Evolving Thoughts

The Dark Knight

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Dan S.
    July 19, 2008

    He impressed me because he is the embodiment of Chaos.

    Which is why, I imagine, one reason we don’t get an ‘Origin of the Joker’ backstory -, in fact, why in contrast he repeatedly, almost ritualistically tosses out different accounts of his creation. (Ok, twice, and iirc he at one point started a third? – but it’s pretty clearly it’s something he does). He’s Chaos, simply there, both pre-existing and eternally self-generating.

  2. #2 Zarquon
    July 19, 2008

    Darn, I thought this was the embodiment of Chaos.

  3. #3 John Morales
    July 19, 2008

    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.

    Cripes! I don’t know if you’re taking the piss or if you’re just let the camouflage over your erudition slip. :)

  4. #4 John S. Wilkins
    July 19, 2008

    Those are mutually exclusive options?

  5. #5 Ian H Spedding FCD
    July 20, 2008

    That is the next film on my list.

    As an aside, yesterday we went to see Journey To The Center Of The Earth in Digital 3D. The film itself is lightweight, played for laughs and good fun but the 3D is really impressive. There are several occasions when you jump back in your seat as objects seem to come straight at you, which the makers, not unnaturally, exploit as much as they can. The big improvement over the old anaglyph system with the red/green lenses is that this new system gives excellent colour and sharpness.

    There were two slight drawbacks. First, the 3D glasses supplied were chunky and heavy and did not fit easily over conventional spectacles. The second was a slight sensation of dizziness at the beginning which soon passed. I’m guessing it was akin to motion sickness in that it was due to a kind of sensory mismatch between what was seen as motion through 3D space and what was felt. As I said, it was mild and brief, which I attribute to my brain’s Borg-like powers of adaptation.

    BTW, I had the same experience as you with 2001.

    BTBTW, the only other movie I have seen many times, being a big band freak, is The Glenn Miller Story. I reckoned I had seen it 127 times by the time I gave up counting.

  6. #6 Chris' Willsc
    July 20, 2008

    I’ll just have to hope the film arrives here sometime soon, otherwise it will be DVD and I suspect it really needs a big screen for its effects to work well.

    It may be considered not suitable here if it is as aweful (full of things that induce awe) and wonderful as you and every other review has said, well the reviews I read and trust.

    I’m just waitng to find out if you are a LEXX fan as well :o)

  7. #7 KWE
    July 20, 2008

    Yes, Zoroastrian. As they filed out of the theater where I watched Dark Knight, the young adults were talking about nothing but how Zoroastrian this whole movie was. And totally dualistic. The younger kids seemed to think it was more Smurfian. Shades of blue more than gray.

    I myself couldn’t get past how cinematically train-wreckian this movie is, in order to pile into it all the philosophical talking points I have accumulated over a lifetime of intense deep-thought.

  8. #8 Neil
    July 20, 2008

    I saw it last night. I recommend it highly, but I have seen better films, not only in the past decade, but in the past year. DK reminded me of No Country for Old Men. The Joker is very much like the villain in that film, an unstoppable force who is ruled by chance. But while DK is a very good filn, NCFM is a great film (and a darker one as well).

  9. #9 Thony C.
    July 21, 2008

    Der Actionfilm wird ein Diskurs ueber die Januskoepfigkeit der Welt

    Lars-Olav Beier Review of “The Dark Knight” Der Spiegel 21.07.2008

  10. #10 Ian
    July 21, 2008

    I agree – best Batman ever. It was intense. It was interesting. It was entertaining. Heath Ledger was amazing.

  11. #11 Ian
    July 22, 2008

    John – Having seen your reference above to Tihom, Tiamat, etc, I did a search for Tiamat in your blog and found only one other reference – your Genesis series.

    I’s like to suggest two things. First, put an index to that series somewhere, please! The Sci-blogs dedicated search engine sucks and even going to Google’s advanced blog search, I could not get it to find this series no matter what I did, so it wasn’t easy to track down all the entries (I think I did eventually). The writing is excellent – on par with Asimov’s guide tot he Bible. You could do a lot worse than to put this into an anti-creationism book!

    The other thing is that I got really intrigued about why primitive humans would start to think and write about separating order from chaos (or pulling order out of chaos – whatever!).

    I wondered if you might consider blogging about how – and from what – this kind of thinking evolved to the point where cultures made up stories about it?

  12. #12 John S. Wilkins
    July 22, 2008

    Thanks Ian. I appreciate the compliment. If you look at the tabs above, you’ll see “The Best of ET”. The Genesis series is listed there, along with all kinds of other crunchy goodness. I haven’t updated it for a bit, but I will.

  13. #13 Ian
    July 22, 2008

    Thanks for the tip.

    On the topic of duality, it looks like Christian Bale has been arrested for possible assault:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/7519689.stm

    Bale’s out on bail!

  14. #14 Wes
    July 22, 2008

    One of the most gripping aspects of the film is how utterly impotent the “hero” Batman is when faced with the Joker. When dealing with criminals who have an angle (i.e. behave according to rules, if not the laws of society) Batman knows what to do. But the Joker reduces him to relying on brute force, and even that is completely ineffective. During the interrogation scene you start to realize that, short of killing the Joker, there’s simply nothing Batman can do to beat him. And, of course, undermining the very standards you are trying to defend would be counterproductive. The only option is to lock him away in some dark crevice somewhere and pray he never gets out.

    And the way Joker’s murderousness is infectious, in that he actually manages to turn much of the city’s population into attempted murderers, evokes the fear we all have that our laws and morals really are just things we make up and agree to abide by, and when someone comes along who simply does not give a shit about anything at all, pretty much the only option is to kill them or hide them away, lest they undermine the entire society.

  15. #15 Alan
    July 23, 2008

    If you liked this film, you really should read a graphic novel by Alan Moore called The Killing Joke. It was a source for the film-makers and, while they took a slightly different direction, you can see very clearly the inspiration. And it’s one of the best graphic novels ever written, let alone one of the best Batman stories.

  16. #16 freelunch
    July 23, 2008

    I went to it Tuesday night and the theatre was sold out. Amazing.

    My question for the people on the boats: Why would you even think about hitting the detonator? The guy wired up a bunch of explosives, do you really believe him when he tells you that you have the detonator for the other boat? Really?

  17. #17 Fox
    July 24, 2008

    I’ve got an issue though, with many people’s interpretation of the Joker … Much has been made of his role as an Agent of Chaos, turning people’s plans back around to bite them. As pointed out, he even says so himself …

    And yet, the entire movie is just plan after plan of the Joker’s working to perfection.

    The fact of the Joker is much simpler, I think. I don’t think he believes at all anything he said to Harvey in that once scene. Rather, he only said to Harvey what he thought Harvey needed to hear, to push him in the Joker’s desired direction. The Joker does have a superpower – the ability to read people so incredibly well. And he uses that to lie, manipulate, terrify, and scheme through the whole movie.

    Like the scene where he’s being guarded by the cop and incites the cop to attack him with the speech about how, you know why I use a knife? So you can really see a person’s character as you kill them, savoring each little emotion. I doubt that’s why the Joker uses a knife – certainly it might be, but far far more likely is that he was merely telling the cop exactly what he needed to hear to incite him to attack the Joker. Why do people take the scene with Harvey so much more seriously?

    Having seen the movie twice now, I think the most honest the Joker ever is is when he’s talking with Batman, ‘You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you, because you’re just too much fun.’

    I think that’s the Joker in a nutshell, right there.

    Alternately,
    I could just be reacting to the amount of cheese I sense when people refer to him as an ‘Agent of Chaos’. I mean, what does that make Batman? An ‘Agent of Justice’?

    But, either way – Ledger’s performance was fantastic.