The Dark Knight

How often does Hollywood get it right?

Having paid to see movies this year I’m now ashamed to confess I saw even in previews, as well as some that I held in desperately high hopes only to be saddened by the lack of heart/ stupid story/ flat-lined characters/ idiotic excess of gimmees (the gimmee is, you know, the ONE thing for which you’ll willingly suspend disbelief, which dies the instant it becomes TWO things for which you must suspend disbelief, and is diced into a thousand tiny bits, cooked on a barbecue, fed to the neighbor’s dog, and recycled coming out the other end to be spread on toast when it becomes a DOZEN gimmees—Indy I’m looking at YOU on this one), I was about to say that Hollywood poisons everything it touches.

So who made The Dark Knight, where did they hide while they made it, and how did they keep their masterpiece away from the idiots responsible for Jar-Jar Binks, anything starring Mike Meyers or Adam Sandler, the skip-the-movie-buy-the-action-figure Hulk, and scenes starring aliens, shaky cameras, and Central Park?

It’s as if… as if… as if someone actually read Frank Miller’s brilliant The Dark Knight, and not only read it, but GOT it, and not only GOT it, but then transferred the heart and the soul from those drawn pages to the screen. And then beat all corporate-bean-counting-soulless-hack movie execs with baseball bats repeatedly and brutally until they left their sticky “put-a-cute-action-figure-in-for-the-kiddies” mitts off.

It’s brilliant. Heart, soul, meaning, characters, thought, emotion, philosophy. No one is dumbed down, no one is softened, and none of the rough edges have been sanded off to make it palatable or inoffensive to those easily offended. We are who we choose to be, The Dark Knight says, and we must claim both our victories and our failures. Viktor Frankl showed us that circumstances do not excuses make, that in the end we decide not what happens to us but who we are when it’s done. The Dark Knight has more special effects, but presents the same truth.

And it left me with a line seared into my mind. “Sometimes, people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”

Sometimes they do. So go. See it.

Once in almost never, Hollywood gets one right.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

19 comments… add one
  • learn chinese Sep 18, 2010 @ 7:57

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  • DaltonLynne Aug 2, 2008 @ 1:30

    I agree with your comments about TDK . . . it was so true to the Batman comic, no wonder it’s awesome.

    Definitely worth watching on the big screen. In fact, if you don’t, it’s almost like doing the film a disservice. Yeah. That’s how good it is.

  • kcramer Jul 30, 2008 @ 13:47

    The darkness is one of the things I loved about The Dark Knight. That’s part of what made it feel so much more real than the campy superhero movies we usually encounter. It was dark and gritty and didn’t shy away from anything, yet at the same time the filmmakers managed to balance the subtlety of the underlying themes.

    Christopher Nolan definitely has a knack for this sort of storytelling. Even “Batman Begins” was vastly superior to the previous Batman movies and to most of the other superhero movies of the past two decades, and I think it’s because Nolan isn’t afraid to put the darker side of things on display.

    I enjoyed Iron Man as well but, as Holly mentioned, that film had a message that was hammered home instead of layered into each scene in a less blatant way. Iron Man was a fun movie but it didn’t impact me the same way The Dark Knight did. The Dark Knight really made me *feel* the story, feel the characters, and it kept me thinking long after I’d left the theater.

  • Rick Jul 26, 2008 @ 0:55

    Saw it the day after I read this, and I was not disappointed. The first Batman left me a little disinterested, but this one was absolutely fantastic. Everything you say, Holly, is spot on.

    And… damn. It’s probably the darkest movie I’ve seen in about ten years. It was great, but SERIOUSLY twisted.

  • Jess Jul 23, 2008 @ 7:50

    re: the asylum patron: I’ve heard so many conflicting accounts on if that was supposed to be Scarecrow or not! I’ve finally decided no – doesn’t Batman give the guy’s name, which is clearly not Jonathan Crane? But anyway,

    I loved the pencil thing too. I just had hoped it wasn’t the first thing quoted at me all the time. (The original tagline, “Why so serious?” is better, I think.)

    Also *cringes* at the “Don’t want to offend the Americans” bit. Uhm, got no words for that. I can see the Icon thing but really, I don’t care who makes my movie as long as they make it well.

  • vanity Jul 21, 2008 @ 21:19

    Regarding the pencil: I was shocked and amused at the same time, so it was a very memorable moment. The other stuff that the joker did was interesting as well, but that first bit came a little bit out of the blue and that’s why it stuck with me.

    Scarecrow – what wide eyed asylum patron look? The scarecrow only appeared in the beginning, the wide eyed asylum patron near the end was just a random guy from Arkham.

    Oh and I found this youtube comment accurate (and funny) as well:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faPb6nRlpFk

  • Mr Roberts Jul 21, 2008 @ 20:59

    If you check out the main people behind the movie you’ll see that there is a very strong British connection including Chris Nolan who is half British.

    hhyates got it with right with the comment “not a product of Hollywood” which can be said not just about the director but by a handful of people involved in the films making.

    I was watching a report on the movie here in the UK where the large Brit connection was obviously celebrated. Apparently though this is information that is practically skipped over by Warner Bros in the states because, and I quote ” we don’t want to offend the Americans”. I don’t get this and wonder why/if this would be the case. Is it because Batman is an American icon and only Americans should be able to do it Justice or am I way off par and it’s a load of rubbish.

    Just curious.

  • Irtanu Jul 21, 2008 @ 20:30

    I saw it again last night. Better the second time, I was able to truly revel in Mr. Ledger’s acting, and the storyline and dialogue itself. Brilliant film. Perhaps my favorite film of all time.

    And don’t diss the pencil joke scene. That was fucking nuts and so original (so far as I know).

    I also love Joker when he mutters to himself:

    “No, I’m not . . .

    “I’m not crazy.”

    But the highlight of the acting, for me, had to be in the hospital scene. Simply amazing. And very disturbing.

  • hhyates Jul 21, 2008 @ 13:18

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I did look up how it went over the weekend. I loved the first movie.
    Check out “Batman director takes Hollywood by storm.” (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN2136753620080721)
    Director Christopher Nolan might have been able to skip the typical Hollywood production because “he’s not a product of Hollywood.”
    It looks like this “auter” really succeeded with TDK.

  • hollylisle Jul 21, 2008 @ 10:48

    Iron Man vs. Dark Knight. I liked Iron Man. Enough to see it a few times (unlike anything else prior to Dark Night except for Kung Fu Panda). But Iron Man did not transcend its genre. It was a very good superhero movie.

    Dark Knight transcended its genre. And it transcended its medium. Films generally suffer in terms of being meaningful without being “message-y”, simply because of space limitations. Asking a movie to be as deep and rich an experience as a book is like asking a dog to play the piano like a classical pianist. He has no thumbs, man.

    Dark Knight, which stands toe to toe with Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning and does not blink, proves that not only can some dogs play the piano—they can perform Beethoven and never miss a note.

    And yes, I know I’m going to take some heat for daring to suggest that a superhero movie could have anything as deep or important in it as Man’s Search For Meaning.

    Before you lambaste me, watch the movie a second time, ignore the stupid pencil joke (yeah, it was cute, yeah, I laughed, but if that was what you took away, you missed the movie), and actually look at the movie’s theme. What are the characters saying? What are they doing? How are they changed? And WHY?

  • Jess Jul 21, 2008 @ 8:07

    Holly – do you think it’s any surprise that the same made wrote, directed and produced the film? THAT’s how he kept it away from the idiots. (Also not a surprise, same guy who started with Momento.)

    I completely agree with everything you and fiddler said. a Must See.

    I thought Rachel Dawes was the weak link, and given how her story line works, that didn’t lead to disappointment. *G*

    (But WHAT is with everyone taking away just the pencil joke?? Everybody’s quoting that line as though it’s the funniest thing in the movie! The Joker had way better material – and much of it wasn’t funny.)

    My concern is the villain in the next movie. There were hints, but

    (SPOILERS)

    the Joker was the ace in the hole since he’s arrested but not dead, like Two-Face. The problem, of course, is Heath Ledger’s death — they could still use the Joker, but it wouldn’t be the same given his character’s importance. He’s always been seen as Batman’s archnemesis, the rest aren’t as “bad”.

    (END SPOILERS)

    And am I the only one who didn’t even RECOGNIZE The Scarecrow’s appearances? I think Cillian Muprhy gained some weight, and that wide-eyed asylum-patron look did not help identification any. XD

  • celtfiddler Jul 21, 2008 @ 1:24

    Iron Man was a great romp — well worth seeing in the theater. It was a decent movie, with credible acting all the way around, and a surprisingly good performance from Robert Downey, Jr. It was, however, a “message” film; worse still, a ham-fisted, unsubtle message film. It was *not*, in any sense, the best movie I’ve seen this year.

    The Dark Knight, on the other hand, is a masterpiece — a tour de force of cinematic storytelling that utterly transcends the perceived limitations of its source material.

    Yes, it’s dark — how could it not be? Even if no one had been harmed on-screen in the movie, even if the story could somehow have been told with *no* overt violence, no blood and guts or explosions or property damage *at all*, Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker alone would make this film darker than anything touched on in Iron Man.

    The darkness of this film is not gratuitous; it is nowhere grim or violent for the sake of shock alone. It is, instead, the inevitable result of the in-depth study of three tormented characters, three men whose lives are infused with darkness, and who each deal with the shadows that have fallen across their lives in their own ways. It is the depth of these characters, and the brilliant performances of the actors who inhabited these roles, that makes this the best film I’ve seen this year, and far and away the best film based on source material from comics that I’ve *ever* seen.

  • peggy Jul 20, 2008 @ 21:56

    @Holly – I know you know how to spell it. I’m just anal. 😉

    @Vanity – IMO, THE DARK KNIGHT dethroned IRON MAN as the best movie of the summer. Totally different in tone, so comparisons are difficult, but still. I’ve seen IRON MAN five times in the theater; I suspect I’ll see TDK at least as many.

  • vanity Jul 20, 2008 @ 20:50

    While I liked the movie, it was a bit too dark for my taste (although the joker’s magic trick with that pencil was brilliant, hehe).

    The movie of the year, which stood up to the “see on two consecutive days” test, to me still is “Iron Man”.

    But yeah, The Dark Knight certainly is worth seeing.

  • Cuyler Jul 20, 2008 @ 18:54

    I loved it. I saw it last night. I felt something watching that movie that I don’t feel often watching movies. It struck a cord with me about how our society is, and I can’t even explain it. A great movie, the best so far this year, and possibly the best from previous years. Your right, hollywood got it right for once.

  • Irtanu Jul 20, 2008 @ 17:07

    This was a perfect review. I don’t often comment, but this film was reaffirmed some faith in Hollywood for me. It actually brought me to tears walking out of the theater realizing that Mr. Ledger would not be back to reprise his role. Such a sad ending to such an incredible actor.

  • hollylisle Jul 20, 2008 @ 16:29

    In re: the nitpick. Since I had it spelled correctly 4 out of 5 times in the post originally, I think it’s safe to assume I did, in fact, know how to spell it.

    As for the acting, it broke my heart to realize that the actor who played the Joker is dead. He was perfect.

  • peggy Jul 20, 2008 @ 15:26

    Nitpick: It’s THE DARK KNIGHT limited series, not THE DARK NIGHT. (You can, however, skip the utterly execrable DK2; Frank Miller texted that one in, didn’t even bother to phone.)

    And yes, this is the BEST comic book superhero movie of all time, and it ranks up there with the best movies, period, of all time. They not only nailed the character of the Batman, they nailed the Joker, too. Excellent performances all around, and absolutely worth every single penny you pay to see it. Again.

  • LadyQ Jul 20, 2008 @ 11:52

    I would *love* to see that soon, but I am waiting for kid #3 to get his act together and be born soon. Think the special effects will induce labor?

    I am so glad to hear such positive reviews of it. I adored Batman Begins and this sounds darker and even better.

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