Bouncing on top of a mountain of money he managed to retrieve from the Mob’s crooked accountant, the Joker slides down the side to meet one of them. As they exchange small talk, one of the Joker’s henchmen sparks a blaze to the bank notes – “You said you were a man of your word,” cries the perplexed Mob boss thinking he would get back his share. “All you care about is money,” replies a ravenous Joker, “This town deserves a better class of criminal and I’m going to give it to them. Tell your men they work for me now… this is my city.”
Gotham is still a crime infested city except the difference this time is its citizens wish to make a difference inspired by the cape crusader. The general public view Batman (Christian Bale) as a hero and imitate his vigilante methods by tackling crime using guns as weapons and hockey pads for protection. The people in power such as Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) are working with Batman in secret to bring down the rest of the Falconi family crime syndicate where Sal Maroni (Eric Roberts) is now the head. Assisting Lt. Gordon is Gotham’s new District Attorney – Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), publicly referred to as the White Knight. The trio of figures manage to close in on the Mob’s financial capital and are able to charge over 500 criminals because of marked bills that filtered their way from the streets into their banks.
The Mob bosses are distressed from Batman’s influence on the street from the past few months and struggle to make enough business however a solution appears in the shape of a man wearing a purple suit, bleached green hair, white make up and red lips covering his scarred mouth. “It’s simple… kill the Batman,” says the enigmatic Joker (Heath Ledger) and continues to demand half of all their money if they want him to carry out the task. With no other choice they offer him the job and its a job he carries so deviously that he makes Batman choose between the honour of Gotham or his childhood friend – Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who also happens to be dating Dent. Along the way, there’s plenty of destruction, anarchy, mutiny, civil outrage – with an ending you never saw coming.
The web and critics alike claim ‘chaos’ is the most fitting theme to describe this movie. They’re wrong. It’s ‘revolution’. In Batman Begins, Gotham was savaged by crime and very little was done to counter act that by the law or its citizens. In The Dark Knight, the ethos of the same people has dramatically changed and are now using Batman as an example to fight crime. On the other end of the spectrum, the Mob are too frightened to take on the Batman but the Joker showed that he is still human, he has a moral code and will abide by that regardless – which in turn is his weakness and can be exploited. As a result, not only do the people of Gotham rise by by violence but so does the Joker to upset the social and anti-social order.
Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker has been considered not only the best villain in the Bat-universe but also of any villain, of any time. Hannibal Lector may intimidate you with his eyes but the Joker will stick a pencil up your face before you can even make a move. Ledger eventually won a post posthumous Academy Award back in 2009 and rightly so because never have we seen an actor absorb the mechanical depth of a comic book character before. It was reported that Ledger would lock himself up in a hotel room for a month and dedicated himself to perfecting the maniacal laugh, expressive facial features and sinister voice. Look closely and you’ll notice his subtle mannerisms like licking his lips like a snake or caressing his hair. The scars on his mouth represent a scarred, beaten history. Nolan plays on the fact that Joker doesn’t haven’t an origin – he is fully formed and yet look into his black painted eyes and you’ll see a burnt soul that now wants to burn everything else around him.
It would be cruel to compare this Joker to that of Jack Nicholson’s from Tim Burton’s Batman, for they each have a place in their respective Batman films however Ledger’s Joker may pip it simply because his physical on screen time amount to less than 15 minutes. And he has all the best dialogue from the film: “Why so serious,” “I’m an agent of chaos,” and of course “Let’s put a smile on that face,” are now all part of popular culture. Introducing the Joker in perhaps the best bank heist in recent movie history simply shows his ingenuity of not only manipulating people and his homicidal intentions but also his ambition to rise from a common level to the top of the food chain in criminality.
Long gone is the humble, sensitive Bruce Wayne. Now that he feels Gotham is changing due to his late night escapades, Bruce’s ego has now exceeded his humility. Dawes is now dating Dent as they both work in the DA office however Bruce misuses the city’s surveillance to spy on their social activities. When Dent and Dawes sit for dinner he compliments himself for getting a seat at an exclusive fine dining restaurant after waiting for three weeks and having to influence his position in government. Bruce however appears out of nowhere with a Prima Ballerina from the Moscow Ballet boasting that they are dating. “Harvey’s taking me to the Ballet next week,” says Dawes. “Really?” says Bruce with a fabricated surprised expression, “You’re into Ballet?” knowing in advance that he was into it before they met hence the Ballerina in hand. “So lets put a couple of tables together,” Bruce continues to suggest. “I’m not sure that they’ll let us,” replied Dent but to his dismay Bruce says, “They should – I own the place.” Batman may have his abilities to fight crime with his hands but Bruce is now flexing financial power to an arrogant extent.
The audience cares little to sympathise with this Bruce Wayne except when he experiences another death which crashes his pride to a pulp and returns to being humble and eventually self-sacrificing. Batman’s pride also comes crashing down and no scene reflects this better than the action in the interrogation room with the Joker explaining he isn’t the antagonist but a reflection to that black armour. “You complete me,” says the Joker. “See to them [the police] you’re just a freak. Like me!” – to which Batman does not act lightly. He pounds the Joker as he confesses he is holding both Dent and Dawes captive but now matter how much Batman hurts him, the Joker laughs mockingly and says, “You have nothing to threaten me with. Nothing with all your strength,” and so for the first time, we see a powerless Batman. And he continues to be for the rest of the film as the Joker infects through Batman’s suit, beyond the bat signal and Tumbler, deeper still into his symbol of fear to penetrate his heart – the result of which changes Batman and he’s never the same again.
Someone else who shares in that loss of life is Harvey Dent. When at first Bruce mocks Dent for taking Dawes away from him, he did so because he was jealous. But through time, he see Dent’s mission is to simply make the change the right way, a way Bruce could never do and ushers him to a platform to promote Dent among the powerful elite in Gotham. Bruce can see if Dent can take up the job Batman does then he can finally lead a normal life and Rachel can return to be with him. Gotham loves Dent – for he is their shining White Knight. He is also self sacrificing as he pretended to be Batman’s true identity in order to stop the Joker killing people and take him in. Dent’s origins are from Internal Affairs investigating crooked cops which now work with Lt. Gordon and thus is less then impressed when they are on the ‘good’ side tackling crime. But yet he believes he can make a difference and all seems well at the beginning until his accident, which burns half of his face, scars him for life. As the Joker visits him in hospital, the deformed individuals look at each other and share a conversation, “Introduce a little anarchy,” says the Joker, “Upset the established order. Everything becomes chaos.” Dent, now tired of tackling crime with the law, takes the Joker’s advice and uses his coin to decide the fate of his victims – starting with the crooked cops.
Of all the three main characters, Dent not only goes through a personal transition – but a physical one too. The loss of his loved one affects him deeply for she was never part of the core group of people tackling crime – she was a bystander but also became the greatest loss not only to Dent but also to Bruce. Dent’s philosophy throughout the film has been, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” Dent’s story is not only moving and tragic, but represents that even good people can have a threshold and thus the Joker proved every can be evil to an extent.
The scope of The Dark Knight is grander. Shooting took place in a number of cities including Hong Kong, London and Chicago. It is wider in scope, illuminated by having lots of light. Even in night time there are plenty of street lighting creating a warm, composed atmosphere that has the occasional tint of yellow to represent the small fire that is burning across Gotham.
The man responsible for its general aesthetic is its Cinematographer Wally Pfister who shot over twenty minutes of the film in glorious IMAX. Even back in 2008, there was great pressure to convert Batman into a 3D movie however in an interview with Empire magazine he said, “My argument has always been that my only motivation for shooting on film was for the look of the picture, and I’m not going to be persuaded by a studio to shoot digital on some awful manufactured camera.” It proves that Nolan, his crew and indeed the cast, showed great dedication into producing a film that is story telling at its most compelling as it is extremely pleasing to the eye. Nolan is a true auteur in the sense that he cares and considers every aspect of film making from its writing stage, to production, to the type of camera and even casting. This film has been made with care, attention and love and it shows on screen.
Director Christopher Nolan has never used a second unit director for the action sequences because he believed they needed to be the same as his dramatic, complex and expansive scenes. And this shows as the number of action sequences not only have increased from Batman Begins but also uses Gotham as a back drop for some of the most extravagant set pieces you will ever see. The introduction of the Batpod is amazing – especially to see how the cape majestically flies behind Batman while riding on top. The truck flipping scene has almost become iconic but unless you actually watch the film as to how and why it happens, it will not be appreciated the same way. Add to the fact that it has to be seen on IMAX only stumps critics who complained Nolan wasn’t able to deliver much on the action to his previous film.
It was a great shame that the Academy members denied Nolan the same privilege it gave to Heath Ledger simply because of The Dark Knight was labelled a ‘comic book’ movie. But the outrage of it not being nominated in the best film category forced the Academy to expand its list of best films from five to ten films proving the consensus prefer films that made bold, dramatic statements then just deep, meaningful ones. Without discrediting the likes of Iron Man, Spiderman and Superman - all of which are brilliant comic book movies – The Dark Knight isn’t a comic book movie. The reason for this is because there are no supernatural elements in this film. The risks are real. The casualty, destruction and emotions are everything the audience can relate to. Add to the fact that it’s a visually stunning film, with a fantastic cast and an impressive set production team – we have a timeless piece of cinema that will be enjoyed in years, in decades even, to come.
Rolling Stone magazine stated that it was “No fair giving away the mysteries of The Dark Knight. It’s enough to marvel at the way Nolan — a world-class filmmaker — brings pop escapism whisper-close to enduring art. The haunting and visionary Dark Knight soars on the wings of untamed imagination. It’s full of surprises you don’t see coming. And just try to get it out of your dreams.”
Carmine Falcone referred to Bruce Wayne as the “Prince of Gotham” and yet in this film we now have the “Prince of Crime” trying to take ownership as to who really rules Gotham City. As in the last review, Gotham represents the legacy of Bruce’s father. What makes The Dark Knight a true masterpiece – in both story telling and cinematic terms – is perhaps how it ends. It isn’t a conclusion or even good overcoming evil. It isn’t even about closure. It’s about sacrifice – the same type Batman gave at the ending to Batman Begins, only this time the price of his sacrifice is his symbol to ensure the turbulence that rumbles through Gotham does not escalate. Bruce’s father’s legacy remains safe and sound. For now.
Article by Vaskar S. Kayastha
Vaskar S. Kayastha is Cult Hub’s contributing film writer focusing on blockbuster movies as well as independent and world cinema. Vaskar graduated with a BA (Hons) in English which focused on the Classics, Medieval, Shakespearean and Ancient Literature. He also has a keen interest in Photography, History, Technology, Theology, Poetry, Ballet, Art, riding his Vespa and eating Gelato. Vaskar is also the Creative Director for TheStyleColumn - a portal for showcasing talented new fashion designers as well as covering global fashion weeks. Find out more about Vaskar on his blog or follow him on twitter.