Wow. Just… wow.
This is not the best superhero film I have seen. This is perhaps the best film I have seen for over a decade. It is replete with moral problems, Greek tragedy, farce, some serious character development, and it moves from being a crime film to a war film at some unspecified point. And it has the best film explosion I have ever seen, because it was not CGI and it actually does what it purports to do.
Below the fold are SPOILERS, so click on at your own risk.
The thing that most affected me was the Joker, not just because Ledger actually invents a new kind of character (which can be credited also to the immensely intelligent script by director Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathon Nolan: actors need material or they suck, as Ledger did in Ned Kelly). He impressed me because he is the embodiment of Chaos. The film is, I think, primarily about trying to impose order on Chaos, and the forces of entropy trying to undermine order.
In that respect it has resonances with the first chapter of Genesis, in which Tihom, the Deep, has order imposed upon it by YHWH, and in that text’s source material in the Epic of Gilgamesh from a thousand years earlier, in which Marduk fights Tiamat, the dragon of chaos. It resonates with Plato’s creation myth in the Timaeus. Joker is the enemy of reason, or order, of proportion. He behaves like a trickster god, and he needs Batman as much as his own resources, for Batman is the other part of the duality. This film is Zoroastrian in its metaphysics.
Joker even announces himself as the agent of chaos, and at the end, when Batman is unable because of his principles to kill the Joker, Joker notes that he is unable to kill Batman because he is “fun”. Without Batman there is nothing to be undermined, because the police are corrupt and the other criminals are so bad at being chaotic. It’s not about the money, he says, it’s about the fun.
This film has not one but two philosophical moral quandaries illustrated. The first is a classic Prisoner’s Dilemma, with actual prisoners (who it turns out behave morally when ordinary folks are inclined not to), and in a realistic twist, neither group turn out to be rational egoists (which matches work done on human psychology compared to the other apes, who are rational egoists ? as I have said before, human beings are naturally social cooperators, or at any rate moreso than our cousins).
The second is a trolley problem. The Religion Blog of the Dallas Morning News covers this pretty well, so I won’t repeat it here. But for those wanting to demonstrate ethical issues in class, when this comes out on DVD, it would make great teaching material.
The film is ridden with dualities, like Two-Face/Harvey Dent, good guys doing bad things, bad guys doing good things, and ultimately everyone is seen as more or less morally compromised (even Jim Gordon, who allows his family to think he died in order to catch the Joker). The world here is shades of grey, not black and white.
This is a film I will go see again, and the last time that happened to me was when 2001 was in first run and I was 14. It is an epic battle one can believe.