Saturday, 9 August 2008

The Dark Knight or, what makes a great film?

I've just come from seeing The Dark Knight for the second time. Even though I saw it two weeks ago, I was able to see it again so soon, because it is an amazing, dark, thrilling intelligent movie. It's a movie about how all figures fall, about how 'madness is only a push away', as the Joker says. HOw Batman isn't just a comic figure now, but is becoming a full-blown myth representing our culture today. How we need someone to stand outside it all to fight wrongs, to bring balance back, even if it means he has to take some of our shadow on himself. This movie satisfies. It's like going to a buffet getting well-prepared flavorful food that nourishes you. It gives something to my soul, this movie does. I can look at the light and long for fairies and sweetness, but I know there is darkness, I have looked at it, and I need movies like this that remind me what life is like, and why it's worth fighting to live in a way I am proud of. It sounds silly that a movie based on a comic book could achieve this, but then Batman has never been an ordinary hero. He has always had tragic overtones, from the murders of his parents in front of him in a hold-up. What does that do to one's mind? What would that do to a child? Certainly Bruce Wayne becomes the representative of those real-life people who can't have a normal life, whose pastel colours and every day existence are what he gives to other people because, as this movie makes clear, he can't be Batman and have a normal life. This movie is about him finishing the choice he started in Batman Begins. It's the story about how Batman becomes Batman. And it is searing. It goes right for the guts. It is violent, and frightening, and eerie, and at its core is a fight for society to hold together in the face of chaos, in the face of fear. The Joker is the mouthpiece of a lot of truths, the dancing shadow that lures society to the brink of anarchy. In the current world shadow we are always it seems on that edge now, and it would only take a push to shove us over. Batman becomes that sign within our souls to not give up, to keep fighting to keep the world we have, even if it is a fight only within our own souls.

This is not to say that chaos is bad; nothing is born except with chaos. The Joker, though, recognizes no limits, no bounds. He is that part of us that wishes we were free, and so we see what would happen if we lost our human part of our souls.

I know this sounds all hyperbole, but you know me, I'm not going to give you the plot because nothing I say will equal the experience of it. You have to see it. Especially if you know a little bit about darkness, about the edge between life and darkness and death, if you have ever lost control, or wished you could - this is for you. Us. I will say, though, the plot holds up even better on second viewing. There are no gaping holes, no missed points, no dangling storylines. Fast-paced, I found myself on the edge of my seat again, even though I knew what was coming this time. And one of the best scenes for me is the Joker coming out of the hospital, the incongruity of the clown in the nurse's uniform, and the delight in turning the world upside down, topsy-turvy. There is nothing clownish about Heath Ledger's Joker. He is funny, but not because he has happy surprises, but because he is like a creative, primitive element sprung full-blown out of nowhere, fully destructive. But I don't find him evil, though he is very, very scary. He wants anarchy, and he invites everyone to join with him, and he breaks all the rules. He is, as he says, the irresistible force to Batman's immovable object. and by the end, when the movie is over, I am so sad all over again at Heath's passing. We will never see him play the Joker again, and it feels selfish of me to miss him for this, when he had a daughter and family who loved him, and that is the real tragedy, but in this, we all share in the loss of his tremendous acting ability. He doesn't go over the top, in a role that it could happen to easily; the restraint he shows in keeping the Joker real in an intelligent, thoughtful way - there is the sense that the Joker is looking for someone to play with, and in Batman he finally finds his equal. What an amazing acting job, in a movie filled with perfect acting, from Christian Bale's Batman, to Gary Oldman's quiet family-man who fights the fight of his life to remain decent, to the secondary characters which second viewing allowed me to watch more closely, the unravelling of certain characters, the appearance over and over of the lesser psychotic (the Joker's follower?), and then Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, perfect in their roles. This is an intelligent movie, and it doesn't hide from the truth about what fighting the darkness can cost, and it says that the fight is worth fighting. The direction, the soundtrack (for once it didn't annoy me and I love the Jokers' theme), the setting. This is a movie that has gone onto my top 10, that I will be first in line to buy when it comes out on DVD, that I will watch over and over. Because when it comes to the things that stir the soul, that nourish us in ways we don't expect, they should be treasured.

So I guess that says that I have a fair bit of darkness in me and my life, that I respond so keenly to this film. It has a rich texture that in lesser hands, would have been awful, a laugh; but Batman is elevated by the men he has chosen to help him, Caine as the butler and Freeeman as the designer/company manager. These men are intelligent and the line delivery is amazing, full of sarcasm and dry wit. They know what Batman is doing, and they support it. And we find out a bit about why, in this movie.

I don't know where Batman can go next, or even if there will be another movie made. Part of me really hopes so, but I would want Christopher Nolan and Bale and all the surrounding characters to continue. A story-driven comic book movie that is the best movie to come out this year so far, in a long long time, even.

So, my gentle readers, what makes a movie magnificent for you? What are your favourite movies? Do you like The Dark Knight (if you have seen it?) What do you go to movies for - to be entertained, to learn a little something, to lose yourself in the experience, to escape? So many of us read to escape, do you approach movie-going the same way? What makes a movie good for you?

My top movie list - not in any particular order since I can't figure out quite where The Dark Knight fits yet, just that it is already among my very favourite of all movies - and this is not a list of the best movies ever made, this is my personal list of movies that I can't be without, that I love:

Susan's Favourite Movies
The Terminator
The Dark Knight
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
The Gods Must Be Crazy
The Haunting (version with Claire Bloom)
Persuasion (any version)
A Room With a View
The Secret of Roan Inish
The Lives of Others

It was going to be my top 10, but then I discovered that I have a whole host of movies vying for the last spot! so it would be more like Susan's Top 30 movie list - and they begged to be listed, too, so here are my runners-up to the Top 10 Favourite Movies - 2nd tier, if you will:

Grosse Pointe Blank
Lone Star
The Changeling
Pride and Prejudice (keira Knightly version)
The Company of Wolves
Ella Enchanted
Princess Bride
The Fifth Element
The Sixth Sense
The Bourne Identity movies (trilogy)
Little Miss Sunshine
Lars and the Girlfriend
Casino Royale
A Fish Called Wanda
Say Anything

Now you know a bit more about my favourite movies and what I look for. Somehow, it is easier to pick my favourite movies over my favourite books - perhaps because books are my first love, and I love so many of them for different reasons, whereas I am more selective in my movies because so few truly satisfy me. That is why I am so thrilled and delighted when a movie does come along that I fall in love with. And yes, I think Christian Bale is the best Batman of all. I liked Val Kilmer in the role as well, very much, but Christian has portrayed the trajectory of Batman into tragic hero, the dark knight, with subtlety and with power.

Other book blog reviews of Dark Knight: Carl
Bride of the Book God


Amy said...

I think this was a brilliant film as well.
I also really liked the Lives of Others. :)

brideofthebookgod said...

A brilliant review, Susa, hopefully you had a look at what I said on my film page. I really want to see this again, but haven't had the chance yet.

Rhinoa said...

I wasn't as taken with this as most other people seem to be. I thought it was a Harvey Dent movie rather than a Batman film as the wonderful Aaron Eckhart seemed to have the most screen time. What happened to his character was so sad and he was the real hero of the film. The other hero was Commissioner Gordon who also went through hell in this film. Oldman did a fantastic job playing him. I wanted to see more Bruce Wayne and less Batman as he is the more interesting character of the two and I did appreciate Ledgers performance. I do feel if anyone should be up for an Oscar for it though it should be Aaron Eckhart and the reason everyone has made such a big fuss is that Ledger died making it. Just my opinions.

My favourite films include High Fidelity, Almost Famous, Garden State, anything directed by Kevin Smith, The Craft, Thank you for Smoking, Little Miss Sunshine, Eagle Versus Shark, The Waitress and Juno. Mostly lower budget films I guess but all wonderful and highly recommended.

Kim L said...

Great review of this movie! I thought it was everything people said it was and then some. It pretty much transcended the whole comic book genre.

I don't have any top favorite list because I'd never be able to keep track, but some of my recent favorites are this one, Children of Men, The Prestige, Waitress, and Pan's Labyrinth.

Bybee said...

I order you to do more film reviews. Please? Please?

I was sorry that Two-Face won't be back for another movie; he was my favorite Batman villain when I was a child. The makeup was perfect.

The Dark Knight finally opened in SK on Thursday. The packed audience was transfixed.

Right now, my favorite movie is La Vie En Rose...I always lean towards biopics.

Bree said...

Excellent review for an excellent movie. I also loved it and reviewed it a little on my blog. This movie was so good that I completely agree with you on whether or not Hollywood would even be able to do another sequel that could top it. It's almost as if with Heath's death that this should be the last chapter of Batman. Love your movie list, several of my favorites are on it and some I haven't heard of so I'll have to check them out.

Carl V. said...

Absolutely fantastic review. It is such a thrill to see someone write the kind of fiery review that I write when I am really pumped up about something. I completely agree with your thoughts and find it in no way odd or silly that this film could affect you in the way that it has.

I too see films as having the potential of inspiring us, reinforcing life messages and beliefs, promoting change, etc. Many of my favorite films, the ones I watch over and over again, do just that. They stir me up, light a fire in me, make me want to squeeze the most out of each and every day.

Love your list of films, many are ones that I adore as well.

Certainly top 10 films would include the original Star Wars trilogy (it informed everything I love now by establishing that foundation in my childhood), the Lord of the Rings trilogy (possibly my favorite films ever), Pan's Labyrinth, Amelie, the same Pride and Prejudice film you like, Labyrinth, Mirrormask (my review for that goes on for miles!!!), The Others. Better Off Dead and Monty Python's Holy Grail are favs from college days. Certainly enjoy Dune, Casino Royale made me into a Bond fan and an Ian Fleming novel fan. I could go on and on.

Like you I too found the second viewing to be amazing. I was even more on edge during it than I was the first time. I look forward to seeing what the special edition of the DVD has in store.

Susan said...

amy: thanks for coming by! I'll come visit your site shortly.

bride of the book god: thanks! I went to your review - I liked it! much more succinct than mine!

rhinoa: I forgot about Little Miss sunshine and Waitress, which we just recently watched and I loved also. I think my criteria for my top ten list are films that I do see over and over - even if they aren't 'good' or classic films, they are ones that I respond to. I still haven't seen Juno (i know, Canadian actress and all!), and I do enjoy the Craft, but I thought it was too preachy about the dangers of witchcraft and not about what is good about it (except that the only one in it for non-selfish reasons survives with her sanity intact!) Over here, many thought Harvey Dent was thrown in and distracted from Batman/Joker face-off, so your viewpoint is interesting. and I would love Gary Oldman to get nominated for his role, in fact everyone should! Though I agree, I want to see much more Bruce Wayne as he tries to have a life even while being Batman. Maybe that could be the third movie!

kim l: I have got to see Pan's Labryinth! I seem to be the only person who has not seen it yet, which is sad for a fantasy film fan!! The Prestige was fun, too.

bybee: hmmm, that would mean I'd have to get out more, if I were to do more film reviews! lol So you liked Two-Face...would you be surprised if i told you the Joker was always my favourite? At least he got a good role, and that ending is so powerful. Every time he grabs Gordon's son I start crying. He wanted to hurt people, while the Joker wanted someone to play with - not that it was any less worse, but he never picked on children. Iteresting, I am going to have to give this some thought. Thank you!
I haven't seen La Vie en can always give a film review, come on! somewhere inside you must have an inner movie critic just dying to get out!!!

bree: thank you for coming by! I'll come check out your review shortly. Thanks for your compliments, too. I don't know that it's the last chapter of Batman - see my comments to Rhinoa, for a possible third movie. Please, no Catwoman, or Poison Ivy, or Penguin man! not after the Joker.

carl: wow. thank you!! Coming from you, purveyor of fine things fantastical, that means alot :-) I like how you phrase that movies make you want to squeeze the most out of every day, light a fire in you. Good storytelling should do that, movies or books. Batman certainly has lit a fire in many of us! I loved your review, as you know, and enjoyed the debate raging over Batman's girlfriend (why can't I remember her name? I can see Maggie's face so clearly!) on your blog. Certainly most of my favourite movies do that for me - either light a fire in me, or make me grateful for storytelling and the possibility and the wonder and magic of being alive. that is so precious. Even as dark as Batman was, it just lit a bigger fire, that what we do has meaning. Lord of the Rings trilogy almost made it onto the list - it hovers at the edge - mostly because I love the books so much (as everyone knows now) and while I think no one will ever surpass what Peter Jackson did and they are very good movies, I prefer the story -the images in my head developed over the years - to the films, so the books win. but they are classics and among the best fantasy films ever done! I've seen them in the theatre and own them, of course...!! I did like Amelie very much, but the Lives of Others - wow, that had an immediate, amazing impact, it's such a powerful film.
I adore Monty Python, too...there are so many good films out there, and we are so lucky to live in this age when we can see them.
I too can hardly wait for the dvd edition of Batman. Fingers crossed it will be out for Christmas...

I think it's all about passion, in the storytelling, the writing, the acting. Batman is passionate - though tightly controlled - and the whole movie experience of it is passionate. It's so fun that you and i, and so many people, love this movie. It makes me wish we could have a book blogger's movie night, complete with popcorn, and watch Batman all together!! Whoever said people who love books are a dull lot??