Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight belongs to Aaron Eckhart [SPOILER-FILLED discussion]


The Dark Knight is Harvey Dent's movie.

We can ballyhoo about the magnificence of the late Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker. We can continue to heap praises on Christian Bale being the best Batman-slash-Bruce Wayne since Michael Keaton. Neither of these actions would be inappropriate. But in watching The Dark Knight to its conclusion, eyes glued to action, ass on edge of seat, mouth slightly agape, it became startlingly clear that Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent -- briefly known as Two Face -- was the the big message, the key idea, behind this film.

It all starts with what is actually the bottom of Gotham City's food chain. Joe Chill was part of the lowest of the low, a mere mugger partially created by Gotham's depression. In murdering Bruce Wayne's parents, he was partially responsible for the savage vigilante -- Batman -- that the young heir would soon become. In Batman's crusade to stamp out crime, however, he unwittingly unleashes the fury of the psychotic -- no -- bat-shit insane Joker who sneers, "[Gotham] deserves a better class of criminal." Alfred makes this clear as Wayne contends that the mob -- in enlisting The Joker's help -- crossed the line: "You crossed the line first, sir. You hammered them. And in their desperation they turned to a man they didn't fully understand." This is no less than the escalation -- the arms race -- that Jim Gordon spoke of at the conclusion of Batman Begins. "We start carrying semiautomatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor-piercing rounds." And so it follows: Batman assails crime with destructive resolve, and crime turns to The Joker.

Enter the hero -- the "White Knight" -- whom Wayne, whom Batman, contends is the key to Gotham's ascension from its criminal rubble. Harvey Dent, District Attorney, is a bold figure who can put guilty men behind bars without breaking laws and disrupting order. He doesn't fear an assassin's bullet, and he's determined to bring the dawn -- "It's always darkest before the dawn" he implores his desperate, angry citizens to realize -- to a city that's been mired in darkness.

It's Dent, not the imposter Batmen who put on hockey pads and try to play vigilante along with their inspiration, who represents Bruce Wayne's original goal when he donned the mask. Wayne's father, Thomas Wayne, "believed his example could inspire the wealthy of Gotham to save their city." And yes, Wayne believes that as a man he can't do the same as his father did, hence his need for the Batman persona -- but in Dent, perhaps he has actually found the man to do this. We even see him contemplating the retirement of the bat suit. Such is his confidence in the D.A.

Dent foreshadows his own demise, however, when he claims that, "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." And in his own demise, we see how very little hope Gotham City has, and -- reminiscent of Jack Bauer's (of TV's 24) tragic existence -- how wretched Batman's life must continue to be in order for there to be some modicum of decency and order. Harvey Dent, after all, is only a man. He's not a symbol, and as such he is not, as Wayne put it in Batman Begins, "incorruptible."

The vile waste that is The Joker succeeds in corrupting Dent, taking away the love of his life (and coincidentally of Batman's life), indirectly burning the left half of his face (is it coincidence that the burnt flesh leans Lucifer's way?) and sending the once pure man, Gotham's only law-abiding hope, into a vengeful fit of rage. In becoming Two Face, in seeing his soul corrupted and destroyed, Harvey Dent represents the singular driving idea behind Gotham City and The Dark Knight (both the film and the character): the depressing thought that in light of the progress and the good that is being done, everything is destined to be hopelessly torn to absolute shit. (See what I mean by Jack Bauer?) From Chill to Batman to The Joker, the lowest of the low in Gotham City ultimately creates and destroys the monster that is Two Face -- in effect, Gotham City has just swallowed its own hope for a brighter future.

The only White Knight Gotham had left was snuffed out without mercy, and Dent's apparent death came too late for him to avoid becoming the villain he foreshadowed. It's this rise and fall of a true hero -- this descent into madness -- that most powerfully symbolizes Gotham City's everlasting struggle, and it's his tragedy that simultaneously emphasizes Batman's own personal tragedy to us. Wayne's desire to hang up the mask was fueled by the possibility that Dent could lead the crusade, and subsequently the hope that Rachel Dawes would return to his loving arms. In one fell swoop, these two flickering lights are both eradicated, and Batman's only hope for a normal life is just... plain... gone. Worse, Batman must take the fall for Dent's crimes in order to keep any glimmer of hope alive; what would Gotham think if it found that its White Knight bowed to The Joker's level? From nadir to apogee and back to nadir: The stories of Dent, Wayne and Gotham City are perfect mirror images of each other, with Dent's metamorphosis into Two Face -- so poignant, so condensed -- the most tangible and evident tragedies of them all.

If you want to understand the misery and despair of the film The Dark Knight, all you need do is follow Harvey Dent. After all, it's his movie.


AxxesS said...

Hey fucker, it's Adrian.

I'm only calling you "fucker" here because I can say the fuck word here if I want to. You're not really "fucker" to me, lol.


So yeah, Dark Knight. I freakin' ass loved it too man. When it was over, I remember thinking, "you see, this is how you integrate multiple villains," since Spider-Man 3 was so horrible at it.

I also recall mentally praising the writing. "How about a magic's GONE!" The flick had a way of being alarming, gruesome, genuinely hilarious, and then evocotive again and again and again. You can get me so far with action and special effects, but it's the writing that really gets me o... whooo!

Forgive me for "OMGJOKER"-ing here, but dude... that was THE Joker. You're absolutely right that it would be a shame for people to overlook the brilliance of Dent (in terms of writing and delivery), so I'm happy you pointed it out so well. The movie was about so much more than that un-fucking-believable Joker, and was stellar in so many other ways. The entire cast was shit-hot through and through. How Heath managed to just... DO that, in light of all that brilliance, though. *sigh* RIP. I was a fan long before.

Very good review, homie. I got a little aggravated with some of MetaCritic's lower reviews that dinged the flick for stretching a bit (which it did, no doubt), but fuck me runnin'... I would have sat there for two more hours. There was just so much to love.

MrCHUPON said...

Fuck a MetaCritic, you know? :) You gonna start a blog up on this dealie?

EleFlameMax said...

Your analysis was great, and helped me flesh out some of the thoughts I was having. I realized just how much of a sequel this was to Batman Begins. That whole, "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." philosophy reminded me of what Ras Al Ghul says to Bruce in Batman Begins: "We sacked Rome, (blah blah more examples of historic cities being sacked), and now we'll do the same to Gotham. It has corrupted itself, and is beyond saving. We're just there to restore the balance." Well, something along those lines. Interesting enough, I went through an early draft of Batman Begins written only by David Goyer, and it didn't have that line. Ah-ha! Christopher Nolan must've added that bit.