“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”
–The Dark Knight
True evil has no cause. It has no justification. It cannot be reasoned with. It just is. It derives its strength from “watching the world burn”. And even more importantly from its ability to spread its dark tentacles into the hearts of the good.
The only way for the superhero to conquer evil is to embrace it himself, to do that “one thing he cannot do”. And herein lies the supreme irony. Cause it is this very act of embracing the blackness that becomes the ultimate testimony to the inevitability of “true evil” —the final monument to its victory.
Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” is a violently disturbing, nightmarish journey into the proverbial heart of darkness exploring evil, good, and the tenuous line that separates them.
It is also one of the best movies to come out of mainstream Hollywood in recent years blending action, entertainment, legend, politics and thought in perfect proportion to form a heady cinematic cocktail.
Summertime is when school is put and the big Hollywood studios unleash a line of big-budget, mostly brainless FX-heavy “franchise movies”—typically based on superheroes either from the domain of comics (Superman, Spiderman, Xmen, Batman), television series (Transformers) or on past commercial successes (John Mclaine from Die Hard, Indiana Jones, the Terminator, the Mummy). Being the meal ticket of the studios, no expenses are spared and the biggest-name directors —Sam Raimi, Brett Ratner, Bryan Singer and of course Christopher Nolan–roped in to helm these endeavors. Yet most of these movies are unable to rise above their popcorn-soda-dollar raison d’êtres almost always degenerating into two hours of men-in-tights/cyborgs/fossilized archaeologists fighting fantastic creatures while disobeying assorted laws of physics.
Christopher Nolan’s the Dark Knight however is different. Evaluated just as a superhero movie, it surpasses all its contemporaries —simply put, it very well might be the best movie of its genre.
Steering clear off the romantic cheesiness of the Spiderman franchise and the chick flick undertones of Bryan Singer’s re-invention of Superman, the “Dark Knight” has intricately constructed set-pieces, awe-inspiring visuals (Batman’s cape is used to excellent effect and a particular shot of Batman standing atop a skyscraper framed by the night sky eerie in its beauty), pulse-racing music and plenty of thrills and spills to keep you digging in the buttery pop-corn barrel for more.
However its greatness lies in the fact that it manages to blast above the aesthetic limitations of the comic-book-hero genre, based on the raw power provided by its three powerhouses.
The first of these is a great, twisted, intensely cerebral story (the ending is superb) that not only contemplates the nature of evil and virtue but also touches, in a powerful yet understated fashion, upon themes of terrorism, torture and surveillance, the cornerstones of post 9/11 life in the United States .
The second is Nolan’s masterful direction wherein he sets the pace of the narrative optimally, gives room for every character and the motivations for their actions to develop and never allows the demands of the genre (action) to overpower the story or the exposition of the deeper themes explored.
The third is of course Heath Ledger as the Joker. Making Hannibal Lecter look as gentle as a spring lamb, the Joker is possibly the most fearsome apparition of evil to appear on screen since Alex of “Clockwork Orange”. With the daubed white face paint, the red festering scars at the ends of his lips forming a fixed smile and his intense eyes framed by black circles, the Joker doesn’t even need to “act” in order to make the audience believe they are looking at evil personified. But once he lets loose, one can do nothing much but sit tightly in their seats riveted to the screen. Ledger is flawless—bringing menace, darkness, dementia, confidence, magnetism, loathing, showmanship and undiluted avarice to his character. Even a bit of overplaying would have led to the Joker becoming a buffoon and a caricature (as Jack Nicholson’s Joker was). Ledger however is supremely in control. I would like to see the performance that beats this for an Oscar, should there be one in the course of this year that comes remotely close. [Needless to say, Ledger will be handicapped by the fact that the Oscar committee typically loathes commercial successes]. The rest of the cast is perfect too but noone can be blamed for being overshadowed by Ledger who dominates each and every frame he is in.
Overall, a path-breaking, genre-bending celluloid extravaganza, a two-and-a-half hour celebration of the power of cinema.