There is plenty of garbage out there. Then there is your average, and finally there is the gems – the real quality stuff. C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman, Stephen Lawhead, George MacDonald, John Piper, Kyle Strobel – these men are authors who exemplify this sort of quality. But what about in film? One name that turns my head every time he associated with a project is Christopher Nolan (another is M. Night Shymalan, though The Happening was a complete disappointment). Nolan appeared out of nowhere in 1996 with the Following, built on a $6,000 budget. This was followed by Memento in 2000, a cult hit that secured him a Academy Award for best screenplay. He secured Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank to star in his Insomnia, a remake of a European film released in 2002. It wasn’t until he released Batman Begins that his name became one common for table banter. He followed this up with The Prestige and then most recently The Dark Knight – continuing the Batman saga1I have not seen all of Nolan’s films, as such I cannot recommend all of them. Additionally, his films are generally dark and some of his films (e.g. Memento) are gruesome and profane..
Today I’d like to talk about some of my interpretations of his most recent film – The Dark Knight. I think it has an amazing number of subtexts which are worth analysis. I’ll warn right off the get-go that I’ll be offering spoilers throughout in giving my analysis.
- The Joker (played amazingly by Heath Ledger) and his minions represent terrorists and radical islam2I am not suggesting that all or even the majority of Muslims are extremists, rather this is a minority – but a deadly minority nonetheless. It is worth reminding ourselves of the spotted histories of our own cultures and religious beliefs.. Alfred Pennyworth (Bruce Wayne’s butler) warns that some, for ideological reasons, simply cannot be reasoned with stating of an enemy he had once fought, “…he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
- Harvey Dent represents good men who have gone bad fighting unbelievable evil. How often do we hear of the soldier who kills innocent civilians after watching a fellow soldier mercilessly murdered or a woman ravaged? The point is that even good men can be tempted and fall when confronted with insurmountable evils. Not that this excuses the behavior, it simply helps us make sense of the unfathomable – how good people do such bad things.
- Batman – James Gordon, the Police Commissioner tells his son, “…he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now…and so we’ll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector…a dark knight.” In this Gordon recognizes the need for operations which are generally considered unethical and illegal in times of extreme distress. In this way Batman/Bruce Wayne represents some of our CIA/FBI/SpecOps who take the fall for necessary but illegitimate operations of our government3I am not defending all the actions perpetrated by our government, nor even potentially the majority of them. Our government has performed a disturbing number of atrocities and acts driven only by selfishness and greed throughout its history.. Again Alfred tells Batman that he must, “Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it. But that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.”
- The Mob – Representative of traditional opposition. The criminals themselves recognize that there is a difference in motivation between themselves and the terrorists. This is not to suggest that their deeds are less evil but that there motivation is less ideologically driven allowing for more compromise and reasoning.
- Rachel Dawes – The death of Rachel reminds us of the loss of our soldiers overseas – and sometimes of the loss of innocent lives. At some point, Alfred again as the voice of wisdom asks, “Didn’t you think before starting this some people might die?” We know the right path of action and yet oftentimes when we embark on this path we lose our resolve as the losses mount. What is right is determined no longer right when the cost mounts too high.
There are so many interesting messages within both films (though Batman Begins is of an entirely different tenor). I’d recommend them both as entertaining, realistic, and with valuable subtexts to be mined. At the same time I would warn that true to Nolan’s style they do not hedge away from evil and while maintaining PG-13 ratings are dark films not only in places but in their entire tenor.
And, of course, while I am extremely sad over Ledger’s death his portrayal of Joker in this film makes a fitting culmination to an extremely talented and versatile actor’s career.