Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Dark Knight

A solid five stars.

If one has not yet seen The Dark Knight, I recommend that one does not read this review. Even if this review may not contain many spoilers, the film should be viewed with little foreknowledge as to what will happen. It is wonderful movie magic, though not necessarily an actual magic trick. It is what I have always wanted in a film and story; a tale with a purpose. A story that exists not for the simple sake of telling a story, but a story for the sake of a message or theme. The events of the story raise moral questions, and the characters openly discuss this dilemmas. The theme is not hidden. The viewer does not have to guess as to what he should learn. The Dark Knight is a creative message. It is a fictional example for the creator to say, "Here. This is what I mean," for some times a non-fiction essay appears to lack the practicality and the reader dismisses it.

Additionally, The Dark Knight is one of the best interpretations of Batman, like Batman Begins was one of the best analysis of his origin. The Dark Knight also contains the greatest interpretation of the Joker, which is also the greatest villain of all time. However, do not forget Two-Face. Some seem to forget this villain for the outstanding performance of the Joker by Heath Ledger. Aaron Eckhart's Two-Face is also one of the best portrayals of Two-Face. The Joker is the polar opposite of Batman, and Two-Face marks the downfall of a nearly virtuous man, a white knight that becomes a man seeking revenge. Harvey Dent morphs from Gotham's savior to the young Bruce Wayne depicted in Batman Begins before he attempts to kill his parents' murderer, Joe Chill.

First, I will begin with Batman. He has always been my favorite super hero. Infinitely superior to the loathsome Superman. Batman celebrates man. He has no supernatural abilities. He did not come from another planet. He only has reason. His mind allows him to control his body, become physical fit. Invent gadgets to give him an edge in fighting crime. Uncover clues and put them together to track down criminals. However, most importantly, his reason allows him to understand morality, and throughout The Dark Knight, Batman tries his best to stay on this fine line of moral truth. I will admit he does stumble a few times; however, director Christopher Nolan does not mistake Batman's vices for virtues. Nolan shows these vices so that they are understood as vices, so that virtue can be understand.

I usually do write much about vice, virtue, truth, morality, etc. I will not admit I exaggerate their importance, but I will admit I am repetitious on the topic in my writing. However, as I am writing about The Dark Knight I am not being repetitious, I am not being too overbearing on the topic. The film is about this. The film is about man, reason, truth, objective morality, reality, virtue and vice. Batman is not the mark of virtue, as I have stated he has his faults. However, he is of the virtuous big three: Batman (Christian Bale), Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and District Attorney Harvey Dent. Batman is the worst of the three and Dent is the best of the three. The problems with Batman is that he is a vigilante, meaning he acts outside of the law. This is not to say the law is virtuous and one should always follow it; however, some laws are based on protecting natural rights, are based on protecting against vice. Therefore, some of Batman's actions are vicious. He does use vice to beget virtue, which I am no supporter of. He destroys property, endangers lives, harms individuals that should not necessarily be harmed in order to achieve some virtue, which actually is not all that virtuous. However, this is the essence of Batman. An individual that experience one of the worst initiations of force as a child, and has dedicated his whole life to compensating for that. Some examples of Batman's vicious or at least morally questionable behavior involve his violent interrogation of the Joker. A man already arrested, but not yet convicted for his crimes, his hit and thrown into walls. Batman also tosses a mob boss, who was arrested and made bail, from a short height to break his ankle. Batman then uses this pain to question Sal Maroni, the mob boss, (Eric Roberts) as to where the Joker is hiding. However, the greatest example of moral dilemma is when Batman creates a wiretapping device to track down the Joker. Every phone in Gotham is then recorded and turned into a sonar device, offering a complete 3-D blue print of the city, its inhabitants, and their actions. He asks Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) to man the machine and track the Joker for him, while he waits on the street for the location. Fox responds by saying it is immoral, unethical, to much power for one man, and that he will resign from Wayne Enterprises after helping this one time. Batman accepts this, but tells Fox to enter his name into the computer when he is done. When the Joker is captured, the mission complete, Fox enters his name and the device self destructs. Therefore, Batman is not wholly vicious. Obviously, the wire tapping is no good. However, is does question those extenuating circumstances. The Joker has threatened to annihilate a city, he has been good on his word in the past, he is indeed a man of his word, could this be an acceptable time to violate some natural rights for a greater good? I completely disagree, Batman obviously does not. However, as I have stated before he is not a hero, but at least he has enough good sense to destroy the machine once it is no longer needed, and when it is needed, he puts it in the hands of a trustworthy individual.

The ending of the film also offers another great layer to the Batman, and displays the virtue of lying. The Joker has been captured, his atrocious plans stopped, but the Joker reveals while Batman and the authorities were busy trying to capture him, he had convinced Dent to exact his revenge on the cops that killed is wife to be Rachael Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). The Joker just laid out an experiment with a moral dilemma, which I will explain later, and the citizens of Gotham, even the criminals passed with flying colors. However, the Joker remarks that the Gothamites' spirit will now be shattered; they will no longer be able to commit such virtuous acts, for their savior, the greatest Gothamite, the White Knight, Harvey Dent has descended into utter vice. Batman saves Gordon and his family from certain death at the hands of Two-Face, and Two-Face dies as a result. Gordon agrees with the Joker's statements, saying that the Joker won and Gotham is lost. Batman then says that no one must ever be told as to what Dent did. Gordon remarks that is impossible, for Dent killed five men, two cops, and threatened his family. Batman tells Gordon to call in to the Gotham PD that he, Batman, has killed those people and threatened his family. Gordon hesitates at first, but then follows through when Batman remarks, "I am whatever Gotham needs me to be." At this moment, Gotham needs Batman to be the villain, they cannot take another blow. Then, the last lines of the movie are Gordon revealing to his son, why Batman is Gotham's Dark Knight.

At first I was incredibly skeptical of this ending. The entire film they had been fighting against the amorality and irrationality of the Joker. They were fighting for truth and virtue. Then at the end they are going to lie about Dent's fate, his descent into villainy. Then I realized there is no vice in that. Dent is already dead. He is already separated from the innocent. He will not continue initiating force, violating natural rights. There is no need to arrest him and try him. Batman, though he may violate some natural rights, will not initiate any more force than he did in the past. He will still destroy property in high speed chases, and punch criminals at moments they should not be punched, but he will not be murdering people like Dent did. Therefore, for the time being Batman wants to accept Dent's vices. Batman will subject himself to the pursuit of the police for murders he did not commit, so that the Gothamites, average people who do not have a coherent grasp on truth, reality, and morality do not give up on the pursuit of these qualities all together and accept vice. Batman is willing to be the scapegoat so that all the criminals Dent put away, all the mob men he was trying at the time, are not released. Though Dent did act viciously in the end, he was virtuous for separating criminals from the innocents, for at the moment, he was Dent the White Knight, not Two-Face.

Second, the Joker. Ledger's Joker is what Batman fans have always been promised of the Joker but never received. He is an amoral man, he admits this outright, stating to Dent that there is no morality but the one individuals make. The Joker is the spokesperson of the moral relativist movement. He is the pinnacle, which is the pit, of the movement that believes in no truth, the absolute of no absolutes. He is what man will become if man continues to not pursue truth. He is the essence of irrationality. Therefore, he sees no problems with any of his actions. He does not see murder, thievery, threatening, violating natural rights, initiating force as bad. He also sees nothing as good. Furthermore, he is convinced, deep down, this is the truth, and deep down, every one knows this is the truth, and deep down, no one will pursue what he incorrectly assumes to be fake virtue.

His appearance matches this philosophy, or lack there of. Vanity is for the good. He does not care about how he looks, how he walks, how he talks, how he presents himself. He does not strive to be a clean, concise, man. He does not strive to be anything. He just lets himself decay into the appearance of an animal. He then dons the Joker appearance because to him, life is Joke. This is prefect captured in the Joker's first line, "I believe whatever doesn't kill you just makes you... stranger."

Obviously, the Joker's actions also mirror his beliefs, or once again, lack there of. The best example is when the Joker says the city will be his at night fall, and anyone who does not like that, should leave. Ferriess are used in the evacuation, and the Joker is able to stop two ferries dead in the water. One is loaded with law abiding Gothamites, the other, with criminals. Over a loud speaker the Joker reveals that each ship will discover that their craft is wired to bombs - it indeed is. He then reveals each ship has a detonator; however, it detonates the opposite ship. Thus, the criminals' detonator would explode the law-abiders' ship, and the law-abiders' detonator would exploded the criminals' ship. The Joker says they have until midnight - about fifteen to twenty minutes - to act, or he will blow up both ships. In the end, neither ship blows up. After much heated debate and waiting, the passengers on each ship decide to sit and wait. This is true virtue, something the big three virtuous characters did not have. All passengers choose not to pursue vice - initiating force against other - to achieve virtue - protecting their own natural rights.

Fortunately, Batman stops the Joker before he can blow up both ships, then the great relationship between Batman and the Joker is revealed. Batman tosses the Joker off the side of a building, but then catches him with a grappling hook, and pulls him back to safety. This is the second time the Joker tries to get Batman to kill him and Batman refuses. The Joker then says to Batman, "You are truly incorruptible." While swinging upside down in the air the Joker explains that neither of them will kill one another. Batman is too virtuous, and the Joker has too much fun putting Batman in horrible moral dilemmas. The Joker explains that they need one another. Batman needs to fight villains, the Joker needs someone to pursue him, someone who will not give in, someone who will always fight through his moral tests.

Finally, there is Harvey Dent/Two-Face. He begins as Gotham's White Knight. The District Attorney who will eradicate all crime and save Gotham. He pursues it on a virtuous path, there is nothing in his past or through the movie as Dent that he does wrong. Even when he takes a criminal to a warehouse and threatens to kill the man if he does not answer questions truthfully, Dent is nearly absent of vice. I am skeptical of the situation; however, at first, it appears Dent is already a vicious man. He has a coin that he flips. If it is a heads, the criminal lives, if it is tales the criminal dies. The first flip is heads, but Dent says he will just keep flipping. On the second flip Batman arrives and stops the act, saying, "This is not something you leave to chance." Dent says he is not leaving it to chance. This is not explained at that moment, but later int he film, it is revealed that the coin has two heads. Dent's coin will always land on the side of virtue, just like Dent will always act virtuously. However, after his wife to be Dawes is killed and he survives with a damaged face, Dent becomes Two-Face. His coin has also been morphed. In the explosion one side becomes scratched and charred, representing vice, Dent's willingness to initiate force, which, of course, he leaves up to the coin. This full metamorphosis is made with the help of the Joker. He uses Dent's experience to try and prove that there is no morality. He explains that he was not behind the Dent-Dawes death trap, but the mob was, and the mob's dirty cops. The Joker states that those cops will get away, they are protected, and all Dent's work warring against the mob and corruption has been useless. Dent then acts as Two-Face. He tracks down all the people involved in Dawes' death, putting them to the chance of his coin. When Two-Face is confronted by Batman, Two-Face says he is just trying to get what is fair. This is incredibly similar to the young Bruce Wayne, who wanted equality in Batman Begins - his parents death equalized by his murdering of his parents' killer. The concept of an eye for eye, that vice proportionally responding to vice is virtue. Basically, like the young Wayne, Two-Face believes that the justice system is broken and utterly backwards. Something Dent knew to be false.

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight especially should have completely altered the way people view comic book films. Already, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk have tried to follow the path, Iron Man far more successfully than The Incredible Hulk. People are starting to realize that comic books are not dorky games of cops and robbers. They are explorations in truth and morality. They have the potential for excellent stories, meaning stories with themes, with purposes. Like Batman in Gotham city, The Dark Knight has "changed things... forever... there ain't no going back."


  1. i have passed on my award to you. go check it out on my blog:)

  2. I just watch this movie last night and I am so glad I did! I love it...and your review is awesome.


  3. Simply, the Ultimate Joker.