Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Two Sides of A Coin

After finally getting the chance to watch Nolan's much-anticipated chef-d'oeuvre, Batman: The Dark Knight, there was only one word that can sum up my feelings for the latest iteration of the Caped Crusader: AWESOME.

Say what you want about taking comic book movies seriously, but as it stands, The Dark Knight wasn't treated as just some comic book flick produced to appease nerds or a family movie cash-in. Rather, Nolan et al decided to tell this story with the same amount of attention any self-respecting director would approach literary classics like the Count of Monte Cristo. At the end of the day, making a film is about telling a story, and The Dark Knight did exactly that, tell the story of Batman/Bruce Wayne in awe-inspiring and meticulous detail.

But making a review was never this author's intention. As the tag suggests, this post was made to ponder and ramble on the themes and abstract concepts tackled by the film's script. So onwards to the inaneity.

The inclusion of the main protagonist's arch-rival the Joker was probably what catapulted this movie from great to simply epic. The late Heath Ledger did well in portraying the most engaging rogue of Batman's gallery. The Clown Prince of Crime, in his mad and deranged glory may seem like a simple criminal in clown make-up. Going beyond the image however, the Joker becomes a caricature of order. Society has a set of rules, based upon fear of consequence and what many consider is sane. Take away those rules and the world seems bereft, pointless and all at the same time amusing. Self-preservation becomes the only rule and even then the vacuity of it all makes that meaningless to a point. Some men only want to see the world burn. After all, isn't it all a big joke, imaginary rules, order and whatnot. In the end all that does not matter. Or does it?

In an interesting twist of the age old Prisoner's Dilemma, the movie delivers probably its greatest scene. Two boats, rigged with explosives, one filled with civilian's, the other filled with the inhabitants of the city's correctional facility. Each boat is given a detonator (that activates the other boat's bombs) and an ultimatum. The logical and pragmatic solution would be to save the civilians and let the convicts die. This twisted irony is perhaps the script's crowning glory and people may not even realize it. Never mind that Batman saved the day and stopped the boats from being pink mist, this just shows that even sinners, rapists and murderers, can have a hint of decency, and the decent law-abiding citizen, can be just as cold and heartless as they are. While Batman claims that not everyone is like the Joker and the experiment failed, the notion that the big dog amongst Gotham's scum doing an act of sacrifice actually proves the Joker's theory, post-humously.

Perhaps as an ode to one of the greatest Batman novels ever written, a sort of Killing Joke-ish angle is explored throughout the movie. As the novel suggests, sometimes all it takes is one bad day that even the best of us can just snap. In the film, the proverbial White Knight is the incomparable Gotham district attorney Harvey Dent. Despite being the celebrated high moral compass of the city Dent succumbs to the madness of betrayal, formulating his own concept of justice dictated by chance, represented entirely by two side of coin. Fortune was on his side as Batman takes on the polar opposite of Dent's moniker. As the Dark Knight, Batman remains the guardian of the near-dystopian Gotham minus all the glory and acclaim.

A parallelism between the two arch-rival eventually emerges. Both obviously have serious mental disorders (tell me jumping around rooftops dressed as a bat isn't crazy, nevermind being dressed as a clown and committing crimes). However they operate on conflicting spectrums. As always, Batman's crusade is one that is frowned upon by many, the brutality and destruction to property notwithstanding. Still, the detective in Batman is evident, still following the methods of law enforcers only circumventing the rules that hogtie them into doing anything worthwhile against criminals.

The Joker on the other hand does away with the traditional mien of criminality. The motivation is simply for amusement and disturbing pleasure, a crusade to prove that anyone, given the right circumstances, can go bat-shit insane (pardon the pun). It's not money, vengeance or what not that drives him, but simple down to the basics anarchy.

In conclusion, the author would highly recommend a second (and third, and fourth) viewing, if only to rediscover the many themes of the human psyche explored by the Dark Knight. It is somewhat fitting that the 2nd villain, Harvey "Two-Face" Dent is caught in the crossfire, his signature coin and two-face represent the opposing natures of both Batman and Joker. As well as the duality of their respective crusades, which has the two fighting it out in see-saw battle of intelligence backed up by relative insanity. An epic battle that only Nolan can truly capture in film.

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