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.


  1. When I saw it, there were these bunch of kids, well a large part of the younger audience really, who laughed like Arkham Patients every time the Joker said anything. They weren't laughing, you know, in a, you know, normal kind of way. Rather they laughed skiddishly, seemingly in favor of destruction. Maybe it was because school was out and they found a umm, sort of refuge, in a man wearing make-up, blowing things up. The flip side was that, well there was this, like, restless reverence in the moments were Bruce or Batman scored points. These movies are becoming mirrors pointed at the audience. And I think when a film maker does that, characterization can be lost or transfered in some regard.

  2. Great post! Your clarity on these topics is extremely helpful and insightful that's why I was hoping for a take on Wanted. The hype of the Dark Knight sadly took away the anticipation and importance of the release of Wanted. As you probably know it is based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar. Main plot is based on an order called the assassins, whose purpose is: Order out of chaos. Reminds you of Fight Club and Matrix, not only because of the mundane existence of the ultimate cubicle geek, Wesley Gibson, changing into an assassin who fulfill his destiny through his bloodline, having extraordinary abilities. He does this initiation through a women called Fox. To boot, great action, amazing adaptation of a comic book, one of the best soundtracks I have heard in years, in short it has all the elements of a cult classic. Maybe a review from you in the future?

  3. Interesting observations, Michael. This is semiotics in action and shows us all why we do what we do- you see a clown and think you should laugh but he's not doing anything funny. So are we being manipulated?

    I read the comic, Marita, but haven't seen the movie yet. I've seen three movies in the past few weeks and I think I've exhausted my movie budget- gods, they rape your wallet. I'll definitely check out the DVD.

  4. Ledger worked hard to give depth where there was none - hence people rooting for him against Gotham's quasi-fascistic world of glass and steel (and curfews?). Batman was more 'Golem' than he ever has been - there was a very 'Germanic' vibe to the whole movie - the Joker was like Rotwang, Dr. Mabuse and 'M' rolled into one.

    I think Frank Miller's influence on these movies is not too healthy, given his love of Ayn Rand and Mickey Spillane. Anyone poor, non-white, gay, liberal etc. end up almost subhuman in this, '300' and 'Sin City'...

  5. I haven't gotten a chance to try one using the Heath Ledger syncs I sent, but I tried my hand at it using an obscure comic I used to collect called "Star Brand". It is here:
    Sorry if it isn't so good (my first try at this). I like your current post here though. I think I collected and read everything, but Batman. The character never really interested me, but I enjoy the syncs that you point out. Keep up the good work, love your blog.

  6. When I first heard about it, I did find it rather strange that Maggie Gyllenhaal was in the movie, especially in light of Heath Legder's previous work with her brother. (I halfway expected a "throwaway" one-liner about breaking somebody's back, but it's probably better that there wasn't.)

    Here's another irony. While it isn't made (explicitly) clear in the movie, the Joker comes across as a much "queerer" character than Ennis Del Mar. Not knowing Ennis' story, you would probably think of him as a stereotypical strong, silent cowboy with a wife and family... who also likes men (or at least his friend Jack), but can't admit to his feelings. Now contrast that with the dolled-up, sexually ambiguous, lisping Joker who terrorizes an entire city. Gotham's a long way from Brokeback Mountain, but Ennis would probably wonder what the hell this guy was doing, and say to himself, "If only I had a couple minutes with this guy..."

    I've also thought of the Joker as a double for James Gordon via Gary Oldman. Ledger based his portrayal of the Joker on Sid Vicious, whom Oldman played in "Sid and Nancy." Ledger also got inspiration from Alex from the character Alex in "A Clockwork Orange." Alex gets "sharpened up" by listening to Beethoven, whom Oldman played in "Immortal Beloved."

    Coincidence? I'd like to think so, but I wonder...


  7. I don't know what Ledger was talking about- I don't a shred of Sid in the Joker.

    It's interesting to note that Nolan's Joker isn't much different than Schumacher's Riddler. It's as if the Dark Knight is a remake of Batman Forever, Two-Face and everything. I haven't seen Brokeback, but I take your point that the film is actually about bisexuality, which is kind of ironic.

  8. Geez, Ledger looks like he's about to crawl out of his skin in that interview. It's a shame someone didn't intervene earlier. I'm reminded of Anthony Hopkins needing therapy after playing Hannibal Lecter.

    I have yet to see the movie (it's been really hard for me to suspend my disbelief for longer than fifteen minutes in nearly any film anymore), but have to agree completely on the Frank Miller-esque "Teutonic Knights vs. Sexual Deviants, Assorted Freaks and the Darkies" theme from the previous one. Danny Boyle's Scarecrow was incredibly effeminate and effete, compared to Bale's tortured-soul frat boy. And what little I've seen of Ledger's character, well, it doesn't strike me as "gay" in the sense of "homosexual" but instead a schoolyard taunt: you're "gay" because you're different.

    That, but how could Iron Man be good? The movie is basically about Dick Cheney in an indestructible armor suit--I don't need my nightmarish reality to get sold to me as entertainment!

    Wow, I've said nothing relevant. X-)

  9. Maybe you should see it before you comment, then- IM is very much a critique of Cheneyism...

  10. I think the dorks in Hollywood forgot how to make good movies. Their "magic" is unimpressive. I don't know why so much time is spent on looking into these movies for little masonic details when it's full of all this bullshit dialogue and bloated seriousness. Maybe I'd watch Hellboy2 because it looks a little more devious, but come on with all the syncwink-ing and do something for the self, and stop picking up the bread crumbs of these rich shitfucks as they perform their little fantasies. Do not be a part of their farces...

  11. I noticed interesting bee-hive symbology linked to the joker.

    In the trailer pause at 9 seconds and lo and behold the pattern on his shirt: hexagons!! :)

  12. Superb post Chris! I guess you had to make allowancesandget round to the synchromystic circus of analysing "The Dark Knight". Long been a reader of Frank Miller's output I have been wondering how this movie would turn out, considering the reports I had heard about the mining of "The Dark Knight Returns" for this film. Unfortunately I haven't watched it yet, I have been turned off by popular culture output quiet significantly lately, but I'll get round to seeing the movie.
    I always wanted to see some sort of complete big screen adaption of Miller's (truly) seminal Batman graphic novel, but I know that this is a lost dream now.
    Also, if you are considering dispatching the use of the term "Synchromystic", will you coin a new term for the direction you're taking, or merely leave such compartmental tags behind, and just be "The Secret Sun"?

  13. Did anyone catch Glen Beck this morning on CNN, where he talked about how the lightbulb over his head flickered, and he figured out that there were parallels between "The Dark Knight" and Dubya's "War on Terror?" I thought, "Oh, really?" I figured it out when I saw it, even if the parallels between real-life and the film aren't exact.

    Of course, Beck's deconstruction wasn't terribly nuanced; more like "rah rah Batman/Dubya/frat boy Bruce Wayne." He probably didn't even notice the clone of himself played by Anthony Michael Hall.


  14. Hi Chris, a thought provoking post that provoked me. I quote you extensively - thanks for the inspiration.

    Cheers, Michael

  15. how about mythosynchronism, instead?