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June 20, 2022

The Dark Knight: The Joker's On You

By Bernie and Sand Pilarski

Sand said:

I've wanted to see a sequel to Batman Begins since the credits ran back in 2005. The DVD is prominent on my movie shelf, and I love to watch it, most recently on the new HD television we bought after the last television saw fit to give up the ghost two days before the Belmont Stakes. Great movie, loved it, still love it over and over.

However, I don't think I'll watch The Dark Knight over and over. At the end of this film, I told Bernie I wanted to go home and crawl under my desk the way my dog, Howie, does when he's disturbed. I wasn't kidding.

Make no mistake, this is a wonderfully written, acted, choreographed movie. It's visually riveting and moves along with the speed and timing of a ninja attack: slow and smooth for a short span, and then WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! -- leaving the viewer stunned and checking for fatal wounds, both to the body and to the psyche.

Christian Bale delivers another consistent performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman -- I love him in this role. Maggie Gyllenhaal did a good job of playing the love interest, Rachel Dawes. (Though she did not reprise the skimpy shirt of Katie Holmes' version with its rather distracting obvious tit-nipples revelation.) Aaron Eckhart was good, Michael Caine was scrumptiously a perfect Alfred; Gary Oldman was wonderful -- there was a scene in this movie when I was so glad to see his face I thought I would cry. Morgan Freeman was like an anchor of sanity as Lucius Fox.

Hoo, and did this adventure need an anchor! Batman is chasing and purging his own personal demons, seeking to fight the pervasive evil that killed his parents and terrorizes the populace; Lt. Gordon, and all the "good" cops and lawyers are fighting a frustrating uphill battle against organized crime, not always entirely sure that the law ought to be upheld. (The luckiest person in Gotham City had to be Lucius Fox's secretary.) And then the mix and angst changes. Something new is going to make the good and the bad alike start at shadows and wish they could burrow into the ground and pull the dirt over them to hide them.

Enter the Joker.

I remember his face from the comics. Not interesting enough to make me buy them as a kid; and since I pretty much have always loathed Jack Nicholson, not an actor to make me want to watch the movie.

I never saw the Joker until today. Now I will never forget him. Played by the late Heath Ledger, the image of this villain, the sound of his voice, his twitches and mannerisms are burned forever into my brain. If Ledger's "Joker" doesn't give me nightmares, nothing else ever will. The Joker kills -- to see people run screaming, to see them cower in fear, to see them beg for mercy, to see them turn from justice to animalistic self-preservation. This Joker lives only to revel in terror and anarchy; his own life is worth nothing to him if he cannot drag people into accepting that there is no morality at all, that existence is just ripping to shreds whatever might impede your next heartbeat.

"Kill me!" he taunts, figuratively speaking, "And then you become just as I am! Save yourselves! No one else matters! There is no justice, no redemption, no hope. And by the way, if you hold out and think there are such things, I'll just kill you, too."

Darth Vader, by comparison, sits around and has tea and pets the kitty. Hannibal Lecter gardens and plants petunias in the front yard. Godzilla is just another Joe from the little bar down the street.

From his introduction in the movie, I found myself mentally screaming, "Shoot him now! Now! Now!" only to have to ask myself over and over again, is it really the right thing to do to kill someone without due process of the law? Is capital punishment justified, and why does it have to go through a court? I say I value every human life ... but ...

From my vantage point under my desk, still sweating and shivering from this movie, I join the crowd shouting that Heath Ledger should win a posthumous Oscar for this performance.

Wow, what a film.

Bernie said:

For the sake of our relationship, I would like to risk a bit and reveal something about myself. I my not be the person you thought I was. Relax, I haven't been reviewing movies for anybody else. I remain faithful to you. But in all the time we've known each other, haven't you always been a little curious about the time before us? Haven't you always wondered but lacked the courage (or was it just the lack of opportunity?) to ask me what my favorite TV show was when I was a kid? I thought so. It's not the kind of question you just blurt out. Maybe in the quiet moments after a good review, after you light up the cigarette, you want to ask, but you hesitate, and the moment passes. Next time maybe, when the relationship is a little more mature and secure. Well now's the time. If we are to continue together, you need to know this about me. I hope that you will still trust me once I've told you.

I was sixteen. Maybe you could argue that I didn't know better, that I couldn't have known better at that age. You could blame "the media" I suppose, but the truth of the matter is that it was my choice. I knew what I was doing. Yes, on Sunday evenings, I would tune into ABC television and wistfully (and faithfully) watch "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." Wistfully, I say, because in the main character, Tom Corbett, I saw a hero. He was a tragic figure, a young widower with a child. I was a tragic figure, an adolescent male with not a single prospect for a girlfriend. He had a career, a housekeeper and a secretary. I was an adolescent male with not a single prospect for a girlfriend. He was a model father with a genuinely good relationship with his son. I was an adolescent male with not a single prospect for a girlfriend.

Bill Bixby's portrayal of Tom Corbett gave me the hope that despite my inability to find a girlfriend, a life and family might still have been possible for me.

The Dark Knight, the new Batman movie, is about as far from "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" as you can get, even though if I were recasting Tom Corbett today, I would probably pick Christian Bale for the role. And if we were doing an updated re-make of "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," Eddie might well be a stringy-haired adolescent in white face make-up and lipstick who takes time out from playing GTA IV to scare the hell out of any women in Dad's life, causing Dad to have an endless string of one-night stands while he patiently tries to explain to terrified women and unsympathetic policemen that Eddie is just doing "what boys will do."

And that's my point about The Dark Knight. (I grant you that it may be a rather convoluted point, but at least I am getting there, aren't I?) We live in an angst ridden period. We have as a nation gone adrift, without a real sense of right and wrong, and are hard pressed to agree about anything except that there really are people out there intent on killing us. All of this is being reflected in our arts and most disturbingly in The Dark Knight. The truth of the matter is that I would like my entertainment to give me relief from my reality, to provide me with a ray of hope. I want to grow up to be Bill Bixby/Tom Corbett.

Technically speaking, I like what is termed apocalyptic stories, the kind of story where the object "in general was to solve the difficulties connected with the righteousness of God and the suffering condition of His righteous servants on earth." There is good, and there is bad. They are not equal and opposite forces, a yin and a yang, rather there is an all powerful good and an inferior, defective bad. The bad can be irritating and disruptive and even occasionally successful, but it is never triumphant. The traditional comic book super hero story was apocalyptic. There is the hero (cheer), and there is the villain (boo, hiss). The girl gets tied to the train tracks (gasp), there is a fight (bite nails), the girl gets saved and order is restored (applause).

The Dark Knight is not apocalyptic. It is a horror story, intended to scare, unsettle, or horrify the audience. I am not fond of horror stories. On the other hand, I can appreciate a well told tale, and The Dark Knight is an extremely well told tale. Thanks to some fine writing, clever sound editing, inspired make-up, and an Oscar worthy performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker, the evil in this movie is palpable. By midway into the movie, your belief in the invincibility of good is shaken. You are no longer sure that Batman will triumph. And indeed, what makes this a horror story rather than apocalyptic story is that in the battle between good and evil, good takes most of the casualties and makes the greatest sacrifices. In the end, the Joker is snared but remains alive, unrepentant and undiminished.

In an ironic twist, in a macabre swirling of fantasy and reality, the Joker does meet his end, not in the movie where he is indefatigable, but in reality with the untimely death of Heath Ledger. So good was Mr. Ledger's performance that it would be folly for another actor to try the role, not until enough time has past for memories to fade, and that will take a long time.

There was more to this film than Heath Ledger to be sure, all of it well done. If this movie is not one of the nominees for Best Picture, I would be very disappointed.

I commend the artists of this film for crafting such a remarkable piece of entertainment, but I have to say to those of you who might think about going to this one, beware! It's probably not what you think it is. It is not an easy film to watch. It is a big, complex, frightening tale. IT IS NOT FOR CHILDREN. There is nobody in this film that I want to be like when I grow up.

But damn, you sure get your money's worth.

Article © Bernie and Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-07-21
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