Monday, December 22, 2008

Dark Knight of the Soul

I finally got around to watching this summer's Dark Knight. It was interesting. Certainly well crafted. I have a soft spot in my heart for Batman, since he played a large part in my development for a fictional character. The movie was good, a little difficult to watch and (no pun intended of course) dark, but well written and acted.

The movie is very much The Joker Show, with special guest Batman. Which is fine, and as I said the well put together film gets a huge break for style. Heath Ledger generated a lot of interest with his performance here, and his death made a media circus out of the film. He does do a fine job, and is creepy as hell as the villain. This is the real strength of the film. The Joker is a great opponent for Batman, cruel and crazy and chaotic. It's always a mistake to make him fun or amusing. Clowns aren't funny to anyone not already psychotic. Clowns are evil and dark and sad. If we laugh at all, it's because we're relieved that we aren't anything like them.

Batman attempts to bring some kind of order and justice to the world, and the Joker delights in madness. A strange and awful version of the prisoner's dilemma is especially interesting. The message of the story is that while we get weak and afraid, we don't always lose what makes us people. We may laugh at the clown in relief, but we aren't willing to don the make-up and throw pies.

The plots of the Joker are evil and interesting. He goes a little overboard with the planning, however. The fear mongering tactics of the Joker are a weak point of the film, I think. (How many times does he pretend to be a police officer? Thirty?) One thing that diminishes fear is exposure. Look at how few of us have nightmares about Dick Cheney now. In 2001, he was terror incarnate.

The film does a good job with the mythos of Batman. Batman is the hero that can solve our problems by being outside of the system. He chases down bad guys without worrying about courts or lawyers. The character works because while we want to trust the system, most of us know we can't always or even usually rely upon it to work. When the villain is buying off judges, it's nice to know there's a good guy who will punch him in the face. Making Bruce Wayne a billionaire is more than just a convenient way to alleviate worries about the price of gas for the Batmobile; it makes him immune to the kind of worries that more mundane civil servants have. He has a yacht and his own jet, what are you going to bribe him with?

I don't think I'll watch this film again. It's hard to stomach the meanness and cruelty beyond the first viewing. But it's an interesting movie to see, especially at night by myself. Nothing like a dark cold evening pondering the meaning of morality! I couldn't help thinking of the Joker's message of "there is nothing in the world but randomness" as a spiritual challenge. Seeing the meaning in life is the job of decent people, and the underlying order and beauty of the world are visible to those not blinded by their own image. Fittingly, the Joker makes everyone in his image: his henchmen and victims are copies of him. The ultimate narcissist is our villain. And the Batman fights him, but not as his opposite. His opposite is Jim Gordon, the family man, who cares about everyone more than himself.

Batman gets all the credit though.

ps. I have a new nephew today! An awesome little boy without any red hair at all, for which his parents are grateful.

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