Monday, August 04, 2008

The Obligatory Dark Knight Post

UPDATE: Dark Knight co-star Morgan Freeman in serious condition in a Memphis hospital following an automobile accident.

(SPOILER WARNING: if you haven't seen this film yet... what the hell are you waiting for? I thought I was bad!)

Well, I finally saw it. After all the hype, after all the analysis, after all of the speculation, what's left is a technically-impressive, entertaining summer film that has been hyped, praised and speculated-upon far beyond what is actually on the screen deserves. I did like it a lot better than Batman Begins, primarily because there was a lot more action in this one. But I didn't like it nearly as much as Iron Man (when the hype fades, I think Iron Man will be seen as the superhero triumph of 2008) and I actually liked it a bit less than the new Hulk movie.

And I must say, I was much more excited by the Watchmen trailer (which is saying a lot coming from a guy who was a huge Batman fan long before it was hip, and not that big a fan of the Watchmen graphic novel). Why? Because there isn't a single character in The Dark Knight I found remotely believable. For a film that tries so hard to be over-serious, there really should have been more effort put into characterization.

Worse still, everyone acts with their sphincters clenched in this film, which I blame on Nolan. I think he's a very, very talented guy (Memento is one of my all-time favorite films), but his films are completely humorless. And I can't look at Bruce Wayne without seeing Patrick Bateman. I just can't. Which makes me all the less sympathetic to him.

I'd wager they spent a lot more than the published budget for this film, and you can see every penny of it onscreen. But huge stretches of it were all too downbeat and talky for me. And you really shouldn't be so damn earnest when you have a guy running around in a batsuit in Gotham-frickin'-City, of all places.

But all of that is pretty easy to forgive once the action starts. Even more so than Nolan's first crack at Bats, the action scenes here were pretty damn breath-taking; brilliantly choreographed and staged. I'd go so far to say that we might be seeing the best translation of comic book violence ever put onscreen. The Joker exudes a genuine air of menace and there are plenty of white-knuckled moments of real jeopardy in this film. Though this is probably my favorite film in the entire franchise so far, I'd still pick any season of Batman: The Animated Series over it if I could only have one Batman selection in my library. It's too bad Paul Dini and Bruce Timm were never asked to consult on these films.

Of course, a huge reason this film has been so overhyped is because of Heath Ledger's tragic overdose, which we've all studied in depth in the Synchrosphere. First off, there's no way this is an Oscar-worthy performance. This is essentially a very well-rendered cartoon character. We never get any sense of who this character is or what drives him. The Joker's gleeful, genocidal nihilism is reminscent of Frank Miller's Dark Knight graphic novel, which the Nolan Brothers lift bits and pieces of for their script.

As with the villains in the first Sin City series, Miller's mincing, effeminate Joker is evil precisely because of his sexuality (Miller's work could keep an entire GLAAD office busy if anyone outside of geekdom bothered to read it). By contrast, Alan Moore's Joker in The Killing Joke was driven to psychosis after a botched heist following the death of his wife and child. The Nolans' Joker is a cross-dresser who seems as romantically obsessed with Batman as Miller's version, going so far to tell Batman, "you complete me." Both Jokers seem to engage in mass murder as some weird form of foreplay with Batman.

The Joker is so emotionally involved with Batman that he prevents his "outing" on TV by blowing up a hospital. The fact that Ennis Del Mar is the Joker and that Maggie Gyllenhaal (sister of Ledger's Brokeback Mountain co-star) plays one of the Joker's victims might be telling us something about the character not made explicit in the script. An understanding of symbolic casting is always an important weapon in your semiotic arsenal. (Note: even with the recasting, I still thought the Rachel Dawes character is superfluous. Which is very interesting in and of itself.)

If you've seen Dark Knight already, see if this strikes any familiar chords

There were lots of little Easter eggs for the Synchromystic crowd (all 38 or so of us). The bus the Joker uses to make his first getaway is marked "District 22". This calls to mind the Fool trump of the Tarot (the predecessor of the Joker card in modern playing decks) which is numbered as 22 in esoteric circles. The Joker's apartment is 1502 and 15+0+2=17. Joker's previously mentioned cross-dressing gives us the requisite ritual androgyny elements. I thought it was pretty funny that Aaron Eckhart's character is prosecuting a guy named Maroni, seeing that Eckhart is a Mormon. The coin his character is constantly flipping in emblazoned with the goddess Columbia (aka Ishtar aka Semiramis, etc). Two of the illuminated pyramids we looked at recently make appearances- the one in Hong Kong and the one in Chicago- in pivotal sequences in the film.

As to metatext, the Templar symbology we recently looked at weaves in and out of the plotline. It's interesting to note that the Joker blows up a hospital to preserve Batman's secret identity. The Knights Hospitaller were the Templars' primary rivals. The terrorism/9-11 subtext assigned to the Joker seems to suggest that terrorism is merely chaos for chaos' sake and not the deliberate tool of a political and/or religious agenda. We also are meant to see terrorism as wholly alien, and not part of an assymetrical struggle between competing interest groups, which ordinary people find themselves in the crossfire of.

But if the Joker is meant to be a neo-Assassin, then Batman is by implication a new Templar. So is his sacrifice- to be disgraced to protect Two-Face's reputation- meant as an analogy to the Templars' own disgrace in the eyes of the public? Interesting that both Batman and Two-Face represent duality but the Joker represents singularity. He has no other identity other than as an agent of death and chaos. Not something the Ausur® voters will be drooling over.

All of the mob money being moved to China was a clever commentary on how economic power is being systematically moved from America and the the West in a far-eastward direction.

In conclusion, my response to the film made me realize how much we invest in our cultural icons (though the insta-mourning ritual we see whenever a young celebrity dies always irritates me) and how we make connections of our own and invest meaning into art that may not be inherent in the text itself. I think that's a good thing. Synchromysticism, or whatever you want to call it (and I'm getting ready to not use that term anymore), makes art interactive.

Part of the expansion of consciousness is becoming aware of connections that are not obvious to the oblivious masses, and hopefully, making connections of your own with the kind of art you gravitate towards. There's a reason you are drawn to one film and not another, even past mundane reasons of taste. And by exploring why that is so, I think you can understand yourself and your relationship to your environment. And hopefully, use that knowledge to make things happen.

Note: if any of you have worked on the Heath Ledger syncs I sent, please remind us with links in the comments section.