According to fandango.com, Batman, with the assistance of Lieutenant Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, “sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham for good. The triumvirate proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as the Joker, who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces the Dark Knight ever closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante.”
Based on the previews, The Dark Knight is not a movie I normally would have attended due to my personal preferences. However, I was intrigued enough by the reviews of a few movie critics that I decided to give it a whirl anyway. And what a whirl it was, clocking in at 2 1/2 hours of twists, turns, surprises, and horror. And that was just the plotline. Nothing was spared in terms of action either.
Visually, The Dark Knight is a sumptuous feast and fright fest rolled into a seamless narrative of chaos and hopelessness. The movie is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace, according to fandango.com. Frankly, I think it deserves an R rating due to its disturbing content. The only reason it doesn’t have that rating is because it does spare us the graphic details of the frequent violence, a point which lessens the negative impact for those who choose to watch it. For those who read my movie reviews to determine suitability for children, The Dark Knight is NOT suitable for children, not only because of its pervasive violence and menace–menace is a euphemistic way of describing pathological murder and threats–but also because it explores themes in ways that are not appropriate for children.
Do I believe that The Dark Knight should not be watched by thoughtful adults? In one sense, no, if the adults in question are sensitive to violence (Shouldn’t we all be effected by this malady? Alas, we aren’t, myself included to a certain point). However, The Dark Knight is really a very good movie in many ways. Let me list a few to make my point. The writing is first rate, allowing the story to propel the action, rather than the reverse. The actors are marvelous, from Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne, the late Heath Ledger as a fascinating cruel Joker, plus such notable actors as Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Gordon), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), and the lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes. The film is fascinating to look at from a cinematography standpoint, both in panoramic scenes and interior sets.
There are a few important themes I noticed which deserve ongoing attention from a societal and/or pastoral perspective:
1. Is it ever okay to eavesdrop on citizens in order to curtail terrorism and rampant crime? As a corollary, at what point do we give up liberty in the hope of safety? And does that lessoning of liberty truly translate into a safer society? At what point, if any, do we lay down certain liberties for the greater good? Who decides the greater good? Who has access to the resultant information and thus controls it?
2. What causes a person to become evil in heart and deed? The actions mounted against them when they were vulnerable as children? The evil perpetrated against them which caused them to react negatively, rather than respond positively? This is a major theme in the movie. In the worldview of Gotham, we stand on the precipice of a knife’s blade between good and evil. A hero is a hero for a time, until he outlasts his status and becomes the villain. I found it interesting that in this worldview, evil seems to stem from the choices of others perpetrated on victims, who later became evil as a result. The Joker, Harvey Dent, others et al. At what point do we own up to the fact that evil is the result of choices we make? There is no overt religious worldview evident in the film, other than one woman making the roman catholic sign of the cross as she prepared for her possible death. However, the spiritual themes are pervasive, if unintended.
3. The Joker conducted a sociological experiment, one that provided some of the most densely populated acting nuance in the film. He rigged two larger steam ferries with explosives and drums carrying oil. One of the boats hauled convicted felons, murderers, violent men, thieves all. The other boat carried innocent citizens. Both boats were trying to escape the rampant violence for another part of the city. Both boats had a detonator device rigged to explode the opposite boat. They had until midnight to engage the detonator before the Joker would explode them both with his remote detonator. If one of them destroyed the other, he would spare them, or so he said. If not, then they both would die anyway. This scene is worth watching carefully as a means of examining ones own attitudes and assumptions. In the inmate boat there was much talk and even threats. Near the time of ultimate destruction for them all an enormous inmate, ostensibly a murderer, walked up to the guard commander and asked for the detonator, saying that he was ready and willing to do it and it could be blamed on him, since he was already an inmate. The commander, hands shaking, allowed him to take it. The prisoner threw the device out the window into the harbor. Who had greater character? This prisoner? Or the majority in the opposite boat who had argued and later voted to detonate the imnate vessel? Who was more evil? The convicted felons who chose not to kill the innocents or the innocents who voted to kill the felons, but lacked the courage to carry it out? What do you think and why?
4. Vigilantism. Batman is painted as a vigilante, quite a step away from respected business leader Bruce Wayne. It seems as if the movie recognizes the problems with vigilantism, but attempts to make us sympathetic to it, given the apparent impotence of authorities to combat crime, especially in cities where corruption and violence dovetail with the mob agendas. Is vigilantism wrong? Is self-defense wrong? Is intervening to protect an innocent wrong if it means hurting the perpetrator? At what point and to what extent is it acceptable, if at all, to use force in self-defense? What about defending your family? Your spouse and children? Those you love most dearly?
For these reasons and others I recommend The Dark Knight advisedly. If you do not have the stomach for dark themes and violence (again, should any of us like it?), then I suggesting passing on this one. If you are able to separate fiction from reality, knowing that the violence in this film employs the power of suggestion more than graphic details, then you should be fine.