The Dark Knight Reconsidered

Three years ago, I wrote a critical review of The Dark Knight which earned me a thorough beat down from a whole host of readers.  My review was based on my visceral reaction to the psychological torture and moral shades of gray that I saw in the film at the time. 

However, I finally watched it again last week.  A few things made me want to give it another chance:

  • The teaser trailer for The Dark Knight Rises hints that this third film will be a redemptive story with a more clear-cut victory, perhaps making this a trilogy in the Star Wars-Empire-Jedi format.  I can appreciate that. 
  • Last year I read Frank Miller’s graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, which obviously influenced Christopher Nolan’s movie.  It was excellent. 
  • Anne Hathaway will be in The Dark Knight Rises, so I pretty much have to see it. 

Watching the film after three years now, my first thought is that the apparent moral shades of gray are not indicative of relativism or nihilism, but that the film is presenting a whole moral universe–a broad spectrum of worldviews–and sets them against each other in a lab experiment where order and altruism do prevail.  I wonder why I didn’t see this better the first time, and I can only attribute my negative feelings to how successfully the film does portray its evil aspects. 

Incidentally, I’m not a big fan of psychoanalysis, but The Dark Knight is pretty Freudian, isn’t it?  It’s kind of hard not to see the Joker as our id, Batman as ego, and Harvey Dent as superego.  Actually, I’ve always been convinced that the real moral center of the Batman universe is Jim Gordon, a completely realistic character who not only manages to thrive in this maelstrom of extreme philosophy, but is consistently, quietly heroic.  (Incidentally, I think there’s a case to be made that the Joker’s insanity was largely contrived, itself part of his con game.  That would really complicate this analysis–a rationally manipulated evil id?  Now that is scary.)

My earlier thoughts about the inappropriateness of the “dark knight” concept (the hero we need vs. the hero we deserve) were also skewed by not wanting to see such murkiness at the time, but the ending of the film highlights an important concept: humanity’s tendency to hate what’s good for us; our prejudicial reflex to accept the easy impression if it resonates with us (like, I suppose, my previous review).  At the end of the film, Batman must descend into shame and scorn to keep rescuing from evil all the innocent but ignorant people who ironically reject him.  Sound familiar, Christians?

Moral evaluations aside, this is an astonishingly accomplished film.  Much has been made of the current trend of dopey comic book and cartoon-based movies–basically glorified children’s entertainment–to dominate our theaters, but The Dark Knight is a rare achievement: a rich, dense, episodic crime film.  I got a lot more of the plot’s nuance the second time around, and I can tell that this movie will reward multiple future viewings.  The fact that it can support such varying interpretations is another evidence of its narrative strength. 

Such a mature (and entertaining!) reflection on life, including its tragic side, warrants respect, especially if it’s setting up a triumphant concluding chapter.  Definitely looking forward to The Dark Knight Rises.

5 comments on “The Dark Knight Reconsidered

  1. This is an excellent piece of criticism, Huston. Not because I agree with it (it’s been too long since I’ve seen the film to know if I do or not [but I suspect I do]), but because it’s a reconsideration –which is rare — and because the analysis is solid.

  2. The Dark Knight glamorizes creepiness and evil. Who can stomach it?

    No way am I seeing the next gross installation. Anne Hathaway or not.

    I don’t remember one thing about the hero in that movie. The antagonist stole the show, the after-show party, and was at the heart of every comment I ever heard anyone make about the movie.

    I completely agreed with your first review; in fact, it was that review that made me start reading your blog in the first place.

    I think your second thoughts on this movie, like second guesses on the ACT, are likely better off erased. Stick with your first impression.

  3. Don’t we all use “rational” arguments to support what our id wants. Some call it a gut instinct, Freud called it id.

    And Freud was very right about how childhood does influence. Note also, that parenting doesn’t guarantee anything, it’s just about probabilities and trends.

    It is true, that often the good guy is the most boring one, unless we have a superhero with supernatural powers. That’s because we wish to see the world as “us vs. them” and “they” are constitutionally different.

    Actually we’re all shades of grey.

  4. William, thanks for the compliment–always nice to hear kind words from talented people.

    dala, I completely understand. I’ve had the same concerns about the giddy focus on the Joker, but I think in hindsight that really was just recognition of an undeniably virtuoso performance, not any kind of envious role model worship. Maybe the biggest thing that surprised me on the second viewing was just how much less the film glamorizes the Joker than I’d remembered. Again, I think the strong reaction I had before was mostly due to the effeciveness of Ledger’s work.

    But I don’t mean to be disagreeable. I sympathize with those who still find it too dark, and acknowledge that it’s a legitimate point of view. I never meant to be doctrinaire about it before, nor do I plan to now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s