This afternoon I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight, which, for those who have been asleep for the past two months, is the new Batman movie. Before I proceed any further, let me say that I was never a child for whom comic books were any kind of solace. In saying this, I freely admit that I may be the wrong person to review such a film because my focus and interest, even as a child, lay in realism, particularly in dramatic realism. Perhaps I personally have too pronounced a sense of disbelief because I can never at any point in my life manage to suspend it for the sake of cartoons and superheroes. So it is that the cartoons I enjoyed in my formative years never tried to stake claim to a world that was all that far removed from reality.
Back to the film---color me deeply unimpressed with the final result. Those who like to see explosions and special effects purely for the sake of both will not be disappointed. Those who wish to suffer through a labyrinthine plot with so many twists and turns that it's impossible to keep them all straight will also be pleased. Those merely curious to gawk at the last film role of Heath Ledger will not be disappointed, because, indeed, he does do a good job. His performance as The Joker is certainly strong enough to grant him a sympathy Academy Award nomination, if not a posthumous Oscar. The Academy loves to reward real-life melodrama.
I will give the film some credit for not subjecting me to another gratitiously unnecessary display of human flesh for no other reason that to titillate the senses. Though Maggie Gyllenhaal and Christian Bale are both physically attractive people, I'm grateful for the fact that I was not privy to seeing either of them in a state of profound undress, which if included would have been totally superficial to the narrative itself. For not aiming specifically for the lowest-common denominator, I do certainly commend the filmmakers. Still, I am not without major criticism.
What gets my ire is the rather amateurish means by which the film tries its hands at social commentary. Anyone with a brain will get the parallels drawn between the imaginary world of Gotham and twenty-first century America, particularly in the United States' desperate attempt to eliminate terrorism from the Western world. The Joker's desire to "burn the world" for the sole sake of seeing things crash down around him is not motivated in the least by the pursuit of money; I, as the good thinking viewer that I am, do correctly see this as a metaphor to make rational sense of and to explain the mentality and modus opperandi of radical Muslim extremists. In addition, I am also cognizant enough to draw a parallel to the recent controversial FISA legislation, which is actualized in the film by its open questioning of the ethical implications of Batman's sonar-driven network of cellular phones. Despite its intrusiveness, according to the superhero, this draconian interface is the only successful means one could manage to track down the Joker by locating the evil doer's precise location. In conclusion, I do get that the film attempts to explore the limits of good and evil in the human mind, striving to find the the point at which even those with the best of intentions grow as inhumane in their methodology as those who they attempt to prosecute.
*An astute reader on my other blog pointed out that, according to her, The Joker's behavior and role should be interpreted as a treatise upon the often-elusive nature of pure evil and in humanity's attempts to come to grips with it in totality. I don't disagree with that, either.
The problem with all of these ambitious intentions is that I've seen them illustrated far more effectively and to much better dramatic emphasis in many movies besides this one. T.S. Eliot's poem "The Wasteland" was once famously described "as a heap of broken images" and pun aside, I think it's an apt description of The Dark Knight. Like so much cinema produced these days, the product, upon final delivery, appears largely soulless and hollow. In a sentence, The Dark Knight is an effective post-modern pastiche, and if that's your thing, you won't be disappointed.