Blog Directory CineVerse: The "Knight" is darkest just before the dawn

The "Knight" is darkest just before the dawn

Friday, August 2, 2019

Often, the middle chapter of a movie trilogy is the darkest, taking audiences to grim, ominous and dreary places where the characters they fell in love with in the first installment are at greater risk in a more dangerous environment. This tonal shift is evident in middle chapters of memorable genre film series; consider "The Empire Strikes Back," "Godfather Part II," "The Two Towers," "Back to the Future Part II," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and "Terminator 2: Judgement Day." And it's certainly true in "The Dark Knight," Christopher Nolan's follow-up to "Batman Begins" and predecessor to "The Dark Knight Rises." There's a heck of a lot going on in this picture beyond the non-stop action. CineVerse took a trip down to the Batcave last night to try to unravel some of the mysteries behind the 2008 blockbuster. Here's what we arrived at:

How did The Dark Knight change expectations for what a superhero action movie can be?

  • The film adopts a dark, pessimistic, and even tragic tone that can make viewers feel uneasy and uncertain. Typically, superhero films follow a standard pattern: good conquers evil, with some serious challenges and sacrifices along the way. Here, although Batman survives, some of his friends do not, and deep moral questions are asked about good and evil, morality, and the unpredictable nature of human beings. This is a dangerous world our characters inhabit, and anything seems possible, even an unhappy ending.
  • The movie asks deeper existential questions about identity, whether Batman is the good guy or bad guy in his own tale, if redemption is possible, how to live with the consequences of your decisions, and when it’s appropriate to take one for the team and play the martyr.
  • This Joker, as personified by Health Ledger, is a complete reinvention of the character, one who seems to have no decided purpose or ambition other than to sow discord and chaos in a random fashion and to present moral quandaries for his enemies. This Joker is not a cartoonish imp with funny lines or scenery-chewing dialogue like the one played by Jack Nicholson or Caesar Romero.
  • The screenplay and characters are quite complex for a film about a comic book hero. The main plot, subplots, twists, and character arcs are not what you’d expect from a Batman movie.
  • The fights, chases, explosions, weapons, and derring-do do not overshadow the main story or its characters. But when there is action, it’s a cut above the ordinary, thanks to solid direction and top-notch special effects.

Themes examined in The Dark Knight

  • Dual identities: Bruce Wayne and Batman, Harvey Dent and Two-Face, the Joker and the abused boy who became him.
  • Becoming more mask than man: The man behind the mask is more Batman than Bruce Wayne, and the death of Rachel makes it easier for him to choose what he believes is his real identity—that of Batman. By the end of the film, we come to believe, as does Bruce, that being Bruce Wayne is more akin to wearing a mask.
  • Order vs. chaos: Batman strives to preserve the former; the Jokes is an agent of the latter.
  • Morality vs. random chance. Batman personifies the former; Two-Face stands for the latter. “The only morality in a cruel world is chance,” he says. Recall, also, how the Joker says “people are only as good as the world allows them to be.”
  • The power of symbols: Bruce and the superhero he embodies are fallible, mortal and corruptible. But the idea and symbol of Batman as, ideally, a force for good, is more powerful. Likewise, Harvey Dent the man is imperfect and, ultimately, flawed; but the white knight district attorney he represented stood as a powerful agent of justice and hope.
  • The dark and unpredictable nature of human beings. The Joker stands as an impulsive, erratic, and capricious agent of evil; it’s virtually impossible to guess his next move. Many also didn’t see Dent’s change of nature coming—his transformation from do-gooder to villain. And the Joker forces two boatloads of citizens to choose whether to be martyrs or survivors, forcing everyday people to make difficult moral decisions and confront dark sides to their natures.
  • Making sacrifices and reaping the consequences of your choices.

Other similar films

  • Batman and Batman Returns by Tim Burton
  • James Bond films, especially Skyfall
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
  • War for the Planet of the Apes

Oher films directed by Christopher Nolan

  • Memento
  • Insomnia
  • Batman Begins
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Inception
  • Interstellar
  • Dunkirk

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