Directed by Christopher Nolan
Heath Ledger’s Joker is most probably the greatest comic-book villain we’ve seen on the big screen. He’s downright scary to the extent that I breathed a sigh of relief every moment that the Joker is not onscreen. Yet he is a lot of fun to watch. Everyone seems to want to talk about whether Heath Ledger will get an Oscar, and to tell you the truth, I’m not sure he would be getting one if he was still alive. This isn’t to disparage the performance (Heath is brilliant) but to say that comic book villains are not the sort of roles that the Academy usually chooses to honour with an Award. All the hype surrounding Heath’s performance does hide the fact that the brilliance of the Joker is just as attributable to some amazing writing from director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan. The Joker that they imagine is unpredictable, amoral, violent and truly threatening. Thoughout the movie you never find out anything about him except that he is intent on chaos. The Joker describes himself as an anarchist but he is really more of a surrealist. The surrealists were a bunch of mainly French guys who rejected rationalism and aimed to liberate society from moral preoccupations. Their leader, Breton, said that the simplest Surrealist act was running into the street with a gun and firing blindly into a crowd. The Joker is this vision come to life.
The stakes are incredibly high in The Dark Knight. Batman and the Joker are basically fighting over the soul of the city. And the city is huge. You get a real sense of the city’s scope in The Dark Knight. If I could compare it to something I would say the HBO TV series The Wire. You get to see the city from police level, to the district attorney’s office, to the mob, to the media. The Joker plays the devil obviously but what is not so obvious is that Batman is not the angel. Batman is basically a fascist, like Dirty Harry, deciding the evildoers and punishing them without regard for the law. At the end of Batman Begins, there was talk that Batman’s presence would lead to escalation and you do get the sense that Batman’s actions only make things worse. The angel of this movie is Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckart). Harvey Dent is the DA, fighting injustice in the courts with an eye on office. He appeals to the people’s hope that their government can make a change to the crime wave. He’s basically the film’s Barack Obama. The comparisons to contemporary American politics don’t stop there though. Nolan introduces a device for Batman that allowes him to use all the mobile phones in Gotham as sonar devices giving him a 3D view of the entire city. This is a definite allusion to the Patriot Act which gave the US government broader scope to spy on citizens. The Morgan Freeman character seems like a token moral compass when he disapproves of the use of this device but whether the film ultiamtely advocates this kind of power is probably a source of debate between you and the person you see the film with.
SEE THIS FILM WITH:
- The Wire, David Simon, 2002-2008.
The Dark Knight is basically a crime film and shares The Wire‘s sprawling view of the institutions that shape a city.
- Un Chien Andalou, Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dali, 1928.
The Joker and the Surrealists also shared a love of razer blades.
- Dirty Harry, Don Siegel, 1971.
Clint Eastwood’s character is a direct ancestor of Nolan’s Batman, an incorruptible, right wing, vigilante ass kicker who doesn’t mind breaking the law to get the bad guy.