the police and Batman, a partnership that making BAtman the villain renders impossible.

The point is that once again, in what has practically become his MO by the end of the movie, Batman is making a decision that is heroic but stupid. He is not thinking through the consequences, he is not prioritizing what is important, he is showing a distinct lack of both imagination and understanding. Masochistic megalomaniac that he is, he is instinctively arrogating the hero's part of suffering to himself, without considering whether that suffering is either necessary or useful. And by showing us that Batman has learned nothing from his run-in with the joker (except acquiring a somewhat higher pain threshold), that he remains an over-emotional blunderer, a sort of Tristan in a batsuit, the movie reinforces our conviction that this Batman is not, and will never be, a match for the Joker, and makes his defeat of the Joker ten minutes before feel even more fake than it did before.

shormishtha said...

Dear Falstaff……why so serious!!!
To my mind it is NOT a classic good vs evil tale at all. It’s a story of chaos vs logic and understandably no logic can counter chaos. Batman appeared way too DUMB……point taken. But that’s coz it was supposed to be that way. Haven’t we all experienced the same numbness in our otherwise razor sharp minds when we encounter chaos? He was constantly some 5 steps behind the Joker, bumbling his way through coz even joker was not supposed to know what is his next step. True to his words, he was a dog chasing a van not knowing what would happen when it stops. The aesthetic value of joker is the fact that he is not pure evil. He is simple chaos. He changes rules and rebels to authority. But while doing so, he is not enforcing his authority to world outside his own circle (remember- this city needs a new class of criminals) the rest, to him, is pure entertainment.
But yes there are way too many elements uncalled for. I could not find the reason of a love angle when all three of them were loveless, passionless and not even treat to eyes. The coin wanted me to cry buckets for my own superhero back home and the two faced gentleman was the real freak who got lousier by seconds… as rightly pointed out way too many batman scene were too predictable; but that’s what Nolan wanted. He wanted all of us to carry home the confusion and chaos and he succeeded!!!
The last 5 minutes of film (not quite the last- the ferry minutes) are the actual crux and the face-off. Logic, planning, good etc cannot counter chaos but hope can…..and it did. So while joker made everything else fall into his trap, he could actually not do so to the link he thought was weakest.
It is a very balanced film if you just don’t do the good vs. evil thing..

Falstaff said...

shormishtha: I have to admit I don't buy the Joker's claim that he operates through chaos. He likes to spread chaos, yes, but that doesn't mean his own operations are chaotic. On the contrary, they seemed always to be diligently and comprehensively planned to create the illusion of chaos. He claims, of course, that he works through chaos, but one must be careful, I think, not to take a character like the joker at face value. Do you believe, for instance, that his oh-so-melodramatic story (or stories) about how he got his scars have an ounce of truth in them? I don't.

And I'm not doing the good vs. evil thing at all. The imbalance here has nothing to do with good vs. evil (which is why all this talk about how evil is so much easier to do than good is irrelevant) it has to do with the opposition between a character who is chillingly believable (the Joker) and a character so fraught with inconsistencies as to be two-dimensional (the Batman). That's why the film is lop-sided. And that's why, for me, it was significantly less entertaining than it could have been because the scenes with the Joker aside, it felt too fake to be involving.

??! said...

Let it lie, man - it's just a summer movie about a comic book character. Don't you have a thesis that need all these words more urgently?

Karthik said...

Oops, something I never thought on a dull friday afternoon at work. But after reading the post plus all the lengthy comments, I know why the movie is celebrated for the wrong reasons.
The movie is technically brilliant and better than the drab batman movies that Hollywood made all these years. But Joker is the only reason I watched the movie, batman's character was dumb, sentimental and foolish. I agree with most of what Falstaff has written, it is unbalanced not because of the good vs evil. But as a story it does not have two strong characters, just the joker.
I thought the core ideology of batman is that he could be bad and be indifferent about the public appreciation or the lack thereof. But this one is goody two shoes in a bat suit who worries all the time abt doing the right thing! Are we talking abt batman here? There is a big difference between a character having flaws and a flawed character. Batman in this movie or as a whole is a flawed character.
PS: Dont know if there is going to be another idle soul that would read this till the end.