Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Spending an evening with the Dark Knight

I finally got to see Batman last night - in a half-full cinema that we could walk to.

It's quite an experience. I felt hungry at the end as if I'd done a pretty stiff workout! But I'm not entirely sure what I made of it - I think partly because you leave the cinema feeling slightly numb.

It is truly spectacular - some of the set piece scenes do really have you on the edge of your seat and out of breath - and the performances are all first rate.

There's been lots of talk about whether Heath Ledger deserves a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker. He is certainly chilling at times, playing the Joker as a bringer of chaos with no master plan whatsoever. There is a casual cruelty about him, an unrelenting darkness; he is a character with no redeeming features and there's no attempt to explain why he is as he is - it's as if director, Christopher Nolan, is suggesting that the Joker is just evil.

Part of the numbness I felt at the end, I think, was due to a slight raggedness in the story. I wonder if Ledger's death meant that Nolan couldn't do cuts and retakes to smooth the flow as he was editing. I felt that the movie needed tightening up - though if that had ratcheted up the tension, it might have made parts of it unbearable! But there were subplots and half-hinted story lines that could have been jettisoned with no loss of narrative integrity.

At its heart the film asks serious questions about terrorism and what lengths we are prepared to go to to defeat it. The Joker is repeatedly referred to as a terrorist rather than a criminal. Indeed, he is distanced from the criminal fraternity in Gotham by the simple fact that he is equally hated and feared by them as by the good citizens.

And in the midst of that exploration, we are forced to ask ourselves what is the darkness at the heart of the dark knight? Is defence of law and order and a certain way of life a reason to commit acts that might be seen as questionable? What do our actions in seeking to defeat terrorism tell us about what kind of society we are?

All these questions face us every time we open a newspaper but maybe we need a movie as well-made as this one to actually ask them.

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