Monday, August 18, 2008

DARK KNIGHT: Got the load of Heath Ledger!

“Wait ’til they get a load of me” - Jack Nicholson’s Joker in “Batman” - 1989

Wow, so those bags of money shown in the movie's opening bank heist scene, elaborately shot on IMAX, are nothing compared with the worldwide box-office haul "Dark Knight" will take from theaters. Mounted on a $185 mn budget, Warner’s Dark Knight already collected well over $470 mn in US alone. Writer-director Christopher Nolan is undoubtedly the White Knight for Warner. However, Heath Ledger contributed to some of the box-office pull for this somber-themed Batman sequel, pre release with his premature death and post release with his fleshed-out performance. Such is his mark on the movie that the first image Dark Knight vividly recalls from my memory is a shot of Ledger’s Joker with the pasty white face, sloppy, garish red lipstick and greasy, stringy green hair leaning out the window of a Gotham City police car with his hair streaming in the wind. He looks like a happy wet dog shaking off the wetness in the sun.

In the movie, Heath Ledger's psycho Joker says as much "I'm a dog chasing cars, I wouldn't know what to do with one of them if I caught it." He further tells Christian Bale's caped crusader "I don't want to kill you,". "You complete me!" This is the essence and USP of the very labyrinthine Dark Knight. Its not just about the customary victory of good over evil, but the actual war that needs to be fought to earn that victory. It is about the actual cost of that victory. The evil here is not driven by worldly ambitions, criminal motivations but is driven maniacally by the sheer desire to counter the good embodied by Batman. The Joker sees his existence as the necessary antithesis for the vigilante and his righteousness. The Batman protects order, the joker wants chaos. As Joker says, the Batman has rules to adhere to as a custodian of order. And so he provokes the Batman to cross the line with his devious, diabolical plots and creates moral complications for him. He is out to prove that nobility won't hold in a world of disorder and chaos.

But did we not see this villainy before? And so what is the big deal? The deal is that this is the superhero genre, which it itself has some constraints in story telling, given its vast ardent fan base which is pre-conditioned on action and adventure. For instance, Batman has been part of American pop culture for almost 70 years and he cant be shown without the customary big fights, chases, explosions and the over-scaled action extravaganza and be accepted by his devout fans. So Dark Knight provides all of these, in fact most of them shot grandly in the IMAX format. If it just stopped there, it would have been yet another pop-culture throwaway. But it ventures the extra mile and focuses on the thin red line separating the Batman and the Joker in their pursuit of each other and the cost of Batman pursuing justice without turning it into an exercise of his vengeance. This is best exemplified in the scene where Batman beats up the Joker in the police cell. That moment, Joker just won.
Although it does not quite answer, 'The Dark Knight' ponders well on what it takes for a superhero to not turn into a beast when he fights a beast. And that in itself is a great achievement considering that the villain here is not a super-villain with none of those fancy gadgets Batman has. The Joker is very much a mortal, complete with a knife instead of a gun! (Many must have completely overlooked this fact that to start with, the Joker-Batman war was not one between equals. Thanks to Ledger’s performance and the excellent author-backing his role got).

So, how did Dark Knight manage all this allegorical and psychological musings within the parameters of this genre? How could it do all the philosophical examination of why we need superheroes, and what do they mean? Well, I can think of two reasons. Firstly, the movie went longer, at 150 minutes. Secondly, it helped that this is the second in the series and that meant that the screenwriters could spend lesser time on character development and exposition and more time on the anatomy of Batman-Joker warfare.

Dark Knight is good conceptualization and imagination. This is further abetted by very good writing, casting, acting, and direction. This may very well be the pinnacle of this genre. It would be hard to imagine anything greater in conceptual scale, considering the limiting parameters of this genre. The aftertaste is definitely that of the Joker which may well, in all probability, fetch a posthumous Oscar for Ledger. Joker’s languid body language and slow cadence of speech reflects that of a pitiless psychopath who fears neither pain nor death. He revels in chaos and bloody anarchy. The slithery tongue and the sucking and the sloshing sound it makes, the occasional jerking of his body, all point to his own metal realm and its febrile madness. Or was Ledger fighting his own demons before his suicide!? I wonder if Ledger knew, while doing all this, that this would be one of his last movies. Such is the intensity he generates which we cant escape from, long after the credits roll down.


hariesh said...

Great Review ra Amar! Never thought there was so much to the movie than the usual joker-Batman face-off. True, a stand-out performance by ledger. Part of the reason i beleive the joker like personation earned ledger good performance reviews is his vieled face character. Like in so many Hollywood genres weird, unusual, scary character personation has earned similar praise. Gary oldman in Dracula, Robert De Niro in Frankenstien to name a few. Of course Ledger case is different. May be the actors step into the sublime zone with such personation.

aaaalu said...

Hi Amar...a real lovely one. The sad part is that I have not seen the movie yet. I, sure, would have understood this better. Shall read this again after having seen the movie.

Your diction is very very nice. Keep it up.

Ramesh Babu said...

Hey Dudes, for me it was one of the greatest performances by the so called Joker named Heath Ledger, True i enjoyed the movie a lot and i was very happy that i saw it on the first day, i usualy do it for shah rukh movie, but i really collected my dollars after watching the movie i mean its worth my dollars.. hahaha..

kodipelli said...

that is a great review amar.. i loved the movie too.. saw twice in theaters and liked it even more the second time.. i think i'll watch it few more times...

Amar said...

@ Hariesh & @ Ramesh

grt to see ur comments here ra. Interesting point from u Hariesh.

@ Vikram

Grt buddy to see u here. this is one of those rare movies which would warrant a second viewing because there were so many sub-plots its difficult we get everything in one viewing!

@ Adi sir,

grt to see u heer. i would to see u post on this once u watch this.

R Adarsh said...


I have one more observation to make.Though the director has been successfull in creating an atmosphere of enemities between 2 varying idealogies portrayed by two intense men ,I felt the movie couldnt cater to the kids much.

We all remember how as kids we loved and adored the superheroes' movies and waited with abated breath and anticipation.The characters of Posion IVY,Mr Freeze,Mr Double Face, The Riddler and such were held in such awe when we watched their antics.

The "MAN" in me was greatly touched with Heath's and Bales' acting but the "KID" in me just got lost.