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 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
Pride and Prejudice (keira Knightly version)
The Company of Wolves
The Fifth Element
The Sixth Sense
The Bourne Identity movies (trilogy)
Little Miss Sunshine
Lars and the Girlfriend
A Fish Called Wanda
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