Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair! Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen The Dark Knight already, but this line (among many others) is always giving me chills. My local cinema – Dolnoslaskie Centrum Filmowe did a re-run of Christopher Nolan’s best bits: The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Interstellar and Dunkirk. Guess who got the tickets the second they were released? Yup. And guess what? It was perfect opportunity for me to write promised review of the trilogy.
As you remember, Batman Begins was about pain – endurance of its purest form; the fear of fear itself. Nolan never aimed for typical cape-crusader film. Now, think about it – director whose best friend is time, inversion and aesthetic, wants to do a Batman film? Of course, it will be his way.
The Dark Knight is special. There are many reasons why – Heath Ledger, plot, psychological aspect of being a (anti)hero… But most importantly, this is a story about chaos. And chaos is fair, chances are the same for everyone. Thanks to DCF, I was able to relive this journey on big screen, after 12 years of its official premiere. And let me tell you this: 12 years ago, it didn’t make such a great impression on me. I was 15 and my head was somewhere else back then. But! I grew up and started seeing things differently, paying attention to details I missed. Or importances I missed.
I struggled with a lot of feelings during this screening: overwhelming sadness, crushing sense of chaotic (in)justice, misunderstanding, loneliness, desperate need to buy black cape and stand on the rooftop and hoover over the city… And I don’t really know anymore if it’s Nolan or Batman. Surprised? Well, Batman was the first superhero in my life (excluding Black Panther comic book I got as a kid, because it was completely out of context, like I got issue 6? The heck, mum), that touched my heart. Want to know why?
Harvey Dent, Gotham’s bright boy and class-A district attorney, idealist with a mission to lock up crime bosses and clean up the streets of his city. He is embodiment of success and effectiveness. Even though Gotham finds a way to screw him over, when he is about to convict Maroni. At first, I wasn’t a big fan of Harvey. He seemed obnoxious and cocky, but considering the type of character – always pushing forward with no regards for anything – that kind of attitude suits him. After all, what really mattered is his endgame: taking down the notorious criminals of Gotham.
At the same time, he is completely helpless when meeting city’s elite – influential and rich people, who could support his future campaign. That means, that while he is an excellent attorney, he is not much of a people’s person. And he doesn’t have to be – popularity is not his agenda. With time, he realizes that he will not win this war by himself. With help from Jim Gordon, he finally meets Batman.
They say never meet your heroes, right? Dent sees Batman as a hero appointed by the people, who stood by and let scum take control of their city. For him, Batman was finally doing something about it. That night, Bruce Wayne saw passion inside him. Passion and a way out – could Harvey be the hero; hero with face, finally become people’s person?
Joker is quite the contrary – charming madman, dangerous (loose) mind, dog chasing cars. Agent of chaos… Before I talk about Heath’s performance, let’s focus on this character. It took me quite some time to consider him a villain. Why? Well, he had some valid points: Nobody panics when the expected people get killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying. Ain’t that the truth? His mind was not sick – he just had a different perception. A simple one, too: doing things for the sake of… Doing. He resembles a force of nature; he simply exists.
So, what does he really want, besides introducing a little anarchy? To kill Batman, his arch nemesis? In the end, he admits that he couldn’t carry on with that plan. Slowly breaking Batman’s righteousness and honor is fun for him. He will do whatever it takes, to push him to break his one rule. Joker thrives in chaos. Why? Chaos is lawless, there are no rules. And ordinary people are not used to chaos – we are born to plan. This is why being spontaneous is hard for most of us. So, tell me: is Joker the dysfunctional one, are we?
Madman, that’s the word I used, right? Is he really? Even though he operates without any plan, he thinks. Clearly and analytically. Out of that process, he extracts information and then pushes his doings into the right direction. Joker swims with the currents, but at the same time, he sets its route. He adapts, changes and executes. Mysterious and unpredictable criminal. Yet in some ways, we can relate to him. There is a level of sympathy we have for this man.
Watching this film made me really hard to believe, that Joker actually didn’t have any plan. Everything just went right to get him to that one point – victory over Batman. Not physical, but psychological. Joker gave Batman impossible choice: save his beloved Rachel or Harvey. And even though he gave up the addresses, there was a twist. So, when he reaches the destination where Rachel should be, Batman finds Harvey…
And that is Dent’s first step towards the end. His first real encounter with Joker, visiting him in the hospital is one of my favorite scenes within the entire trilogy. His action began changing from “let’s kill the Batman” to “I will make you break your only rule”. This is no longer business deal with mob – it is a personal game of psychological dominance. Joker unleashed beast inside Harvey, finally making him worthy of his infamous nickname: Harvey Two-Face. From now on, all that matters to him is to get some kind of sense of justice, for Rachel.
In order to defeat Batman, Joker turned the only light – beacon of hope for Gotham – against every ideal he once stood for. Joke won! But only Batman and Jim Gordon know that. He won, and from now on they will have to live with that spirit-crushing failure.
If you think you know thing or two about storytelling, think again. Batman’s/ Bruce Wayne’s transformation in The Dark Knight. He wanted to be a symbol – inspiration for change. Influence on corrupted law enforcement; awakening for citizens of Gotham. And people were grateful, they worshiped new hero. But this admiration went one step too far – copycats started showing up, trying to help him out. So, the people took the matters into their own hands, just not the way Batman wanted them to do. After all, he was trained by the League of Shadows, and his copycats wore hockey pads.
That’s the problem with inspiring people, you know? This was my dream always, but ever since I started “going an extra mile” for humans, I realized how hard it is. It’s like dancing on thin ice. Your vision can be perceived in different ways; understood with different outcomes. And that was Bruce’s biggest problem with Batman: his personal purpose became shared vision.
At first, he underestimates Joker, claiming that locking up crime bosses in Gotham is more important. Joker is one man, he can wait. And this is his mistake, that later on costs him everything. It pushes him towards thin line – border of his morality. For the first time, he is facing an extraordinary enemy, who doesn’t play by any known rules. So, how do you defeat a man like that, this unstoppable force, while being the immovable object?
How to fight, when things got more personal than ever? Joker is the greatest opponent for Batman (while Bane is the ultimate enemy of Bruce Wayne, which I will explain in The Dark Knight Rises review), the one that defeats him while laughing.
His somewhat failed transformation is real tragedy of heroic symbols. Because everything he does, feels wrong. Costs people’s life, causes him to doubt. And the second hero starts doubting himself, it’s over. Trust me, I am no hero. But when it comes to inspiring people, doing everything you can save them, protect them… Often our actions are misinterpreted, and one mistake will be remembered forever. Even over all the good things you’ve done.
Batman taking blame for Harvey’s actions, becoming the Dark Knight of Gotham, a fallen hero willingly submitting to man’s hunt is shocking and heartbreaking. But this isn’t just any heartbreak – it’s the worst kind! Because people don’t know what really went down, people don’t know that Joker won. All they understand is that Batman became the madman and murdered someone, who could save the town. Nolan emphasized this final scene with majestic score from Hans Zimmer, making it so much more painful to watch, even for the 46th time.
Watching The Dark Knight on big screen felt like watching it for the first time. I cried when they shot Jim Gordon even though I knew he will live! That’s how powerful soundtrack is. You can say whatever you want about Hans Zimmer. And as much as I love storytelling (which I understand), I am in awe of composers. Because they don’t communicate their feelings, emotions, frustrations with words – they use music.
But music is one thing, the vision and story are the other – and being a part of it again, moved something in my heart. A kind of gloominess surrounded my blood pump. Not in a bad way, just… Nolan makes me vulnerable, he stimulates my brain, teases it, plays with it, just the way he likes it. This time it was different, though – I wasn’t alone in the theater, but it felt that way. Like I am the only one there, the only one capable of understanding him and his hero.
Putting all my personal and clearly subjective feelings I have for Nolan and Zimmer, The Dark Knight is the best film in its category, hands down. And I don’t need to show you the scores, the reviews or critic’s response. This movie, this trilogy is emotionally terrifying tale of hope clashing with fear, chaos and pain – the greatest enemies of every person who wants to be inspiration for a change.
Said Chris Nolan, when accepting Golden Globe for Heath Ledger in 2009. His death, so sudden and tragic moved everyone. I will no dig into the theories why and if his part as Joker was the trigger. Suicide is complex and I am in no position to talk about it. All I can say is that Heath took away tiny pieces of our hearts with him.
His performance was OUTSTANDING. There are so many words to describe it, really: heartbreaking, terrifying, touching, devastating. He gave 150% of himself for this role, he became the Joker. And maybe he went one little step too far, but who am I to say that? Seeing him on screen in this film… I cried on my way home, but not because he is gone. I cried because his acting, his portrait of Joker crushed me. From the start, he is a hopeless villain – you don’t root for him, you just accept that he in fact is this unstoppable force. And you are just like Batman, the immovable object. Yet, Ledger’s performance moves you in every possible way!
Every time I re-watch The Dark Knight, I get sad – this special kind of sadness washes over my shores. Firstly, because the moral dilemma of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Is there a good answer, a good explanation for it? I don’t think so. Secondly, because of the lesson Batman learns: chaos seems unfair to those, who plan and play by rules, when in fact it is a simple game of chances, with more fairness than anything else in the world. Thirdly, because of Heath’s acting – I know that something like this will never happen again. And people who keep comparing his Joker to Joaquin’s – respectfully shut the front door and think. Two completely different stories, though one universe. Drastically different Jokers, though similar in root cause – chaos. There is nothing to compare when it comes to performance. Period.
The Dark Knight is considered one of the best films of the 2000s and one of the best superhero films of all time – not just by me, but by whole bunch of people who knows their stuff about movies. It redefines the possibilities, that comic books give to creators. Nolan showed, that you don’t have to rely on CGI in 90%, that you can make a movie about masked superhero, but not in a superhero way. For me it will forever be a psychological case study, deep as a well, on various types of heroes, villains, ordinary citizens and chaos.
According to David Sims of The Atlantic, this film “legitimized” the genre of the comic book movie in the eyes of film studios, setting the stage for the success of franchises such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Is this true? I’m not sure, but it would make sense. However, as much as I love MCU, if I had to choose between watching The Dark Knight trilogy or MCU for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t even hesitate with my answer.
You’ll condemn me, set the dogs on me… Because it’s what needs to happen. Because sometimes the truth isn’t good enough… Sometimes, people deserve more.
We watched the planes leave us behind…
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