drcpunk (drcpunk) wrote,

Musings on The Dark Knight

I liked this film a lot. I want to see it again. I am not sure if I think it was better than Batman Begins, but I do think it was better paced.

That said, I do not think it is the bast ever superhero movie. I admit that this leaves me with the question of what is, at least, if one rules out animated films and insists that the movie be based on a pre-existing superhero comic. If one makes no such stipulations, my pick is The Incredibles.

This choice says something about how I view a superhero film. I am going for Gold or Silver Age, I think, not Bronze or Brass Age. I know superhero stories can get very dark and gritty. And, I will be delighted if the upcoming Watchmen movie is good. Nevertheless, I am giving the Best Ever vote to the solid family friendly film.

The Dark Knight is not family friendly. That's all right. It packs more solid philosophy into a movie than most, especially most action films. And, it's philosophy that leaves one uneasy, or at least, I think it should leave one uneasy. I hope that Nolan thinks so, too.

Oddly, unlike sdelmonte, I found Gotham to have more personality in Batman Begins than in The Dark Knight. But, I suspect we have different ideas of the quintessential Gotham in mind.

I liked Heath Ledger's Joker, and I agree that he made the character his own. That said, and like sdelmonte, I stop short of saying he deserves an Oscar. I am really and truly sorry that he is dead, but that is not the basis on which one should hand out Oscars. If we're giving someone an award for acting in a superhero movie, my vote goes to Robert Downey, Jr. for Iron Man.

I liked the Joker-Batman relationship, and I do not think Betman was relegated to second fiddle. It's also important to remember that the philosophical debate in the movie has at least three sides, represented by Batman, the Joker, and Harvey Dent. This means that screen time is tightly limited. And this is before we get to the possibility of Gordon, Alfred, and Rachel all being separate sides of the debate.

I'm disappointed in how Rachel was used. Basically, she's a walking prop. This would bother me less if we saw her being useful in two supposedly strong areas, her capabilities as a lawyer and her knowledge of Bruce Wayne.

Well, she isn't allowed to do anything in the legal field, as that would cut into Harvey Dent's role. This is regrettable. It means that her relationship to Dent comes across as idealized trophy wife.

But, this bothered me far less than her lack of competence in her other area of strength. She has known Bruce Wayne from childhood, and this is supposed to mean something. But, what? Clearly, it doesn't mean that she wants to marry him, and I like that. I like that she's decided that Harvey Dent is the man she wants to marry.

But, I do not like that she knows Bruce Wayne so little that she believes that he is mocking Harvey Dent with his party and his speech. I also do not like how badly she thinks of him when he is surprised by Harvey's decision to claim to be Batman. It would bother me less that Rachel thought Bruce was letting Harvey take the blame for him if she had not also completely misjudged him at the party.

As it is, let's see. Rachel is not allowed to show any legal expertise. She has no knowledge of the real Bruce Wayne, despite knowing his secret and having known him from childhood. This is very, very disappointing.

Gordon, on the other hand, shone. And, even though I must have known the movie wouldn't kill him off, I was stunned by the fake out, and ready to believe that he was dead. The interesting thing about Gordon is that pretty much everything he does goes horribly wrong. Yet, this doesn't seem to hurt his stature in the eyes of the audience.

Now, there is the corruption issue, and this may have been the most confusing part of the movie for me. Oh, I understood that the department was at least partly corrupt. This is why I had no trouble believing that the cop guarding the Joker would let himself get goaded into attacking. Even if this man were not corrupt per se, he was used to being a part of a corrupt department, one which probably had no objection to beating up the occasional prisoner.

But, I was never quite sure what Gordon knew or didn't know about exactly how corrupt the department was, nor was I sure how corrupt it was. I didn't know how much power Gordon had to do something about the corruption within the department nor how much Dent knew or could do about it.

I presume that Harvey Dent was called Two Face because he was good at ferreting out corruption, even though that's not what one would think the name means. And, from the beginning, Dent's goodness is suspect. The man is advocating tyranny.

But, matters are not that simple in this movie. Harvey Dent's comments need to be taken in context of the situation in Gotham -- and in context of the situation in the world outside the movie as of when it was made -- and in context of Roman history. And Dent's comment that heroes either die or became villains in the end hangs ominously in the air.

But within the world of the movie, where we worry about nothing larger than the fate of Gotham, the relationship between Dent and Bruce Wayne / Batman is very nicely developed, as each learns to trust the other. And it is good to see Harvey Dent actually made nervous by Bruce Wayne's high society circles. That's a lot of power, if it awes Harvey Dent.

And, this movie is about power. How much power does a person have? How much power is too much power for a person to have? Batman supposedly empowers the city -- yet, he highly disapproves of the copycat batmans, and the Joker shows them that they do not have the kind of power Batman has. Bruce Wayne has, perhaps, more power than Batman, as shown by his hadnwavium database of spy cameras. And, Lucius Fox says that this is too much power. Bruce clearly agrees, for when Fox enters the final password, the database is destroyed. But, if he created it once, can't Bruce Wayne recreate it?

And, of course, there is the extended sequence on the two ferries. Who has the power? The captain of the boat of "good" people used what I had assumed were delaying tactics by calling for his passengers to write down their votes. I am a little surprised that he reported the results truthfully. On the other hand, not only is this required for movie logic and so that the audience sees that 3 out of 4 "good" people vote to blow up the other ferry, one also can assume that folks either could or would insist on verifying the results. And, the captain followed this up with a very good line, just pointing out that the ferry of "bad" people had not blown them up first.

Of course, this is because the "bad" person on that boat makes the right decision, throwing the remote overboard. And, you know? That's one of those moments I should have seen coming and didn't. Oh, not that the man would choose not to blow up the "good" people -- just that he'd throw the thing overboard. For some reason, that had never occurred to me.

And, the "good" person makes the wrong decision by handing him the remote, because it's clear that he expects the "bad" person to use it. The denouement on the "good" ferry is less surprising, although I do wonder if the captain had planned to allow anyone to use the remote.

Now, how many of us think that the remotes would not have blown up the other ferry, but rather the one they were on, given that we all know that the Joker lies?

The Joker lying is, in fact, crucial to the plot of the movie, and I have some dissatisfaction with how that was handled. I'm referring to the scene where the Joker tells Batman where Harvey and Rachel are being held. I had to search the Internet to get confirmation that the Joker had lied.

This should not be surprising. Yet, it had me confused throughout the second half of the movie, wondering if the Joker had lied, if I had misheard a line about who was going where, or if the scriptwriters and continuity editors had simply messed up. Why is this?

Well, setting aside the fact that some movies really do mess up that badly, part of the confusion is due to the utter lack of reaction by Batman /. Bruce Wayne, Gordon, and the cops about the Joker's lie. I know there was little time for Batman to react when he saw Harvey Dent instead of Rachel. I know that Harvey was screaming at him as soon as he opened the door. I don't care. There was time for a brief reaction making it clear that Harvey Dent was not the person Batman expected to see.

And this is important because it flavors Gordon's and Batman's interactions with Harvey Dent. The course of events may well be much the same regardless, but the flavor, the tone should be different -- although, frankly, I would even take a throwaway line of "Well, he's probably lying about which ferry the remotes blow up -- he lied about Rachel and Harvey."

It is clear after seeing the movie through that the Joker is trying to set Harvey Dent up to fall. The philosophical argument has at least three sides, and Batman wins his round with the Joker when neither ferry blows up. But, the Joker is also targeting Harvey Dent, and Harvey Dent and Batman are debating as well.

Harvey Dent comes to believe that Batman is necessary to the city. Batman comes to believe that Harvey Dent is even more necessary, that Batman must retire to give way to Harvey Dent, a new kind of hero, a kind who can come out into the light.

This mutual admiration is complicated when Batman prevents Harvey Dent from executing a psychotic criminal, or so Batman thinks. In reality, while Dent is playing a sadistic, and ultimately fruitless game -- for his captive knows nothing useful -- he is deliberately using a two-headed coin. He has no intention of committing murder. Probably.

But, as he does not explain this to Batman, what Batman sees is a good man who almost cracks, and perhaps this is another reason for his decision to turn himself in, as the Joker demands. But Dent outmaneuvers him, first issuing an eloquent plea to the law abiding citizens of Gotham not to give in to a lunatic terrorist, but to deal with Batman as lawbreaker on their own terms, and then claiming responsibility for Batman's deeds when the police demand that there be no more dead cops.

This is interesting in the light of how corrupt the department is -- however much that may be -- and it is also interesting that the police applaud Dent when he does turn himself in. One wonders why Dent was not flown to the "County" holding facilities, clearly located Off the Map of the movie. While it is true that the Joker had contingency plans to deal with helicopters, as far as I can tell, no one realizes this. Surely a copter, with a decoy convoy, would be safer?

By the time the Joker's attempt on Harvey Dent-as-Batman has failed, he knows not only that Dent is not Batman, but also that Batman loves Rachel. This is crucial, because the Joker's true target of his double jeopardy prank is Dent, not Batman. The Joker wants Harvey Dent to know that his own life was saved at the cost of the life of the woman he loves.

To accomplish this, Harvey Dent's captivity is set up differently than Rachel's. The implications of this were not obvious to me, but I think bigscary and negativeq are correct in their assumptions: Harvey can tell from the wiring that the Joker deliberately leaves visible (regardless of whether the Joker, his goons, or the various mob family sets things up, it's the Joker calling the shots here) that as soon as the door to the room where he is being kept captive is opened, the bomb in the room where Rachel is being kept will go off.

In other words, when the Joker tells Batman that he must chose who to save, that Batman cannot save both, he does not mean "Not even you can move fast enough to save both of them." He has not forgotten that Batman is in the middle of a police station filled with men who can be dispatched in multiple directions. The Joker has rigged the game, and Harvey Dent knows it.

So, one need not wonder why Gordon didn't make it before Rachel's bomb went off. Once we understand that Batman was going to arrive before Gordon and his men did, and did not matter when Gordon and his men arrived. Rachel's bomb would go off as soon as Batman opened the door to the room with Harvey.

The Joker, then, had to ensure that Harvey's door would get opened first. He knew that Batman loved Rachel. Therefore, he told Batman a lie about who was where. If he had thought that Batman would prioritize Harvey over Rachel, he would have told Batman the truth.

The Joker's biggest lie, even though it is phrased as a question, is "Do I look like a guy with a plan?" He has a plan, and that is to destroy Harvey Dent.

On a side note, is it just me, or does one get free Creep Out points for male villains in outrageous female drag? And, if so, why should this be?

Harvey Dent is a man who tried to make his own luck, and who has failed to stay in control. He is vulnerable to the Joker's headgames. I am still not sure what he believes about what happened the night Rachel died -- whether, at any point, he understands that the Joker lied, whether he truly always "knew" that he would be rescued, or whether he genuinely believed that Rachel would be rescued first. I think that if he believed that Rachel would be saved until the door opened, and that he later lied to himself about lying to Rachel, but my only evidence is that he sounded outraged, and not as if he were expecting it, when Batman opened the door.

Other folks have pointed out that The Dark Knight does not make the mistake of having Batman pull his mask off. This is true, and is easy to overlook -- I overlooked it. After all, why on earth would you want to put a stupid unmasking scene in a movie? And yet, this happens all the time. It happened in the second Keaton film with far less justification than the script of The Dark Knight gave for an unmasking. And yet, there was no unmasking.

So much of making a good movie consists of not making a bad movie. This sounds like damning with faint praise, but I think it is not. One of the things the movie Enchanted did right is that it did not do anything major wrong. In the best movies, we have more than a lack of wrongness, however. So, in The Dark Knight, not only does Batman not yank off his mask; he takes intelligent precautions against anyone else yanking it off him.

There are a lot of other good things about the movie, more than I intend to go into here. I like that the script gave the Joker precisely as many variations on the story about how he got the scars on his face as the audience needed, and no more. I loved the understated look Bruce Wayne gave Reese after thoroughly convincing Gordon that he was an empty headed rich guy who couldn't be bothered to watch the news.

The ending of the movie is disturbing. I think -- I hope -- that it is meant to be disturbing. First of all, we are told that morale would drop if ordinary people understood that Harvey Dent, the great white hope, er, knight, could fall.

Crap. This does the people an injustice. There is still Batman. There is still Gordon. Or, is Gordon saying that his morale is wavering? If so, then he, not the rest of the city, needs bucking up, and by something more than a lie.

Now, legally speaking, it is, I gather, true that Dent's convictions would be in serious danger of being overturned if news got out that he was, for any length of time, at any period, a psychopathic killer. At least, this is what one lawyer friend said when we asked him for a reality check. Does anyone else know differently?

Yet, having seen Dent in action, I do have to wonder if his cases were as squeaky clean as we are told they needed to be. If not, then maybe his convictions should be overturned. But, such speculations may be improper, as we never really see any of the boring legwork that went into creating Harvey Dent's record. Nope, we just see the definitely extralegal means that Batman uses to extract a man from China. Lucius Fox, who had a problem with mass surveillance, had no problem with an out and out kidnapping.

Assuming Dent's record before his insanity to be clean, one is still left with a disturbing message. Not only is it all right to lie to people; it is sometimes one's duty to lie. The non-corrupt Commissioner Gordon "must" lie to the people of Gotham, praising Harvey Dent and denying that the public's idol had feet of clay and that he could break under unspeakable pressure, and condemning Batman, with whom he still intends to work. Bruce Wayne fully believes that Rachel would have come back to him, and fully intended to lie to Harvey Dent and let Dent believe that she would have said agreed to marry Dent. Alfred fully believes that Bruce cannot handle the truth that Rachel would have married Harvey Dent. What on earth are we to make of all this?

And, what answers does Batman think he has? Nolan and Bale have said that they deliberately chose to look at what happens to a man who becomes a vigilante out of passionate fury at the wrongs done to him and his when that passion has faded. What is it that keeps Batman going? Is he what Gotham needs or what Gotham deserves? What can we say about a city so full of ultimately very human people, capable of unspeakable atrocities, such as trying to shoot a man because a terrorist threatens to blow up a hospital in an hour, and astonishing goodness, as when a supposedly hardened criminal shames his captor?

And what are we likely to see in the third movie? I gather that there is enough unused footage of Heath Ledger to have the Joker reappear in one more movie, but I'm a bit dubious about how well that would work. Perhaps I'm being overly sentimental, though.

I believe that Dent was intended to be dead at the end of The Dark Knight. However, given that Heath Ledger is dead, even if I am correct, there is room for this decision to be reversed. We know that Gordon plays things close, and that Batman plays them closer. We know that they are already lying about the events leading up to Harvey Dent's death. How hard is it to believe that they told one more lie, that Harvey Dent is not dead, but is in an asylum, receiving therapy?

We know that the Scarecrow is out there. Given Lucius Fox's comment that Batman's armor would protect him from cat scratches, is there a role for Catwoman? Or Poison Ivy? Without Rachel, there are no major female characters. mneme noted that we never did see Rachel's body, but my suggestion that she might become Catwoman was met with the derision it richly deserved.

I agree with Nolan that Robin doesn't really fit into his movies' view of Batman, although I could see him changing his mind and pulling it off. But, what about Ra's Al Ghul? Do you really expect me to believe that he died in the first movie? And didn't he have a daughter in either the Batman comic or the animated series?

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