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.