Sunday, July 20, 2008

Here's Why So Serious

How to explain the oxymoron of THE DARK KNIGHT?

The hero must become an outcast in order best to serve his chosen community, while the villain is neither evil nor mad, merely free.

A psychological depth resonates throughout this film. All the characters get to be human, with flaws, foibles, and admirable qualities. All get to make life choices we can relate to.

Joker is getting the attention and perhaps rightfully so, not just because Mr. Ledger died in January of an accidental drug mix and pneumonia.

Heath Ledger's final performance as Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT is being hailed because he so perfectly captures our misery, our anger, and our madness at seeing through the hypocrisy of rules as civilization stumbles and society's controls and controllers enact draconian extremes to keep the reigns of power in their grip. His villain is not evil, and not even malicious. It just wants to clear away the lies and have some blunt truth for once.

His villainy is of a liberating nature, whereas Batman's heroism stands for control, even fascism.

Go figure. It’s all right there for you, if you can count that high while gasping in awe. Moral dilemmas, ethical toss-ups, and even the balance of action with inaction all strip away pretense. Poses won’t do suddenly. That's why an angry man fails and a prisoner and presumed criminal succeeds at one point: only the criminal can think far enough outside the box of imposed rules to do something both perfectly obvious and utterly right. Everyone else is stymied, and this is telling.

There is no room for the free individual anymore. Repent, Harlequin, said the Ticktockman, as Harlan Ellison once put it.

Ledger's Joker is all too sane. That's part of what makes him so scary. He has actually thought it all out and knows full well what he's doing and why, and he understands the rules and definitions he'll be breaking, and goes ahead anyway because to do anything else is to be untrue to himself.

He moves quickly sometimes, but mostly is still or posed, and warily predatory. It's an amazingly complex performance.

He simply is a free individual in a locked-down, fearful world of total control freakism. Which makes him a freak.

His clown makeup says it all: I'm dead to you, hence the whiteface, but I'm just a joke to you, because you've all surrendered already to the fascists. Now watch me burn.

He says at one point: "Everything burns."

Whether it wants to or not, he might have added.

And so THE DARK KNIGHT puts it, too. Lie to the citizens and hold secret meetings to decide how things will be? Spy on 30 million people to find one person labeled a terrorist? Violate rights to cut through red tape and even law? Torture to get information regardless how reliable it is?

Why so serious? Indeed, why such tight collective control? Because we fear the wild creature within each of us, the Free Individual, which is to say the one free from restraints and restrictions, rules and regulations, free from control by others.

Fear of someone doing what ever they want.

And the funny thing is, those at the top, in power, do exactly that, all in the name of protecting us from such people. All in the name of restoring order, which means control.

THE DARK KNIGHT, especially via Joker’s rational anarchy and reasoned chaos, lets us question all this and much more. It is simultaneously a very public and very private kind of movie. Part of it demands yelling and fists raised in strong feeling, but much of it insists upon silent reflection and some deep, hard thinking.

That's Ledger's legacy, a role allowing us all to hope for oblivion while ignoring the pain and courting a final, all-out confrontation with society's extremes.

At one point Joker mutters for Batman to hit him with a speeding motorcycle. He genuinely wants release from the misery of existence, and he knows only when they collide will they touch the essence of the yin-yang dilemma.

Because then light and dark is One. For however brief an instant, that touch, that merging of forces, is all that counts, and will obliterate all the lies and compromises, all the shortcomings and cheats, all the deceptions and hidden agendas that have brought it all to this.

The image of our world may well be a jackboot's heel being ground into a human face, but the spark of life, and the only moment of truth in our world, is when face meets face in equal confrontation at full speed.

Anything less is another loss.

Do we want to settle for letting our outcasts enforce our imprisonment, or do we want to break free and act on our own behalf to change the slaughter to laughter?

This movie elevates the super hero movie to serious art and it does so effortlessly, largely on the shoulders of an actor whose work is done. By all means see it on the big screen and come away changed.

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Susie Bright said...

Wow, I wanna go to the movies with YOU next time!

Gene Stewart said...

You're on, but we must choose wisely which movie, n'est-ce pas?