Yesterday I saw The Dark Knight, a most fascinating movie. Fascinating in many levels: it draws not only from its comic book and film roots, but from literature, mythology, the war on terror, morality, and the notion of integrity.
Like Victor Hugo‘s Laughing Man, the Joker’s grin has come trough mutilation. (According to Wikipedia, “In the 1970s, Bob Kane acknowledged the inspiration for the Joker”). Whether this is self-inflicted or through torture remains unanswered – his nihilism and clarity of purpose, not his smile (or his purple coat and green hair like Jack Nicholson’s and Cesar Romero’s Jokers), are what define him. Heath Ledger’s Joker, like Bin Laden and others before him, is ideologically pure. Ledger’s death adds a darker tone to the movie’s drama (was he not able to distance himself from this monster?), while closing the door on anyone revisting the Joker in a sequel.
That nihilism and clarity of purpose are what make the Joker a terrorist: he aims to destroy society through creating chaos and by corrupting and destroying its heroes. The war on terror, writ small on the screen, is fought by those who want to preserve and build upon our society.
And that’s where the movie gets really interesting. Batman (Christian Bale) is humiliated when the Joker manipulates him. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is corrupted and brought down when he’s motivated by revenge. Dent becomes Two Faced, a Janus who looks to the past and the future and sees only vengeance and whose coin flip mirrors the whim of the gods of antiquity.
Where do we stop when faced with such evil? When we’re having to fight, as Michael Caine’s Alfred says,
“Some men, aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. Some just want to watch the world burn.”
Do we, as Alfred did, “burn the jungle?” Because there is no doubt that we must fight. It is inconceivable to leave our lives to be controlled by Jokers. Alfred, as our conscience, tells us,
“Endure! You can be the outcast. You can make the choice that no one else can face: the right choice.
Andrew Klavan says that What Bush and Batman Have in Common is
Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.
And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society — in which people sometimes make the wrong choices — and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.
Klavan dislikes Hollywood’s distaste for making realistic films with values. But perhaps having to show that
Doing what’s right is hard, and speaking the truth is dangerous. Many have been abhorred for it, some killed, one crucified
has to be shown in a metaphor, as those values (“morality, faith, self-sacrifice and the nobility of fighting for the right”) are larger than any topical story the average Hollywood writer committee can conjure.
The Dark Knight is most certainly not a movie for children and should have been rated R for its violence. The issues it raises are timely and like the mythology of Ancient Greece it presents a drama of existence.
I highly recommend it. Leave anyone under the age of 16 at home, and watch a movie that will make you think.
UPDATE, Wednesday 30 July
Official website here.
This week’s WSJ’s Five Best Books on spies in Britain, selected by former MI5 director-general Stella Rimington:
This week’s shoes: Cole Haan Air Bria flats, available on sale at Marshall’s, and also at Amazon: