The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Urban downtown, the camera slides forward to a sleek wall of dark windows. The score rises— a chill sweeps through my veins. It’s like being at the top of a roller coaster you’ve already been on dozens of times, but that vibrating thrill as you plummet down— that, that never gets old.

The pace of this film is perfectly calibrated to the tension that the story demands; each shot is a ligament which works to bring the intricate but seamless plot into motion. Threads interweave and twist together, characters shift and change, riveting action explodes along dark streets, heroes and villains both rise and fall. And all this amid the backdrop of a city simmering with deep psychological conflict.

There are two prologues that introduce our protagonist and antagonist (the wild Joker heist, and the conclusion of the Scarecrow plot). This time around, I noticed an interesting parallel: both deal with copies of the main characters. The clown henchmen are copies of the Joker, disposable puppets to his machinations. While, on the other hand, the Batman copy-cats are second-hand emulations of Bruce's persona; involuntary responses to his symbolic presence in the city. This already tells us a lot about the two opposing characters: the Joker is entirely in control of his reputation, turning his copies of henchmen against each other in the delight of chaos, but Batman wants nothing to do with his copy-cats; his own reputation is too immense and far-reaching for him to be in control of it. The Joker is a master manipulator of public perception: he hijacks TV interviews, issues city-wide threats, sows fear into the news (here there’s a whole angle about weaponizing the media, even more relevant in today’s age). And in contrast, Batman, working in the shadows, has little control over how he is perceived. This theme develops all the way to the conclusion, where Bruce finally takes a significant action to affect his reputation— but not in a good way. He’s forced to sacrifice his image as a hero in order to preserve some hope of a hope for the future of the city.

And that’s what this comes down to— the struggle for the soul of the city. The deeply personal stories of Rachel, Bruce, Harvey and the Joker all play out as they each work to make a difference in the place that they live. The forces of chance, chaos, order, justice, and ethics are all at war with each other to decide the shape of Gotham. And Mr. Harvey Dent is is at the centre of this, not so subtly pointed out by Bruce, as he quite literally introduces Harvey as “the face of Gotham’s bright future.” A face— a city— that becomes starkly, violently divided. A tug-of-war over the city that splits its face in half and Gotham’s skin is burnt off; the bone, muscle, and tendon of corruption are revealed.

And how is this done? Look no further than the dark, contradictory, mesmerizing force of the Joker himself. Every aspect of this character is sinisterly enthralling. You can’t look away; it fills your mind. Heath Ledger completely disappears into this role, nailing not only the cadence of the voice, but the idiosyncratic physicality as well— all the tics, twitches, and chuckles— and that final quality too, that indescribable gleam of sheer madness. But although the Joker says he’s “not a schemer,” he most certainly is. He orchestrates himself to appear like chaos. Everything is carefully planned out, so that even when he fails, he succeeds. He doesn’t manage to kill the Mayor, but he definitely succeeds in assassinating order itself. He puts all the core institutions of the city in danger: hiding among school buses, blowing up hospitals, undermining the police department. The absurdity of a Joke(r) has the power to completely upend this society.

But at the end, Gotham will be given a chance to move forward. Extinguish the beacon, burn the letter, destruct the surveillance program. Fly back to the shadows, Dark Knight… until we need you again.

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