Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Today’s Dark Knight

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Heath Ledger passed away tragically due to a drug overdose in January. His performance in Dark Knight since then has been praised in the industry. Now finally being able see it is both superb and sad. He had a subconscious way of bringing the inner life of characters into the roles he played. His part in the film is genuinely unnerving and his Joker is intensely evil. He is no longer playing a super villain but a modern day terrorist. He outlines moral dilemmas where either choice results in someone’s death. He goes into his past explaining the scars around his mouth came from being cut up from his father who asked him "Why so serious?" before cutting his face. At the same time it is a shame that it will be one of his last performances. There is talk of maybe a posthumous Oscar nomination and he has an upcoming role in Terry Gilliam`s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus that is now in post-production.

Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan have been working together since Christ’s first feature film Memento that was based on a short story Memento Mori by Jonathan. They collaborated again in 2006 for The Prestige and finally on the screenplay for Dark Knight based on the DC Batman Comics. Bob Kane the creator of Batman inspiration for the Joker is from Paul Leni’s German Expressionism film The Man Who Laughs (1928). The comic-book hero had several big screen adaptations prior to Nolan’s films. There was the 1966 cinematic transfer with Adam West taking up again his campy performance from the television show of the time and Tim Burton revamped the superhero with his more gothic and perverse 1989 Batman.

The new series is a lot darker then any of the previous films. This sequential film in Nolan’s Batman series has the Bruce Wayne character (Christian Bale) is already developed. In Batman Begins through a series of flashbacks involving Bruce we learn his true motivation and fears. As a child he falls down a hole and there he is attacked by bats. The idea and thought of bats scare him right into his adulthood. After that he leaves the theater earlier with his parents who then get accidentally murdered while being mugged. He channels his grief into a revenge plot to take down the criminals. Then through vigorous training that resembles something out of Star Wars and the best high-tech equipment Wayne Enterprise can buy he faces his fears and the Gotham City criminal world. The film is full of exciting action sequence, awe-inspiring scenes of Batman flying thought Gotham City, actually Chicago, and effective one-liners.

Dark Knight starts with a bank heist. There is a group of criminals all wearing clown mask who try to pull off the perfect heist. The mask the men are wearing was influenced by the ones worn by the gangsters in The Killing (1956). The clowns turn off the alarm, take everyone as hostages, and shoot the vigilante bank manager then get way with the money. As these events progress they are slowly turning on each other due to orders from the organizer, a sociopath who wears make-up and calls himself the Joker. The Joker turns out to be in the group. He betrays the clowns that aren’t dead yet then gets away by driving away in a school bus in between a caravan of other busses while the police arrive at the scene to late. This sequence here depicts the view the Joker has on the world. He believes that as long as things are in order instead of chaos whether it is good or evil is irrelevant.

The Gotham city in the Dark Knight is the one of the 21st century. The city is darker, nihilistic, swamped with corruption and crime and the citizens are unsympathetic and afraid. The city no longer is in its own confined existence as the film switches to Hong Kong to emphasize its global economic and moral connections. The Joker plays a terrorist who is devastating the city with high explosives, political assassination and destroying buildings including a hospital. Batman is now an antihero in between good and evil. He tortures to get information and creates a wiretap information center to locate the hiding spot of the Joker. The film has political implication echoing the society we live in now by skillfully putting together images that have cultural value.

The Jokers action poses moral problems for Batman and the citizens of Gotham City. He puts two ferry boats loaded of passengers, one boat civilians and the other boat of felons, against each other to blow the other ferry or be blown. To offset the pessimism of destroying the good-will of The White Knight district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) into the murderous Two-Face. The film rejoices with the humanism of one the criminal on board one of the ferry’s who convinces the warden to give him the detonator and he throws it out into the water instead of sacrificing the other boat.

There are excellent performances from Michael Caine returning as Bruce Waynes faithful butler, Maggie Gyllenhaal with a heartbreaking performance as Rachel Dawes, Gary Oldman as the understanding Lt. James Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox Wayne Enterprises technical adviser.

The film is playing at all major theaters and make sure to get there early since screenings have been selling out.

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