In 2005, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins reinvigorated the nearly moribund franchise and introduced a needed sense of gravitas into the comic book genre.
Now, three years later, he has returned with The Dark Knight, a riveting and thoughtful exploration of the anatomy of heroism, the necessity of a moral order, and the conflict–and similarities–between goodness and evil.
Unfortunately, Nolan falls prey to “sequel’s syndrome,” creating an overly-long movie that introduces too many plot elements, leaving too little time to resolve them all satisfactorily. His lack of restraint causes him to hurry through scenes detailing Bruce Wayne’s internal conflict with his position as Batman, which limits the possibility for real emotional connection to the film.
But that is as much as is wrong with The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is the most disturbing and masterful portrayal of a villain that I can think of. His pseudo-philosophizing provides much of the intellectual heft to the film.
What makes Ledger so disturbing as the Joker is not his insanity, but his calm and cool-headed rationality. He cannot be reasoned with, as he shares none of the axioms that Batman has, but he is perfectly consistent in his own thinking nonetheless.
Ledger’s philosophizing is provocative. It lays the groundwork for Bruce Wayne’s anxiety over whether such an irrational evil can be fought, or merely ceded to. It is, interestingly enough, not Bruce Wayne that continues the fight, but Harvey Dent, the new DA of Gotham.
It is not difficult to see current political situation being dramatized in the film. Nolan alludes to it, using the (appropriate) term “terrorists” to refer to the Joker and his minions. But this is no political statement. It would be, in fact, incorrect to describe the film as a “statement” at all. It is more of a question, and as such left me wanting a second viewing if only to confirm my philosophical suspicions about the answers.
As such, it is an intellectually satisfying film, even if it is imperfect technically. It deserves the box office record it set this weekend. While it is not suitable for children due to its disturbing nature, it is the only movie I have seen this summer that I would heartily recommend to mature audiences.
Matthew Anderson is a twenty-five year old writer, public speaker, educator and editor. He has a chapter forthcoming in a book on new media (published by Crossway), and has edited numerous non-fiction books, including a New York Times bestseller. He blogs regularly at MereOrthodoxy.