Morality and Mortality In “The Dark Knight”

The Chris Nolan Batman reboot brings the new generation version of the caped crusader to darker heights. Instead of capitalizing on Batman’s playboy lifestyle (as done in previous films), Nolan gifts the audience with a brooding hero: yes, he’s still the same partyholic playboy, but with a much darker edge.

The Dark Knight is the second installment in Nolan’s trilogy. Oscar winner Christian Bale reprises his role as the brooding billionaire slash hero, with co-stars Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. Maggie Gyllenhal and Aaron Eckhart play Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent respectively. Arguably the film’s big scene stealer is the late Heath Ledger, who gives the performance of his career as iconic Bat villain the Joker.

The second film sees a possible ray of hope emerge in newly-elected district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), an idealistic city official bent on putting the entire mob behind bars. Impressed by his drive, Batman and Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman), include the new guy into their plan of eradicating crime in Gotham for good. Unfortunately for them, things don’t get easier as the Mob teams up with psychotic villain the Joker in order to get back at the police and at Batman himself. He kills off important individuals involved in the mob trial and threatens to kill more people until Batman reveals his identity.

Bale may not be considered the perfect choice to play the caped crusader, but he’s got the intensity perfect for this dark reboot. Caine plays the most capable reincarnation of Alfred, who does a good job of mixing the pseudo-parental role with that of capable sidekick. You can actually picture Caine being able to kick butt (just not as well as the Bat, of course). Gyllenhal seems to be a more bold presence compared to the last film’s Katie Holmes, but she seems to look physically older than Wayne (he could’ve gone for an actress with a similar ‘look’…). Eckhart gives a laudable performance as Dent, bringing out a natural (who knew he had it?) resentment and anger as his vilanious reincarnation Two Face. There were moments of forced emotion, though, that seemed rather uncomfortable– there were times I didn’t feel the pain of his loss. Another point of concern: the lack of chemistry between Eckhart’s Dent and Gyllenhal’s Rachel.

I’d rather not spend this paragraph showering praises on Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker. I believe enough praise has been showered (hello, he got an Oscar didn’t he?), but I do believe a paragraph dedicated to talking about the performance should be mandatory in any review that discusses the Dark Knight. To call it ‘brilliant’ would not suffice. Instead of simply taking into account the physical transformation of the role, Ledger plays the insanity aspect to an almost-natural degree. Had he been playing a subtle role just like Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln, perhaps we would’ve been solely impressed. But Ledger’s convincingness made us worry– and we hoped against hope that the role didn’t take its toll on Ledger’s mental capacities. Before the Joker, Ledger was a relatively successful actor, having scooped up an Oscar nod for his role in Brokeback Mountain. Yet just like Jared Leto six years later in Dallas Buyers Club, Ledger’s physical transformation for the role was extensive. It would be wrong to compare both roles and consider them similar, because they aren’t. The only thing alike about them is the elaborate transformations. Ledger’s turn as the sick villain went beyond the look– everything from his voice to his mannerisms were so haunting onscreen that once more we bring up the worry. Could so much immersion into the role have taken its toll on him?

One thing that sets the film apart from other superhero blockbusters is the quality of the writing. While Marvel films capitalize on the chemistry between their leads and the stark contrasts in personality, this particular film brings forth a rare kind of emotion in the viewer: the desire to reflect.

“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Nolan’s script brings forth morality into the issue, tackling themes like death, matters of conscience and revenge. These may seem like common themes in superhero movies, but the difference is that Chris doesn’t leave these issues to be dealt with by just the superhero lead. His characters are real people– citizens of Gotham, political officials, policemen, and Bruce Wayne himself. Batman isn’t a genetically gifted superhero– he also happens to be a conflicted human being. People like Harvey Dent and Batman and the Joker are representations of people in our own society, the good, the bad and  the corrupt.

It’s these aspects that set the Dark Knight apart and encourage viewers not just to sit back and enjoy, but to actually reflect on their own morals and on their own societies. Nolan caters to an older crowd, preferably one mature enough to see beyond the gadgets, the Bat mobile and the crime.

 

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