Sunday, July 20, 2008

THE DARK KNIGHT

Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Sir Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Director: Christopher Nolan
Runtime: 152 min.

        I believe in the Batman. I believe in Christopher Nolan. I believe in The Dark Knight.

        And, I’ve given up. I cannot, I simply cannot. It is impossible for someone like me to go ahead and have the gall to review something you just cannot stop marveling at. I will not attempt to rate it and de-glorify it by quantifying it. Forgive me this one time. You could read good reviews down at http://www.rottentomatoes.com/. Let me instead describe the experience of watching such an immense motion picture, the kind of which arrives once…maybe every decade would be a short duration, maybe twenty years is more like it. Consider this my humble homage to the film. And ignore it as the fanboy rant it is. Just do not ignore the fact though that this is one of the all-time great motion picture events. A verifiable pop culture phenomenon. A cinematic juggernaut. And worry not, there’re no spoilers below. And while we are here, let us go ahead and get done with the adjectives and ‘best’ this and ‘greatest’ that checklist, so that it wouldn’t hurt us later.

-> Greatest villain of all timeCheck. Anton Chigurh did hold the post for nearly half a year, but the Joker here is something else. That monster succeeded in merely eroding the belief for men in the world surrounding them. This one here destroys the very moral foundation upon which the same men base that belief. Pay attention to every line of his. There’s great meaning and a great method to all of them. It is one of the great written characters of our times.
-> One of the great performances of all time – Big bold Check. The late Heath Ledger has created something of a flawless masterpiece of mannerisms and chewy larger-than-life supervillain. It is a colossal performance, and it is built with great precision upon what seems like a million parts. You have to watch the film at least three times to even get a complete hold of that performance alone. So yes, IT IS THAT GOOD. Consider a moment where one of the crime bosses interrupts his sentence and calls him a freak. Ledger’s Joker is visibly distracted but still completes what he’s saying. And then he looks at the boss and hits them back with a statement that is much more verbally insulting than any usage of an insult like ‘freak’ can be. Ledger’s Joker is not insane; he’s so brilliant he looks insane. Jack Nicholson was visibly upset and was complaining as to why he wasn’t approached for the part. Mr. Nicholson, sir, for all your greatness, I would very much like this astounding phenomenal performance to be, among many other things, a tight slap on that smug notion of yours that your Joker was any good. Your Joker was so pathetic he squealed and screamed when he fell to his death. This here is the definitive version of the greatest villain of all time. It makes me immensely sad because there’s great tragedy when an artist isn’t there when his achievement receives such universal praise. I wish to God he was here to see all of this. May he rest in peace.
-> One of the best performance ever by an ensemble cast – Hands down, Check. Right up there with The Godfather, Goodfellas, Network and L.A. Confidential. Any other set of actors would have been stamped all over by Ledger’s achievement. Not these bunch, and they deliver equally brilliant turns. Eckhart is intense and forceful as Harvey Dent. Oldman, Caine and Freeman exude such immense class and virtue and then there’s that man, Christian Bale, who is the definitive version of the coolest, strongest and darkest hero of all time. Apologies, he’s more than a hero.
-> Greatest summer action blockbusterCheck. The film absorbs multiple genres, taking the spectacle of action, the morality of a noir tale, the gravity of a drama, and many more and creates something altogether different. A gold standard for movie-making the kind of which not seen in many a year.
-> Greatest superhero film – easy, Check. By the way, how about not using ‘superhero’ and trying to pin down this masterpiece. Not that it isn’t one. The brilliance of such films lay in using the goods of its genre and using them as a slingshot and breaking away from their confines and soaring into the realms only few films manage to touch. Frankly, using tags like Best superhero film feels like an insult, howsoever respectfully it may have been attributed.
-> Greatest sequel – Oh yeah, Check again.
-> Greatest film of this decade – Umm, for the time being Check.
-> Greatest chase sequence – No, I’ll still give that one to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. But this one has one which is as close as they can ever get to the Harley-monster truck extravaganza.
-> Best Picture of the Year – Be safe and confident, assume you’re the next great astrologer and say loudly, Check. I myself did, I predicted that this was going to be an explosion the sorts of which we have never seen, even before the picture was released and look where that got me. As if it was going to be anything else.
-> Exceeded my ridiculous expectations – poof, a big Check. It took me in, twisted me inside its plot so much that I forgot what I had expected and when it was all over, I felt embarrassed how low my expectations were.
-> Best picture ever, a friend of mine asked – Certainly not. And this was never going to be the best picture. Pictures of this sort never are. But like The Good the Bad and The Ugly and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, it’ll for always remain a cherished title in the all-time favorite list of many viewers. Needles to say, including mine. Right up there, in the top 5 I believe. And while I am writing here, the film has touched the IMDb Top 250 No.1 spot. I myself have given it an unabashed 10. It doesn’t mean it is the best film ever, it means how much love it is getting from fanboys and how solidly it lives up to the hype. This picture will spawn an entire generation of true lovers just like Terminator 2: Judgment Day did 17 years back.
-> Greatest day of my life – Ah, come on now. It is not that good. It comes close enough though, to make July 18th – the day when I experienced three back-to-back-to-back screenings of The Dark Knight and was still begging and thirsting for plenty more – go down as one of the most important days to feature in my autobiography with a whole chapter dedicated to it.

        I had never experienced anything like this at the movies. That was the first thought I had in mind when I walked out of the first screening, drenched by the film. The ending left me shattered beyond words. I was touched and I didn’t feel I had the energy in me to speak. I was satisfied I was all alone, because the ending affects you that way. It stirs a personal chord inside of you where you feel you would much rather be all by yourself. The theater was kind enough, especially in these times, to let the credits run the full course and I was the only one left sitting there as they rolled. And behind A Dark Knight played. I swelled like I had never swelled before at a movie.
        The film is as impeccably paced as any film I’ve known, and through the action and the engrossingly thick plot which just never leaves the hold on you, I had no idea how these characters were impressing themselves upon me. And believe me, it is as engrossing as No Country for Old Men was. It is that rare kind of film inside which you wouldn’t have time to think about anything else. Not your office, not the falling stocks. There’re have been astonished people around me wondering how the intermission arrived so soon on every one of the four occasions I have watched this film.
        But that isn’t where its true greatness lay. The mark of a great film, a great thriller, a great actioner, is when you walk outside not thinking of its plot or the spectacle of it, but instead feel touched by it’s the characters, and are left wondering about them. About the choices they have made. About the decisions they took. About how it isn’t much about good or evil, or hero or villain but much more. It is, in the end, what we do that defines us. The film puts a fascinating spin on that piece of wisdom from Batman Begins, and it goes – "You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." I always had a nagging fear at the back of my mind for quite some time, that the Joker might overshadow the Batman. Especially after hearing such ravings, and in hindsight so very deserving, of Ledger’s Joker. I was relieved the legend of Batman endures marvelously and touches such new heights.
        There haven’t been many comic book/superhero films that have actually been worthy of their source. Entertaining yes, but worthy very few. What makes the art of graphic novels flourish is simple – narrating a weighty morality tale. The Dark Knight understands that and it is a tsunami of moral themes and conundrums. It has a great story, and God bless the Nolan brothers and David S. Goyer for it. It works on so many levels. As a thriller, as an action film (and boy, is the chase scene something), as a crowd pleaser, as a crime drama, as a superhero film, and as something which can be quoted out of in a group. Such a rich story it works under the form of multiple parables. For instance, consider the obvious one. Batman – United States, The Joker – terrorism and Harvey ‘Two-Face’ Dent – the conscience at stake. But the thing with parables is that they’re like symbols. You strip them of their one meaning and they lose their existence. The Dark Knight has a story that is timeless, and at the same time being a popular film that raises questions regarding the present times. Raja Sen, in his own fanboy rant here, gives the film one of the best compliments I have come across – that the film unlike anything before, deserves a comic book miniseries inspired by it. What a wonderful thing to say. It is all about the choices. And the Joker is here to upset every choice made and make everyone doubt themselves.
        I had the better part of two hours on me until the third screening. And I wondered about The Joker – Batman arc. One, an agent of chaos, an absolute form of evil and anarchy who so magnificently disrupts and destroys the existing order. And the other, a selfless savior, not a guarding angel but a superhuman mortal who strives so devoutly in inspiring and uplifting it. And both are essentially considered freaks. The Batman knows it but doesn’t intend to acknowledge it. The Joker is hell bent on reminding him that he is an outcast in this world, and in his own way trying to corrupt him and buy off his soul. But the Joker wouldn’t want him to end, because then where will be his equal. Batman lives by his principles, he doesn’t lay a fatal hand even on the devil incarnate, and thus these two sides of the same coin of insanity have always been destined to fight each other trapped in this paradox of theirs. And on the edge of the coin lay their world.
        The arc between them is handled with as much resonance and gravity as I have ever seen. In films like Heat, the confrontation scenes are fantastic but they seem padded up. As an obligation. Here, it took me the third viewing to realize that the two scenes they converse are actually confrontational. They feel so much part of the overall narrative that is difficult to look beyond the entire experience as just a film. It feels serious. The entire film seems serious. They never overshadow the greater theme – the morality. And it is a testament to all the aspects of cinema performed so incredibly well – greatly etched characters, profoundly written words, powerhouse performances, and great directorial and narrative skills. The lock up sequence is a virtual hall of mirrors.
        The true superhero of the film though is that genius we all now know as Christopher Nolan. He summons grit at will, and stirs it up every now and then with a little poetry when he needs and gives us something we can watch and appreciate in different moods. Not all great films are capable of that. He has changed the face of the genre. Earlier, superhero films as well as summer action blockbusters were safe havens were we sat munching our popcorn knowing all will end well. Nolan has just jolted the entire structure and here we well and truly feel the dread that envelopes Gotham city. We’re swept inside of it. It is one of the film’s many great achievements. He loads the film with so much plot that is enough to fill a bloated trilogy in any different hands. And he never does stall the narration for the sake of style. There’s a nonchalant sense in him that feels so honest. Never does it seem he is out to parade the Batpod. It is just that they fee functional elements that happen to be so incredibly cool.
        Nolan has stated in numerous interviews that he wasn’t making this film keeping a third part in mind. He put everything he had into this. There’ll be third film, make no mistake. Some of the actors are contracted for a trilogy. But I wonder, even if Nolan directs the film, how can they top this one. I can’t imagine something better than this. Maybe, the Nolan brothers can.
        This film doesn’t deserve anything less than a nomination under Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Ledger, Eckhart, and/or Oldman), Best Editing and one or the other of those technical categories. For an action film as this, it is always necessary to choose between energy and clarity. This film, under Nolan and his collaborator in all his films Wally Pfister, strikes the exact balance. Considering batman Begins landed a nomination for Cinematography too, let us rope that category in as well.
        One of the most overused terms in film and literary criticism is the word ‘epic’. I have myself been guilty of using it rather lavishly. But I have come to realize now when the word deserves its usage. An epic, I feel, is anything after which everything else remarkably trivial. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King made me feel that, Lawrence of Arabia did, and there are others. There Will be Blood inspired me not to watch another film for five whole days. At the moment, I don’t have it in me to watch any thing else for what feels like a whole fortnight. I just want to be inside the magic of this great film.
        And as I drove back from the theatre to my home, in the night, I stuck my head outside like a mad dog. The Dark Knight score blared out of my car deck. It honestly felt, insane. For I just had the day of my life.

        I feel so happy.

Note: I feel inspired to write a thematic analysis of the film. But that would involve spoilers. And it would require me walk out of the shadows of my present state of awe-filled love. It’ll take a while.

3 comments:

anand said...

so finally i caught this masterpiece at the theatre. too late for a guy who prides his fav superhero being batman. too late for a guy who subscribes batman comics in India(mind u it was a long wait for it to begin in India). but wht the hell nothing can take this moment away frm me. if this movie brks the all time grossing record and usurps titanic's place i wud be the happiest person alive. can stand pussy movies being no.1.
tht apart this movie has reinforced my belief tht batman is and always will be my no.1 superhero of all time.
i have no words to express my gratitude to Nolan for creating this monster of a movie.
B4 this movie i always pictured Batman and Joker as the ones potrayed in the animated series. but now the Joker is without a doubt Heath ledger and batman is Bale. The Joker potrayal is by far the gr8est potrayal of a comic book villian. let me rephrase tht its the gr8est potrayal of any villian. he is the one nightmares r made of.
Like they say :When super villians want to scare each other they tell Joker stories

atanu said...

well,i m pretty much went teary eyed reading ur review of THE DARK KNIGHT.cause it reflected everything i felt about the movie myself and then some.i loved the way u wouldn't do the obligatory ratings for this one.loved it the way u put it into words.all i can is BRAVO,BRAVO for the incredible articulacy u'v expressed ur love for this GIANT of a cinema.with my fullest appreciation,THANK YOU for ur wonderful thoughts!...would love to read about ur thematic analysis of the movie as promised by u...are upto the task now?

man in the iron mask said...

Oh yes Atanu, I have discussed the film a lot.

Here are the two links you might enjoy-
http://satish-movieviews.blogspot.com/2008/09/dark-knight-perpetual-conversation-at.html


http://satish-movieviews.blogspot.com/2008/07/world-of-dark-knight.html

Thanks for the appreciation. I hope you love my essays. And more importantly you lose yourself in this masterpiece.