• Vishaal Desai

'The Dark Knight'


'THE DARK KNIGHT' (2008)
 
Directed by - Christopher Nolan

Written by - Jonathon Nolan & Christopher Nolan
 

WARNING: SPOILERS ahead!

With ‘Batman Begins’ in 2005, Christopher Nolan re-energized the Batman franchise, making it darker and grittier, with a ‘real-world’ ethos. Nolan’s edgier, more realistic version of Batman has proved to be far more suited to our time and age than any other previous incarnation. The hype surrounding the anticipated release of ‘The Dark Knight’ and particularly Heath Ledger’s performance as the ‘Joker’ was amplified ten-fold due to Heath’s untimely and tragic death. Having watched the film on the day of release, I found this to be one of those rare occasions where a film not only lives up to its hype but actually exceeds it!

Right from the get-go, we are thrust into the action. The opening sequence sets up the tone of the film, with an efficiently executed bank robbery, and introduces us to The Joker (Ledger) and his maniacal nature. As we delve deeper into the story, the theme is quite clear – morality can be twisted by perspective. Batman (Christian Bale) on one hand, seeks to clean up the city of Gotham and enforce justice, but he does so behind a mask. As long as he serves this purpose and as long as the results of his actions conform to what is ‘accepted,’ the citizens and the police are willing to let him continue. But when the Joker comes along and wreaks havoc, when he threatens to kill people unless Batman turns himself in, the same citizens who are willing to let Batman clean up their streets start calling for his head.

A quote by Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) aptly describes the moral precipice upon which the central characters of this story stand.

– “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

By the end of the film, this quote not only applies to Batman, but to Dent himself. It is a harsh reality in which someone like Batman can only do good by doing it as a vigilante, as an outcast to society.

Wally Pfister’s Cinematography is no less stunning than it was the first time around with ‘Batman Begins.’ His visual landscape, part of which was shot on the superlative IMAX cameras allows the city of Gotham to be a character unto itself. That coupled with the films Art Direction really brings out the world of ‘Gotham City.’ There is a palpable contrast between the spectacular aerial shots that demonstrate the vastness of the world and the dilemma (particularly the first shot of Batman on the rooftops) and the closer, more intimate shots that defines each character, their emotions and their perspectives.

Lee Smith’s Editing is fast paced and smooth. The action sequences are spot on and the hand-to-hand fights are significantly more coherent than the previous chapter. The film’s structure as whole works like a well-oiled machine, almost in contrast to the Joker’s chaos theory. One sequence in particular that stands out is the simultaneous assassinations of Commissioner Loeb (Colin McFarlane) and Judge Surrillo (Nydia Rodriguez Terracina). The parallel cutting here is paced in a way that evokes comparisons with the ‘baptism scene’ in ‘The Godfather’ (1972), where the tension is slowly built up to a sudden climax.

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score is perfection – there is simply no other word to describe it. The music accentuates the dark undertones, providing an added dimension and depth to the scenes and the characters. Harvey Dent’s theme in particular is very haunting, exemplifying his transformation. The action sequences are well complimented with a pulse racing theme that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Christian Bale’s performance is quite clearly a progression from the first film. He plays Bruce Wayne as a nonchalant, self-obsessed playboy, yet during scenes with those aware of his dual life – Rachel, Alfred (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), the man behind the mask succumbs to his human nature, his emotions. The difference between the millionaire as he was to everyone else and the dark, brooding man, looking for someone to replace him as the city’s hero was quite a contrast. As Batman however, his performance is a little inarticulate. He appears to be limited somewhat by the suit and is inevitably overshadowed by Ledger’s Joker. That being said, there is something about the chemistry between the two that just sits right. As the Joker says “You complete me,” – cliched as that may sound, these two characters do ‘complete’ each other. The Joker is indeed Batman’s ultimate nemesis in every medium from the Comic Books to the big screen and his parting line to the Caped Crusader “We’re destined to do this forever,” simply sums it all up.

As the Joker, Heath Ledger gives no quarter and is completely encapsulated within the role. Everything about the character is downright creepy and his laugh chills the spine. His performance is accentuated by little details, nuances and mannerisms; such as the flick of his tongue or the twitch in his neck. Nolan leaves the Joker’s past mired in ambiguity, this is evident from the different stories he tells about the origins of his facial scars. This ambiguous nature of his past makes the Joker all the more intriguing. He is a character with no clear motive other than to create anarchy and is completely at ease with his actions and twisted point of view.

As Alfred says

– “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

With all the hype surrounding Heath Ledger’s performance, Aaron Eckhart’s performance as Harvey Dent/Two Face is overshadowed. While Ledger's Joker revels in the spotlight of the film's narrative, Eckhart gives us a truly honest portrayal of a man determined to bring real justice within a corrupt system. He portrays Harvey Dent as dependable and righteous, which makes his fall from grace all the more tragic as he turns from Gotham’s ‘White Knight’ into a mangled, devastated shell of his former self. Eckhart makes the transformation from Dent to Two-Face believable as his anguish and suffering is painfully evident. Once again this evokes the moral dilemma that Nolan has set up from the start – What happens when the best of the best is brought down? What happens when the one person on whom everyone’s hope rests becomes the very evil he was striving to fight.

While the character of Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is evidently the weakest and least developed, the importance of her presence in the story is revealed by the impact she has on the character arcs of Bruce Wayne and more importantly Harvey Dent. Unlike Katie Holmes’ tepid effort in the previous chapter, Gyllenhaal brings a certain stoicism and conviction to her character. Rachel’s fate is quite clearly the straw that broke the camel’s back, the consequences of which will last well beyond the end of ‘The Dark Knight’ and into the final chapter.

The climax of the film brings us back to that question of moral dilemmas. The irony of the Joker is that he believes that deep down, everyone is as twisted as he is. And he tries to prove this by putting people in situations where they have to make those choices. First, by turning them against Batman, and then by turning them against each other. With the two boats out on the water, communication cut off and bombs strapped to them, the people on each boat are faced with blowing up the other boat or being killed themselves. Innocent civilians on one boat and criminals on the other, each are certain that the other will not hesitate, so here comes the dilemma. Are people really that primal deep down? When it comes down to a matter of survival do we throw out everything that we have become and revert back to our animal nature?

‘The Dark Knight’ is a film that truly transcends the comic book genre to be something that is much more.Full credit to Jonathan and Christopher Nolan for spinning a narrative that is philosophically complex and populated with characters that have tremendous depth, making us look beyond the fantastical nature of their origins.

VishRates - 5 / 5

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