dark Knight of the cinema

Here are a few impressions after seeing The Dark Knight yesterday:

  • The Joker, as inhabited by Heath Ledger, is perhaps one of the most compelling villains of comic book history, a veritable ha-satan from the book of Job (for more about the satanic vision of the human person, see my review of War of the Worlds)
  • Harvey Dent’s character provided some interesting commentary on the current political climate, in which some people seem to be looking not for a president, but a messiah. I think of paragraph 676 of the Catechism:

    The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgement. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.

  • The title of this post suggests that I would draw some parallel to the treatise on the spiritual life by St. John of the Cross. It would be a bit of a stretch to do so, especially in a movie as agnostic as this. Evil appears in stunning technicolor, while goodness is far more obscure and muted. If any references to the Dark Night could be sustained, it might be the way the story strips away illusions from characters who imagine themselves to be self-made solutions to the problem of evil. (See Fr. Robert Barron’s YouTube video for the best treatment of this concept that I’ve seen). I’m also reminded of one of John’s Sayings of Light and Love:

    Never take others for your example in the tasks you have to perform, however holy they may be, for the devil will set their imperfections before you. But imitate Christ, who is supremely perfect and supremely holy, and you will never err.

  • The motivations and demeanor of the Joker are truly diabolical. Loyal only to disloyalty, gathering men only to divide them, baiting men with ideals only to break them, and purposeful in spreading purposelessness. He’s a character with no illusions of grandiosity and no false hopes of victory. His only desire is to pervert the noble and to drag as many as possible into the abyss of his chaotic hate and self-loathing misery. The absence of love drains him of any creative potential, and the only way he can assert himself is to seduce others into a life of destruction.
  • The last half hour dragged a bit, I thought… but the very end was quite satisfying, and had some interesting religious resonance… disabusing the hopes of a false messiah, yet hinting at the need for — and the possibility of — atonement.
  • ADDED 7/27/08: After viewing the film a second time, I have to take back the part about the satisfying ending. There is a line given to Batman near the very end about people needing something better than the truth. Either this attractive lie was a very sloppy piece of writing, or the whole movie collapses into nihlism and becomes a pointless charade of over-earnest silliness.

11 thoughts on “dark Knight of the cinema

  1. For a more acurate comparison to the 2008 campaign and Harvey Dent/ two face, one need not look too far. Remember the optimism of the ‘straight-talk express of 2000? The only unfortunate difference is that the transforming accident that creates two-face appears to have been more transforming in the real world comparison.I am confounded, given your desire for optimistic and faith-filled hopeful messages in movies, that you would be so quick to criticize Obama in the real world analogy. Granted, he is the blank slate in the current contest. But anyone who is vaguely familiar with Batman lore – and knowing how the Dent character ultimately develops- would have an easier time making the McCain comparison without having to take leaps about what the future might hold.I don’t desire to get into a huge political debate that is actually more about presumption and ideology than reality. My main point is that your review would have likely been better withou the off-putting, insulting and condescending reference to the current political race.

  2. Hi Clayton.I enjoyed the movie and thought that it posed confrontation between the Nietzschean superman (forgive the pun) and the suffering servant. The Joker (as you said, ha satan) invites Batman and Dent to go beyond good and evil. Dent succumbs, but Batman becomes the suffering servant, taking on the sins of others for the good of the people. I don’t think creating this existential dilemma was a conscious act by the writers, but rather speaks to the universality of the spiritual conflict in the universe and the layperson’s ability to recognize the choice we all face. Would love to hear your comments.Grace and Peace, Jason A.

  3. Jon,Fair enough. Singling out Obama is unfair. I’ve changed the post.The political commentary is there in the film — rather unavoidable — but everyone is implicated, rather than simply Obama.The clamor for a messiah is definitely alive today. One wonders how far we are from the makings of a new situation like Nazi Germany, under whatever face it manifests itself.

  4. Jason,That’s a good insight. It would be interesting to talk to the writers about what they had in mind. I do know that Jonathan Nolan, who co-wrote the script with his brother, went to a Christian high school with a friend of mine. So the religious themes may have been deliberate…

  5. Thanks for the very good review. I also saw it on Friday, and while I agree with the general tone of your remarks, I don’t see Harvey Dent as an Obama-like figure. The movie, since its beginning, establishes that he is very competent on his job, and also knows its limitations, given that he accepts support from Batman and Gordon, and always seems to be concerned about the possibility of failure and the security of Rachel and the other main characters. Perhaps I’m not a good movie viewer, but I didn’t notice any “<>secular messianism<>” from him, beyond the superficiality of his campaign’s tagline. From what I could gather, the point was Dent’s attitude towards evil: he’s very efficient and competent in fighting evil between hearings nad dinners in posh restaurants, but is unable to cope with the evil that affects his personal life. I thinks that’s a very satisfying approach, both on a personal level and also in relation to the movie’s War on Terror apparent subtext. And speaking of the latter, I think that the movie, besides dealing with this subtext in a very subtle and honest way, also makes the very politically incorrect case of the inability of the State to deal alone with the kind of evil represented by the Joker, and the necessity of altruistic and heroic individuals like the Batman to make their contribution. I also don’t see the movie as “<>agnostic<>“. I think the ferry boat sequence is sufficient to present the movie as an optimistic one, and I don’t think a sequence like that would be seen in <>War of the Worlds<> (a movie I liked for other reasons, despite agreeing with you review), or in <>Saw<>. That said, I think the consequences of that sequence could be more prominent, and I’m very surprised to read that you were satisfied with the ending. I agree with Stephen Hunter’s < HREF="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/16/AR2008071602877.html" REL="nofollow">review<>that it was anti-climatic. Speaking about <>religious resonance<>, I expected at least a little bit of “<>…be wise as serpents…<> on the part of Batman. Perhaps the Nolans wanted to establish the framework for the next movie, by leaving this one on a kind of “moral cliffhanger”…

  6. Hi Matheus –The thing about Dent and the messianism was that he was willing to engage in a deception as a means to ‘save’ the people. Ends do not justify means…When I said the movie was ‘agnostic,’ I simply meant that the narrative makes no theological claims vis-a-vis a divinity. The ferry sequence was optimistic, but an entirely horizontal optimism (no reference to a religious impulse here, though the behavior hinted at spirituality/a source of grace).Agreed on the fact that it was too long.

  7. Clayton (and others)Take a look at < HREF="http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=1130" REL="nofollow">this review<> from the Frist Things blog. The author, very interestingly, relates the movie with film noir. From that point of view, the choice of Chicago as Gotham makes even more sense.

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