10 Things I Hate About The Dark Knight’s Tale

23 07 2008

SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers!

I tried to think of 10 things I hate about this film because I wanted to make the title work, but I couldn’t really. Some examples of things I hate: 1.) Lack of goofy homoerotic imagery. 2.) Lack of Robin (see No. 1). 3.) Relative reduction in exposed chests as compared to Batman Begins. 4.) Lack of Michael Keaton. 5.) Lack of Jack Nicholson, which I’m willing to live with to see Heath Ledger’s spectacular performance. 6.) Lack of development of Batman, who I like, you know? He’s the good guy, and he’s sexy. 7.) Batvoice. He has this horrible growl in that suit and it bothers me, man. 8.) Clowns. Eww. 9.) Everybody quoting “Why so serious?” all the time. 10.) Part of me misses Tim Burton’s take on the whole thing, I’ll admit, but it’s all good. We can deal. That whole bag was getting tired anyway.

Movie Review Found HereBut getting on with the review, I’m not even going to bother going on and on about how great Batman’s latest installment is. Because you KNOW it’s good. Instead, I’m going to focus on a nitpicky sort of analysis that sticks a metaphorical fork in the whole deal and twists it around so you can more easily digest the many rich themes being fed to you. I mean, what’s not to like about “The Dark Knight”?

You’ve got heart-stopping action sequences, awesome special effects, killer clowns, epic battles, good, evil, pectoral muscles, all the things that make for great entertainment in my book.

This is the kind of film you might analyze to impress That Really Cool College Professor, who let you to work on the project with the intention of fooling you into thinking you’re learning. There are a number of themes popular in the Humanities that are strumpeted about much like codpieces on the Batsuit of the movie industry. Let us examine them one by one:

  • GOOD AND EVIL: The almighty manservant of the whole film, we are watching an epic struggle between “For the Win!” and “Epic Fail!” Or are we? The whole point seems to be straddling the line between the two extremes, a division horribly mocked by Harvey Dent’s gruesome transformation into “Two-Face.” The film is starkly realistic, so much that Two-Face seems horribly out of place. Little subtlety is left to the imagination. This film is more action flick than comic book.
  • REALISM: Batman skips the fantasy and goes straight for realism. Again, this is in tune with the idea that there is no almighty Good and Evil. Therefore, the city itself must be neutral and open to interpretation. Nothing is safe from examination. Gotham City is a near-literal translation of Chicago. It’s been said that Gotham is Chicago, but this Gotham is missing the Gothic that Tim Burton had worked so hard to establish. Johnny Depp will NOT be making an appearance here. Or will he? In a way, the starkness of it all is kind of sad, because I miss those dark touches and the emotional atmosphere (the sense of escape) of the Batman films, but it makes sense in terms of embodying the realism of the film. It’s been stripped of even the stylistic CG imagery seen in “Batman Begins.”
  • BLACK AND WHITE: Although black has traditionally represented evil and white has traditionally symbolized good, this is not a universal truth. Old films such as “Nosferatu” featured “white” villains wearing white makeup to enhance their evil visage. Cultures differ on the symbolism behind this color; it often serves a dual meaning of peace and death. When people die, they lose their color and they turn white before blackening and turning to dust. The colors white and black are intertwined and interrelated, and their meanings are malleable. Thus, a black Batman and a white Joker going at each other is pretty symbolic. What’s even more interesting is these colors were *chosen* rather then given or adopted. Both sides have ordinary human skin underneath, but they assume these colors and these roles arbitrarily and then give them meaning. A clown’s white makeup is creepy because it disguises the face and the true emotions of a person (a theme played with and toyed with as the Joker explored the idea of permanently cutting in a smile rather than just painting it on). It’s also creepy because the white facial makeup is a color that sometimes represents death and evil. Smear the makeup a little and draw an angry face, and a clown is sure to draw a frown or a deep feeling of fear. Batman disguises himself in black, but he is really white underneath. He may be a creature of the night, but he’s just an ordinary mortal man behind it all.
  • ARCHETYPES: The movie systematically mocks the standard-issue archetypes that are commonly seen in films by taking them to an extreme. The Joker’s back story is vague and he invokes several references to his own childhood upbringing inspiring him to commit crimes. You can never tell what he’s getting at. Christopher Nolan didn’t even bother giving Batman a role in the movie, and that’s telling because the movie ain’t about the caped crusader. It’s about exploring evil. Even when Batman is involved, he’s fighting his own evil impulses. Two-Face is a literal two-face, and he seems so out of place in such a realistic environment. Again, someone with a comic-booky aspect to him just doesn’t fit in. He’s clearly a strong archetype, and he meets a surprising fate in the film that is also quite telling.
  • THE OTHER (SOCIETAL): For this term, note that I’m going with two different Humanities definitions, the first of which opposes “the same” and represents exclusion from society. Most comic books are full of this idea because it allows characters to work in isolation and explore parallel societies and secret underworlds without too much complication. In this context, the Joker being a “freak” makes him more plausible because to be that twisted he would have to be excluded from society. You learn to be detached from what happens in this realistic-but-surrealistic underworld because there is such an air of “Other” about it. The concept of the Joker saying Batman is a “freak” like him, and of Batman himself being sort of an outcast (a Dark Knight as opposed to a lawful protector) is important. Batman does what he does because he has no choice. He is The Other. He is different. The message is one of individuality and of finding your own call to be a hero; to persevere even when you aren’t a complete angel devoid of mistakes. Comic books are beloved by so many people because of this message of acceptance and encouragement — embracing both purity and imperfection. Again, the extremes involved here are a sort of mockery of archetypes and the shallow motivations of comic-book characters. Simplicity is killed off, and complexity survives.
  • THE OTHER (FEMINIST): Batman is chock full of manhood (a regular sausage batfest) and the woman is truly “the other” here, although she plays a role in advancing the plot. A lot of hero stories were conceived at a time when women had a more traditional role. In addition, women don’t usually fight physically and they are less apt to want to jump on the battlefield to shoot each other (I know this is a gross generalization, taking into account the emotions I sometimes feel and the behavior I see from some women I’ve met!). In the context of this film, the woman is an object of male adoration and objectification (as are the children). A symbol of love and weakness and home and family. (Granted, there are some strong women in this film, but think overall.) The relationships with women are completely out of whack and thrown down into the dirt or ignored altogether. Harm to women does occur to make a point and create an atmosphere of fear. At least one woman is killed for the sake of the plot, and her death represents the uncertain future that remains in the wake of terrorism.
  • WAR AND TERRORISM: The specter of death looms over modern society just as it always has, but the fear is that much greater because of the instantaneous possibilities. During the Cold War people feared the escalation of nuclear powers into an all-out Armageddon of detonated bombs. At that time, we had “Dr. Strangelove” to mock our fear of complete annihilation. Now, we wonder if we’re going to be the next target of terrorism. And, we wonder if we’re getting the actual real story or if the truth is being massaged to make us feel afraid. We have “Batman” films and the Joker now to poke us where it hurts. The Joker uses explosions and massive destruction just as much as he uses individual deaths, and he laughs about it and finds humor. His destructive nature is quite funny at times; but it’s also cruel. He seeks to kill many at once and wages psychological warfare through the media just as much as he seeks one individual. He is enigmatic and shapeless and able to masquerade in many roles, including as a nurse; he is the force of terrorism — a hunger for destruction that supercedes any need for money or emotional gain. In a way, he wins, and in a way, he doesn’t. Are the terrorists winning, and can good ever win out? Or is there always a terrorist within and thus, our hands are never clean of the wars we disparage? There is a lot of moral ambiguity in fighting fire with fire — war with war — and we become Dark Knights ourselves as we try to outwit the tricksters of this world.
  • MEDIA UBIQUITY: Seen throughout the film is a network called “GCN,” Gotham City News, which is a local affiliate station that seems all too close to certain large media networks. It is everywhere and it is an instrument of the plot; a maker of the story. It not only influences people but changes the course of history. The network shows “disturbing” footage that resembles terrorist tapes that are released online from the Middle East, further adding to the symbolism. The film challenges the role of the media and uses it demonstratively and poignantly (just as many other modern films do) since we all know that news is there to inform and to give people the information they need to take action. It is not a passive force by any means.

In summary, the only thing certain about this film is uncertainty and moral ambiguity; “The Dark Knight” challenges you to strip yourself of self-righteousness and understand the onion-like layers that are nested within each of our hearts.





Jealous of Iron Man’s full metal jacket?

11 05 2008

This weekend, in addition to seeing string-metal band Apocalyptica, I gave in to the hype and went to see “Iron Man.” You could say it was a pretty metallic weekend. Movie Review Found HereIt was a good romp. The plot had more holes than the bullet-ridden surfaces surely resulting from all the gun blasts, but it was overall pretty good without being too bloody. It does seem to have two sides, however. At times, it’s like a serious analysis drama about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at other times, it’s like a goofy guitar-riff-ridden jaunt through comic book schlock. Overall, it’s well-produced and slick. The end-credit animations are so gorgeous, I might rent this film again just to watch them. I’m happy to report that the conspicuously futuristic computers (which, thanks to the Great Laws of Movies, must always have an alert that pops up with big letters saying “SECURITY BREACHED” in order to meet compliance standards) are from both Dell and Apple. Multiplatform FTW. Where things occasionally go wrong is when things catch fire. Some of the special effects are the modern equivalent of the guy in the Giant Foam Rubber Alien Suit having his zipper showing.

Oh, and about the storyline. Yes, there is one, and thanks to the comic-book origins of this flick, it’s a good one. Too bad the plot jumps around a bit. The filmmakers pretty much finessed their way through the exposition of this one. I’m beginning to wonder how much worse it would be if the filmmakers were writing the story themselves. They do just a good enough job setting things up in the beginning that you can nod your head and go, “OK, I get what they’re trying to do.” I didn’t really follow the plot, but rather just went along with the flow. If you keep that mindset and don’t expect a lot of coherency or consistency, you will be touched and entertained and probably fall under this wonderful film’s spell.

What’s my scale for this film? Four security breach alerts out of five.