A Light in the Darkness

Warning:  Unabashed praise (and spoilers) follow.

It’s been three days since I’ve seen it, and I realize I don’t have enough superlatives for The Dark Knight.  There was concern that the movie couldn’t possibly live up to its hype, but turns out it was the other way around.  Those who were calling it one of the best films of the year were hedging their bets.  It’s actually one of best movies of the last ten years, at least.

Yes, Heath Ledger gave us a brilliant, unforgettable performance.  But let’s not lose sight of the fantastic script that spawned this Joker.  I’m a writer, folks, so you know I believe that if ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.  And the rest of the cast is impressive, too, each in their own way.  The cinematography, production design, effects, and even the music are all top notch.  Be sure to catch this one in an IMAX theater, one with a state-of-the-art, blow-you-out-of-the-back-of-the-theater sound system.

I was stunned at how good this movie was.  It was literally breathtaking.  By the time the credits rolled, I was panting for breath, completely bowled over by what I’d just experienced.  I felt like jumping up and screaming, “That was incredible!”  Films like The Dark Knight are why I go to movies:  every once in a while, something comes along that shows you just what can be done with the medium, something that vindicates your faith and rekindles the magic you first felt as a child.

Which is not to say, of course, that The Dark Knight is appropriate for children.  It most certainly is not.  It deals with adult themes.  It’s complex, violent, and very dark.  And it’s about that darkness that I’d like to say a little bit more.

On the way to the theater with my wife and

, I was discussing my dislike of the movie Se7en.  Yes, I know it was slickly made, and it boasted an impressive cast, but in the end, it was just seven gruesome ways of killing people.  There was nothing more to it than that.  And before you say it, I don’t care that most of the gore took place offstage.  This does not redeem the film in any way.  It was still exploitative and depraved.  It debased its audience, and legitimized the wave of torture porn films that followed it.

As I was watching The Dark Knight, in ever-increasing amazement at The Joker’s audacity and unadulterated, sociopathic evil, it occurred to me that this villain used the same sadistic tactics John Doe used in Se7en:  forcing people to hurt each other, and even themselves.  This was kind of dismaying for me.  I was into the movie by that point, but I knew I would have a hard time with it if The Joker turned out to be nothing more than John Doe in clown makeup.

And then came the climax, the scene with the two ferries.  The denouement was, simply put, amazing–something I never saw coming.  When the convict tossed the detonator out the window, I was moved almost to tears.  After all the darkness, a glimmer of light, of hope.  The realization that The Joker, for all his fiendish machinations, had severely miscalculated human nature.

In that moment, The Dark Knight elevated itself into the rarefied air of the truly great.

Se7en purported to be about nihilism.  But that always struck me as a cop-out, as an excuse to subject viewers to a series of depravities.  It’s a lot harder for a writer to take you to a place of unremitting darkness, and still give you a reason to hope.  Jonathan and Christopher Nolan were more than up to the challenge.

Even the very end of the film, with Batman being hunted for a crime he didn’t commit, is uplifting in its way.  Batman chooses to take that rap.  In so doing, he becomes the embodiment of heroism–the sacrifice of self for a greater good.

An amazing film.  Simply amazing.

The only real problem, of course, is that the Nolans will never be able to top this achievement–not with the Batman series, anyway.  This is as good as it gets.  And Heath Ledger’s untimely death has effectively retired The Joker as a villain.  I mean, really–who will dare to don that makeup again?  No one.

So enjoy this film, folks.  We won’t see its equal again for a long, long time.

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