The Dark Knight

About as depressing as pulp can be…

by Adam Miller

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So once again I’ll indulge myself by stepping a bit outside the bounds of Camp Academy’s subject matter while still (hopefully) maintaining the principles by which I review “bad” movies on this site. THE DARK KNIGHT is by no means a bad movie. It features some riveting performances by Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, and Christian Bale, some entertaining action sequences, and the occasional philosophical debate about order and chaos, light and dark, what have you.

The horror, the horror…

Yet there are a few aspects of the film which irked me. First and foremost: the violence. THE DARK KNIGHT is indeed a “dark” film which honestly feels like it wants to be a horror movie rather than an adventure. This strikes me as a good idea. Dispense with the silly puns and alliterations of the “caped crusader” and simply make Batman and foes alike into a menagerie of monsters squaring off on the streets of Gotham.

The makeup applied to the Joker and Two-Face make clear to me that this is the direction the film’s producers were leaning. These characters are made to look distinctly un-human, the latter especially. Even Batman is given glowing blue eyes at one point in the film. All of these characters like to leap out of the shadows creating the same “jump scare” effect common in horror films.

The very, very thin blue line…

Compared to the horror genre, THE DARK KNIGHT is far, far more violent. I wish I had kept track of the body count in the film, but it’s up there. Police officers receive the brunt of this abuse. I understand the Gotham police department is supposedly “corrupt,” but it’s no wonder considering how likely a police officer is to get killed in the line of duty in this movie! Officers are shot, blown up, car (and helicopter) wrecked throughout the film usually as a way of depicting just how psychopathic The Joker is. That said, even Batman gets in on the action by kung-fu fighting an entire SWAT team into submission. In a movie this long, these incessant officer deaths become a nuisance, if not a downright drinking game. And to add insult to injury, the police force fails in almost every task assigned to them—even at the end of the film they are still accidentally shooting hostages instead of terrorists!

But even more grating than the quantity of violence is the lack of responsibility for that violence’s depiction. I talked about this issue in my review of PRINCE CASPIAN, but it bears repeating. Despite all the murders in THE DARK KNIGHT, few are graphically portrayed. Blood is a rare site in this movie—even dead bodies are rarely depicted. There are some intense scenes where are characters are implicitly slit with knives or burned alive but time and again the movie cuts away to the sound of a body dropping “thud” against the floor. The reason for this is to keep THE DARK KNIGHT PG-13 so that it can become the highest grossing film of all time (or whatever it did). The filmmakers want to have it both ways. They want the film dark enough to become a critical darling but not so dark that kids can’t get into see it, buy the merchandise, etc.

Chaos theory…

This bring me to my last complaint. Critics have heralded THE DARK KNIGHT as summoning powerful literary archetypes like good and evil, order and chaos. The last major film to do that? NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, of course—last year’s Best Picture winner. In terms of viewing pleasure, I like NO COUNTRY less than DARK KNIGHT. For me, the Cohen Bros.’ flick was excessively nihilistic. While I stand by that complaint, I’ll give credit that that movie stuck to its guns. Major and minor characters alike dropped dead in that film (certainly in keeping with the Cohen’s style. In DARK KNIGHT, on the other hand, the viewer quickly becomes aware of a higher code which undermines the Joker’s supposed representation of chaos. Major characters you think are killed return with heroic aplomb (if they’re key to the series) others are killed with Ophelia-like flourish (especially if they get in the way of future love scenes). Some corrupt cops are brutally murdered for their deeds (if they’re fat white guys) others are conveniently spared (if they’re pretty young women).

My point is THE DARK KNIGHT doesn’t “go there” as much as some critics and fans say it does. The film is no gothic masterpiece—it’s an age-old story being repackaged and resold to a generation that takes itself quite seriously (we live in the age of terror, didn’t you know). Comic books have long sought the term “graphic novel,” I guess because “serious book” sounded stupid. Likewise, their film incarnations of late have vied for greater acceptance as high art by shedding their campy origins. Now that’s depressing.

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