[A]+[Be] Critics: The Dark Knight

Rating: A cautionary *****

The newest installment in the Batman saga is everything it was cracked up to be. It has action sequences that outshine Iron Man and Hulk. It has characterization that is frighteningly acute. But mostly, it is dark, bringing the series full-circle since the days of Tim Burton’s cartoonish portrayal of the Joker. And because of this last fact, it is necessary to qualify the high rating that this movie deserves. Because, despite the fact that The Dark Knight was indeed the most intense ride of this summer, it is not a super-hero movie. It is a thriller. And the mis-packaging of this film may lead one to make the terrible mistake of taking the movie lightly and, God forbid, even taking one’s kids to see it.

Bear with me for a second as I delve into the land of imagination. Picture a movie where a nameless, wandering psychopath arrives in a large city and begins challenging the local lawmakers with brilliant but ruthless murder schemes. And, as is soon discovered, this psychopath has no ulterior motives. There’s no desire for wealth, fame, or glory. Rather, his entire design is to cause the city to burn, in order to sow chaos and prove that humans are crazed, self-centred beings in light of tragedy.

Look a little deeper. There are quasi-torture scenes. There are mob scenes where the psychopath intimidates his underlings into killing one another to prove their worth. There are intimate attacks on the lawmakers and their friends and family, in an attempt to drive them insane. And the entire time, the lawmakers are at wit’s ends trying to keep up with this brilliant, frightening mind.

In any other situation, this movie sounds a lot like Silence of the Lambs, or some other psychological thriller. The emphasis is on the evil mind, and the reactions of the people affected by his actions. But the fact that one of those people involved in the schemes is Bruce Wayne somehow changes everything. Instead of being frightening, creepy, vile, or evil, the film is “awesome”. Instead of stirring up emotions of discomfort, the movie is hailed as a deeply moral film. And in one sense it is, because of the contrast of immorality and morality contained in the conflict between Joker and the Batman! But that’s not the main message of the film. This is not about the triumph of good over evil. It’s about the evil lurking in every human’s heart. And it’s scary, plain and simple.

Without giving too much away, it’s worth noting that the main character in the movie is perhaps not Batman, nor really the Joker. Though there is a clear conflict between the two of them, the two figures largely occupy static positions on a moral scale. Batman is the ultimately moral figure, fighting crime and refusing to kill, while the Joker is the previously mentioned psychotic figure, trying to destroy Gotham city for the mere sake of doing so. But the man who is most fluid in the movie is one Harvey Dent, a District Attorney who is caught up in the battle between these figures and has the distinct position of having to choose between right and wrong. As a swinging pendulum of morality, Dent serves as a symbol of all of humanity, and the way that the entire tale pans out is powerful. There’s no other term to describe it. It is an exploration of morality, psychology, and in some sense, theology. And it is reputed to speak to a huge number of people who come out of the movie and are asked for their thoughts.

But these issues are not handled in a pleasurable way. And those who are looking for a Spiderman, with humour, fun action sequences, and static good vs. evil plotlines, are going to be shocked at the content. This is no typical superhero flick. And though the story plays with the meaning of superhero — stating that Batman is more than a hero because he can make the decisions no one else can make — it really is a far cry from the comic books of old, where there was no moral pendulum. For fans of Captain America and Star Trek, this movie is going to be downright uncomfortable because of its moral ambiguity.

And folks, kids are right in there with that group of people who will be made uncomfortable by this film. I didn’t see too too many kids in the theatre Saturday when I was at the movie. But there were some. And I’m certain that the amount varies from theatre to theatre, and even showing to showing. But my personal advice would be to keep your kids away from that movie, whether or not they meet the 14A requirements.

Want proof? Go see it yourself. I think pretty much any parent would agree that, with a bit more in the way of gore, this movie would have deserved an 18A slapped on it. By toning down the things typically associated with 18As (gore, drugs, sex), the filmmakers managed to sneak it through as an appropriate movie for teenagers. But it’s not. This is the type of film that leads to a lot of emotional turmoil, and as my girlfriend put it, it’s downright frightening that this is packaged in a pretty little bundle marked “entertainment.”

This was not entertaining. It was thought-provoking. It was cinematic. It was probably the best movie of the year from the perspection of quality of script-writing. But it was not entertaining. And anyone who insists that that’s all this is demonstrates just how twisted our perspective today tends to be.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephen
    Jul 29, 2008 @ 13:40:24

    These superhero movies present me with a real parenting conundrum. I remember taking Isaac to see the first Spiderman movie, and I wasn’t comfortable with some scenes. We ended up outside, waiting for the others to finish watching it.

    Now I’ve been thinking, Isaac is several years older and this movie will be OK for him.

    Your review causes me to have second thoughts. But I might still take him, because he’ll see it anyway, sometime, with somebody. He might just as well see it with me, in case it freaks him out. (Though he doesn’t seem to be freaked out by movies.)

    Mostly I just wish our culture had a little subtlety, a little sophistication, instead of bludgeoning viewers with whatever nastiness they want to depict onscreen. You know, it’s possible to allude to things then leave the details up to the viewer’s imagination. That’s how things work in live theatre; and it’s how things used to work in Hollywood, in previous generations.

    But our culture doesn’t proceed like that. We get our thrills from having it all out there, depicted as realistically as possible.

    The fact that my children are jaded and unaffected by Hollywood techniques is not a source of comfort to me.


  2. nebcanuck
    Jul 29, 2008 @ 13:49:42

    I remember the incident with Spiderman. This makes any and all superhero violence in the recent movies look tame.

    Trust me when I advise you to use this as a discussion point with Isaac, rather than a movie date. This isn’t one he should be seeing. Shoshanna came out of this movie and ended up crying afterwards because of how twisted the Joker is. And she loves Spiderman, Iron Man, X-Men, and the Hulk — more than I myself did, in the latter case.

    The Dark Knight was so set on portraying a realistic villain that it left the likes of the Green Goblin in the dust. Anything else looks cartoonish in comparison. The difference between the old TV shows and the new movies is a shadow of the difference between Spiderman and The Dark Knight. It’s not just that there’s overt violence in it… it’s that it’s an exploration of evil in a way that brings everything to life. He won’t come out of this one cheering on Batman for beating up a crook. He’ll come out terribly, terribly upset.

    Your comment that he’ll probably see it some time is important. But I think that we shouldn’t just take it for granted that he’ll see it. I’m going to advise Mom to keep him away from the movie, too, and talk to him personally about it. Because I know he’s going to want to. But he shouldn’t.

    And I don’t say that about many movies.


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