And here… we… GO!
It would be hard to imagine a more compelling embodiment of the escalation of evil in Gotham than what Nolan and actor Heath Ledger have created in the character of The Joker, whose insouciant embrace of chaos eclipses the malevolence of Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs and John Doe from Se7en. What makes Nolan‚Äôs latest film such a success is not, however, Ledger‚Äôs compelling presentation of evil, on which critics have focused their attention, but the way in which he uses that character to bring out the depth and complex goodness of the other characters in the film, including Batman. The title of the film is not The Joker but The Dark Knight.
The Joker espouses a nihilist philosophy concerning the arbitrariness of the code of morality in civilized society; it is but a thin veneer, a construct intended for our consolation. If you tear away at the surface, ‚Äúcivilized people will eat each other.‚Äù As The Joker puts it, ‚Äúmadness is like gravity; all it takes is a little push.‚Äù In a wonderfully comic take on a Nietzschean sentiment, he sums up his beliefs: ‚ÄúWhatever does not kill you makes you stranger.‚Äù His character also illustrates the parasitic status of evil and nihilism. A thoroughgoing nihilist could not muster the energy to destroy or create. As The Joker puts it at one point, he‚Äôs like the dog chasing a car; he has no idea what he would do if he caught it.
The title of the Nolan‚Äôs latest Batman film calls to mind medieval chivalry in a postmodern key. The dark knight embraces extraordinary tasks and fights against enormous odds; his quest is to restore what has been corrupted and to recover what has been lost. In so doing, he takes upon himself a suffering and loneliness that isolate him from his fellow citizens and inevitably court their misunderstanding and scorn. He is a dark knight, in part, because the world he inhabits is nearly void of hope and virtue, and, in part, because some of the darkness resides within him, in his internal conflicts between the good he aspires to restore and the means he deploys to fend off evil. Of the many filmmakers designing dark tales of quests for redemption, Christopher Nolan is currently making a serious claim to being the master craftsman.
… [T]he moral despair in The Dark Knight has moved me so strongly because Mr. Nolan and his collaborators have not gone out of their way to zap the zeitgeist in primitively Bush-bashing fashion as have so many contemporary fiction and nonfiction filmmakers with a chip on their left shoulders. … I previously have had my own auteurist doubts about Mr. Nolan‚Äôs work, even though he has been much honored for his stylistic innovations in Memento (2001) and The Prestige (2006). But after The Dark Knight, I may have to rethink my past reservations about Mr. Nolan‚Äôs place in the 21st-century cinema.
But please note this warning halfway through:
HAVING NOW PRAISED The Dark Knight to the skies, and recommended it to everyone this side of Gotham City, I must ask the reader to read no further in my review of this masterpiece because I am about to reveal its darkest secret.
Thanks to Christian Hamaker for that one.