The Dark Knight: A short review from the Australian provinces
Theatrical release poster for The Dark
“Our boy” is what Neil Armfield is supposed to have said on the cutting floor analysing rushes of Candy starring Heath Ledger. It’s a movie I’ve avoided because drug use is too disturbing for the son of a son of an alcoholic. The implication though is clear – the guy had a sliver of genius amongst we 6 billion or so.
We also avoided Ledger in the emo/gay favourite Brokeback Mountain. But we did catch a DVD of Lords of Dog Town on the foundation of the 1970ies skateboarding sport craze. Based on a real life Aussie character.
Sliver of genius cutting across the wave face of life … and wiping out as some do.
Heath Ledger played chess well they say and worked at his subversions of the Establishment. He spoke against the Iraq war on a chat show in 2003. He hated the celebrity press, some of whom hated him back and shame on them.
Damn, damn, damn, we wrote sincerely on the news of his premature death amongst acclamations and dissension over his arguable importance.
Recently Andrew Bolt, a professional right wing contrarian claimed Dark Knight was a paean to Dubya Bush's stand against terrorism. Mmm. We expressed doubt from ignorance but now we have seen the whole 3 hours worth and can offer some serious reflections.
Yes it is a movie that leaves you thinking some days later. That’s a good sign.
The saying ‘good art doesn’t preach, it’s nuanced and let’s the audience find and prefer their own meanings’ seems to genuinely apply here.
There are some very obvious references to grim movie No Country For Old Men
(a) the coin flipping, references to fate, you lose the toss you die
(b) the dog attack on Batman early on.
These are maybe ripoffs - leveraging a better crafted story for a narrower audience into a blockbuster mass one - or maybe a compliment. Depends on your cynicism perhaps.
‘Our boy’ does his craft and his colleagues and himself proud. If method acting preparation didn’t’ screw him up then nothing would. He comes over so real. The Joker is capital B bad. Audiences drink up a complex villain the way we never quite get why children die no matter how many ‘facts’ about poverty, illness, madness, genetics, criminality.
Some stand out line for this writer:
(a) “Some men just want to see the world burn” observes Michael Caine as the butler; and
(b) “It’s not about money, it’s about sending a message” as The Joker puts the flame to a multi million dollar pile of dough;
(c) “What doesn’t kill you, makes you … stranger” by you know who.
The movie descends into the blockbuster staples of car chases and shoot outs but it’s The Joker that grounds the narrative as Ledger did in Dogtown playing Skip the drunken entrepreneur. My companion who despises ‘mindless Hollywood violence’ wanted to walk out bored, contemptuous. But that would be a 1% audience reaction proving the rule. Even she was impressed by the pencil trick.
We noticed some curious echoes in the show too – Gotham General Hospital gets blown up. A cliché but the falling bricks somehow reminds of the Canberra hospital demolition tragedy. The allegedly beautiful love interest was fairly plain by movie star standards but I got to like her for her savvy and guts which is what you want in a lawyer after all. Not least her sad foreknowledge.
So what about the politics? Well it’s there, post 9-11 with all this crazy destruction an obvious echo, and sinister duality of authority figures in the age of rendition, but what it means is up for grabs. Pick your angle in the kaleidoscope of imagery and buttons being pushed. In the end it is a cartoon of life.
Harvey Two Face could be the USA national character – handsome, strong, smart with madness in his soul from love lost. Or just a plot line.
Batman could by Dubya or more likely the national USA psyche – the running hero who is resilient enough to take false accusations for the greater good. Or Batman could be Osama depending on which side of the corruption soliloquy in Syriana you prefer.
The Joker could be Osama the terrorist “who just wants to see the world burn” as per World Square destruction, or he could be Dubya - seeking Christian evangelical Rapture meaning a world burnt to a crisp initiated out of a conflict in the Middle East. Or so they say. And what is the shock and awe bombing of Iraq on a false pretext other than a desire to see something burn – if only for revenge.
But here is what I conclude the politics of the movie is about – that fear and pain leading to revenge results in madness and chaos and misery. And that’s an accusation pointing in many directions.
It’s a movie that is almost certainly an hour too long but then any chance to see more of ‘Our boy’ is fine by me. Good one Heath, wish you could have stayed.
Posted by editor
at 3:56 PM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 August 2008 5:01 PM NZT