Why So Serious?
—by Nathan on April 10, 2012—
I saw the movie the day before my birthday. I've seen it five times since then. I own the soundtrack. I can quote lines extensively. I want to own a Joker T-shirt (have to still clear that one with parental command first). To call me "just a fan" of the Dark Knight is like saying that chocolate is "just a dessert." Now I could go on about how chocolate is FAR MORE than a dessert, but I digress. I am a fanatic. I'm sorry; I know I've blogged about this before, but this time I will go beyond the plot. I am pretty sure that this will be my last blog on The Dark Knight (50% counts as "pretty sure," right?), but I hope this will be the best. I want to go in depth about the film, give a true review in the fashion of, say, a Plugged In review or so. I'll discuss a bit of plot, but then I'll go into reasons why you should and shouldn't see it. Hopefully...hopefully...this will turn out OK. If you're rolling your eyes and saying "Why another one?" then I apologize. I'm heading into a different territory, something different than what I have done. So, bear with me. Maybe you'll enjoy yourself. Maybe.
STORY: Joker wants to kill Batman. But first, he wants to unmask the hero, show the world who he really is. And just WHO is Batman? Would you believe Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy with a sense of fashion when it comes to clothes and cars? Anyone with at least a modicum of Batman knowledge should know that the Caped Crusader is none other than the head of Wyane Enterprises, but I won't begrudge you if this happens to be the very first time you have heard the word "comic." Actually, this whole "Kill Batman for the mobs" is only PART of the Joker's scheme. His plot runs much deeper and darker than that. It really involves corrupting the soul of the city of Gotham, corrupting its people. In one of the best scenes of the film, the Joker, in a police station interrogation room, tells Batman "When the chips are down, these....'civilized' people..." (and he sneers the word "civilized") "...they'll eat each other." He wants to prove that everyone is a monster. And he might just succeed, if he pushes certain people hard enough. His attacks of terrorism aren't just meant to shove random citizens off the edge. He's targeting folks. And that'll get deadly real quick...
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Christopher Nolan is a genius. If you've seen any of his movies (especially TDK or Inception), you should know that. He's a great filmmaker and storyteller. But that's not the only reason why TDK is so good. I'm going to give you some reasons why you should watch this flick. Maybe you'll agree.
THEMES: TDK is not just your average "with great power comes great responsibility"-type hero flick. While that is a poignant saying, there are other lessons in the movie. I want to touch up on a couple of them and explain what they are.
Human depravity: We're all human, meaning we're all sinful. Whether or not the Joker acknowledges this, he nevertheless takes full control of the fact that we are only human, meaning we are fallible. As stated before, some of his attacks target certain people. He kills loved ones of characters, threatens loved ones of others, and kills high-ranking political people. The terrorism and murder not associated with certain individuals is how he spreads chaos and anarchy around. He is trying to drain the hope from Gotham and is waiting to see how they react. Some people run. Others, like Batman, fight back. Batman is supposed to be more than a man; he's supposed to be a symbol. An incorruptable symbol, one the Joker should not be able to mangle and twist to fit his own designs. Then again, Harvey Dent, the new D.A., is supposed to be a symbol as well, being the city's "White Knight." Can he stand against the tide of evil the Joker creates? He says at point that he, Batman, and Gordon were trying to be "decent men in an indecent time." Can he continue to do that? Within the depravity theme, there is also choice. Heck, the whole movie is full of choices made by characters who, in their desperation, fail to consider the consequences. It's out of desperation that the mobs ask for the Joker's help, not thinking the city (and themselves) will be affected. It's out of desperation that Harvey Dent threatens to shoot a man in the head to make sure his girlfriend, Rachael Dawes, stays safe and alive. And it's out of desperation that I move onto the next theme.
Power: Hey, there is a lesson about power in the film! More appropriately, the lesson should be "abusing power." At one point in the movie, a man by the name of Colman Reese has pieced together the theory that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one and the same. Therefore, he threatens Lucius Fox to pay him money in exchange to keep this secret, well, a secret. The man has power, and he wants to use it in a way that benefits him. Smooth, Reese. However, Fox puts him in his place with a quote like "You're saying that one of the richest, most powerful men in the world is secretly a crime-fighter who beats criminals to a pulp with his bare hands. And your plan is to blackmail this person? Good luck." That may be not the quote verbatim (hey, look: verBATim!), but Fox shows Reese the stupidity of his act (actually, later, Reese decides to tell the world via a news show, but before he can, a bounty is put on his head by the Joker, if "not blowing up a hospital" qualifies as a reward. As such, numerous people want Reese dead. Funny world. And I won't say whether he survives or not). Another example of power abuse is shown by Batman himself. He links up sonar technology with every cell phone in Gotham, giving him a virtual map of the city. Though the hero's intentions are to locate the Joker, Fox isn't very happy about the machine. He views it as an invasion of privacy. "This is wrong," he states, before declaring that such a machine is too much power for any single individual. But it's to stop a maniac murderer, so it's not THAT wrong, right? That may be a relative question, but let me refer back to the Spider-Man quote. Power comes with responsibility. Is it responsible to have a machine like that? Though opinions differ, the situation is never really resolved. Batman never answers the morality question about the whole thing.
Justice: "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." That's Harvey Dent for you. A great motivational speaker. What's the fine line that justice walks? Are there blurred sections, or parts that can be crossed at the flip of a coin? Every vigilante story should ask this question. Batman should, too. Because of him, the Joker is killing people. Because he won't reveal himself, people die. But it isn't like he's sitting around, letting people get killed because he wants them to die. Batman's trying to find an alternative method at stopping the Joker. Is that just? And Harvey Dent carries around a special coin. As stated before, Harvey Dent threatens to shoot a man, holding a gun to his scalp. He pulls out his special coin, and, depending on the side, the man lives or dies. Harvey actually flips twice when it ends up positive for the guy the first time. I won't reveal what happens, but is this just? "I make my own luck," he tells Rachael at one point. It isn't really luck (or justice) when you're messing up the system in order to get what you want. The movie asks about justice, what it is, and how you make sure you don't go beyond justice.
THE JOKER: One of the biggest reasons I love this movie is because of Heath Ledger's character. The performance is jaw-dropping, and Ledger even received an Oscar posthumously for it. I've heard he spent a whole month in a hotel room perfecting the Joker's mannerisms. Such practice was worth it. Though the movie focuses on him quite a bit, the character of the Joker is not supposed to be portrayed as a hero or antihero. He's a villain, and the movie does not make anyone doubt that by sugarcoating his actions. Not that his actions are what make him admirable, of course. It's all in the character. I am a sucker for a good antagonist, and the Joker will undoubtedly set a trend for how movie villains are portrayed in the future. He has many memorable lines, including the tagline that also serves as the title for this blog. Being the Clown Prince of Crime, he can be witty at times. Though violent and evil, Ledger's acting was perfect. The Joker is so different than the villain found in the comics, and, in my opinion, much better. Darker, more sinister...the guy in the comics cracks a joke every other panel. While Ledger cracked jokes, they were more of a darker type of humor. People really need to see the movie in order to understand the fullness of Ledger's performance. Sum it up in one word? Awe-inspiring (yes, it's one word. Really it's two, but the hyphen makes it one. It works, so no arguing).
WHY YOU SHOULDN'T SEE IT: There's reason why the Dark Knight has the title it has. It's...well, dark. After you've seen it half a dozen times, the darkness really doesn't get to you, but I'm offering a few words of warning to those who have yet to watch it.
VIOLENCE: It's a super-hero movie with a PG-13 rating. Of course there's violence. Batman fights a lot of enemies, kicking and punching his way through the Joker's thugs. The thugs themselves and the cops use guns. People do get shot. A couple of characters fall, like off buildings. When Reese gets the bounty on his head, someone tries to shoot him and and someone else tries to ram his car into the squad vehicle carrying Reese. Bruce Wayne drives his own car, a lambourghini, in front of the oncoming vehicle, taking the hit. The Joker is the main perpatrator when it comes to the dark violence. This is what makes the movie a little darker, a little different than the other hero movies out there. His favorite weapon is a knife, which he brandishes many times. You really only see him use it once, and "see" isn't really the proper word to use because the act is off-screen. He says his "Why So Serious?" line to a thug watching him threaten his boss. The shot cuts to the thug, who grimaces as a heavy thud of music is played. So, you don't really see anything. Other deaths happen mercifully off-screen. Oftentimes, it's the idea that gets to you. The Joker is ruthless, ruthless, ruthless. "I like this job, I like it," he mutters as he drives a semi through the streets of Gotham. He's a brutal killer who enjoys his work. Maybe some deaths are downplayed, but you quickly realize, from the first time he appears, that the Joker is a heartless terrorist. "Criminals aren't complicated," Bruce tells Alfred. He's wrong when it comes to the Joker. Two scenes of violence are the darkest parts of the film, but one has been hailed as a classic, mostly due to the fact that it seems virtually impossible. Classic violence? Classic killing? Really? I think Nolan could have taken these scenes out and still have had a killer of a movie...no pun intended.
THE JOKER: While he's basically the heart of the film, the Joker is also a reason for it's darkness. It's guys like him that are the reason kids are scared of clowns. When I was younger I was scared of clowns. Now that I think about it, I don't know why I was. Was it the painted face? The leering grin that somehow manages to achieve the opposite effect of it's intent? Or is it the fact that this clown is really a homicidal maniac with a funny complexion? That last one may be true for the Joker. I've already touched on his more violent nature, but that's not the only reason why he's so dark. If you hear even his dialogue, you can get a taste of him. The voice has a sort of lisp to it, which makes it interesting to listen. Maybe "hiss" is better than "lisp." Like a snake. It adds to his creepiness, especially when paired with the dark humor he utters every so often. His face paint, wild hair, and the scars that come off his lips (tipped up to form a curving smile) do add to the image as well, showing a clown-gone-bad. He seemingly has a lack of self-preservation, inviting Batman to run him over at one point and leaping off a skyscraper during a later encounter with the Caped Crusader. As mentioned previously, he's ruthless. At the beginning of the film, all the criminals he robs a bank with end up dead, either by each other or by the Joker's own hand. He then proceeds to stick what looks to be a gas type bomb into the mouth of the bank's mob manager and pulls the pin. In dealing with other mobsters, he doesn't care what he does. A few end up dead by his hand, and he pounces on one who tries to unmask Batman and kicks him before spitting on him. With Batman, his violence doesn't end. He tries to kick Batman, a knife projecting from his boot. He later beats on Batman mercilessly with a pipe. While the scene isn't brutal or bloody, and while Batman recovers very quickly, the Joker is depicted as a very violent individual. He tells two characters about how he got his scars, two different stories, both violent. If either one is to be believed, the Joker either had an abusive father or a wife who got in deep with loan sharks. People who are with bad people usually turn out bad themselves. Hmm. In short, the Joker does add a load (if not all) of darkness to the film.
I love this movie. Given the two negatives reasons, some might wonder if I'm not a little crazy myself. The Joker's evil, the movie's dark...why would anyone like it? Possible lunacy aside, I try to peer past the shadows that tint the film and see the good about it. The story. The acting. This movie is provocative to the mind. In terms of story, it's brilliant. Batman's the ideal hero; Joker's the ideal villain. In terms of acting, it's sensational. All the actors do well, but they pale in comparison to Ledger's performance. I could go on for a lot longer and give a lot more details about why this film is possibly the greatest movie ever (in my opinion), but I'll let you decide for yourself. Go ahead. Watch it. And I'm pretty sure (60% now) that you'll never have to read another Dark Knight blog again. This is the ultimate one. I've said my piece. Let the movie do the rest.
I believe...in the Dark Knight.