Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Dark Knight, at long last

I finally saw The Dark Knight the other day. The decision to see that movie was months in the making. It came out in theaters while we were in Middlebury, and Jeremy went to see it without me. Before you feel bad for me, realize that this was by my own choice. Seeing movies in the theater is overrated, especially when you are 9 months pregnant and need a bathroom break/seat position change every five minutes.

After seeing it, Jeremy told me he wasn't sure I would like The Dark Knight. This made me very sad - I loved Batman Begins and had been looking forward to its sequel for three years. Now I was hearing, from Jeremy as well as other sources, that The Dark Knight was scarier, more violent, and edgier than its predecessor.

So I didn't see it. Meanwhile, it seemed like everything I read about the movie confirmed what Jeremy had already told me about it - that it was dark and frightening - with one major difference starting to appear. Some reviews and discussions described The Dark Knight as being the embodiment of evil - the anti-good in cinematic form (I would link to them, but By Common Consent's archives aren't working). Others took the polar opposite view, that The Dark Knight was all about finding the humanity, honor, and compassion in mankind. It was this dichotomy of opinion more than anything else that finally made me decide to just see the darn movie already.

I started out watching it sitting up on the papa-san chair with some background lights on, while folding laundry - the ultimate non-committal movie-watching mode. In fact, I almost turned it off a few minutes into the opening bank-heist scene. It was scary, and violent, and bad, just like they said it would be.

But I didn't turn it off, and before I knew it, my unfolded laundry was cast off to the side and I was fully engrossed in this exciting, stirring, ultimately life-affirming movie. I didn't expect to realize so decisively which camp I was in, but I went to bed that night smiling, and happy to be mulling over some of the movie's brilliantly illustrated lessons on the nature of good.

I don't know that any of the reviews or commentary I read about The Dark Knight used the term "feel-good movie," but that's what this film was for me. I realize that movies involving psychotic clowns, villainous superheros (or heroic villains, whichever), and the systematic murder of public officials are not generally considered to be inspiring subject matter, but in The Dark Knight, they are. This is a movie full of teaching moments, full of scenes and situations that provoke us to consider what we are made of, and what we are willing to do to stand up against evil.

In one of my classes in high school, the teacher had us watch large portions of the movie A Few Good Men to illustrate certain principles of rectitude, honor, and right vs. wrong. The Dark Knight could easily take its place in such a classroom.

The thing is, The Dark Knight is still everything its detractors say it is. It is gloomy, violent, and at times soulless. And yet, I found it to be strangely uplifting, hopeful, and ultimately life-affirming. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion of this movie, so I'm not trying to tell anyone that they're wrong. I'm just trying to tell you not to let anyone convince you not to see this movie. See it, hate it, and come back here to say, "I told you so."

Or see it, love it, and have some awesome moral concepts to ponder. The choice is yours.


Aimee said...

I loved Batman Begins, so I was excited to see the Dark Knight, and I actually really enjoyed it too. I think Christian Bale is my favorite Batman yet. While I am a fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal, I don't think she is right in this role. I actually thought Katie Holmes was more suited to Rachel. Interesting viewpoint. I would have to watch it again to brush up on some of the aspects of which you write.

Liz Johnson said...

I agree - I loved The Dark Knight. Sometimes I think that delving into the darkest depths of humanity can help us appreciate/venerate the highest peaks, and help us evaluate where we sit on that spectrum.

And that comes off as stupid and pretentious, but I have a toddler hanging off my leg asking to watch "Cars" (as he has been all day), so I can't think of a more realistic and less stupid-sounding way to put it. Sorry.

Crys said...

Bale's Batman voice drove me nuts in this movie. I mean seriously nuts! I cringed every time he started talking. It was not nearly so noticeable in Batman Begins. Besides that I'll admit it was a great movie. Put together well, like you say a good movie of good versus evil with the gray bits as well but it caused me serious anxiety. This is my problem with Netflix. I love being able to see the movies but sometimes they lose some of their magic on the smaller screen. This is one though that I wouldn't have minded it losing some magic. I spent most of the movie in the curled up in the fetal position.

Brittany Cornett said...

So here is the thing with me. I don’t like scary. I think movies should make us feel better after we see them. I know others can (better than me) sift out the good and the bad and see that the good in the end beats any of the bad scenes. But I can’t. All I see is the joker and razors in my head when I think of that movie. Also I know this isn’t the movies fault but I don’t enjoy when I see people wearing all black and then a big picture of the Joker on the t-shirts. I get the sense that they idolize him in some way...also Halloween was the worst this year with all the people dressed up like him.

Bridget said...

Brittany, that is exactly how I am, too. I don't do scary movies. I saw The Ring about five years ago and I still am not completely over it. For me, The Dark Knight DID make me feel better after I saw it. I was smiling at the end and felt good for having watched it.

Still, I'm glad to know there's another movie scaredy-cat out there.

Ashley said...

I am glad you came to that conclusion, I think that it needed to be dark to show what the light can overcome. Ben and I love the type of Christ that Batman plays and we really felt that it was uplifting also.

Lilianne said...

I'm like Brittany! I don't like scary - at all. I watched a little bit of the Dark Knight and it was just too dark and scary for me to finish. Maybe I should have given it some more time?

I might just have to get the guts up to do so...

Laura said...

I think that these batman movies are the best ones that have been produced, hands down. Though I liked Batman Begins better then The Dark Knight. I think that it is a dark movie. But, I think that Heath Ledger (I think that is his name and how you spell it) did an amazing job of acting like a mentally disturbed clown. Matt absolutely loves the batman movies and will be very pleased with your viewing response.

karina said...

I really didn't like The Dark Knight. I think the main reason was that I waited quite a while to see it and watched it for the first time in a room full of graduate students who laughed through the whole thing. Every time the joker was on the screen they would laugh at him in all his evilness.

It creeped me out that they could be so heartless and crass. I agree with the other poster who feels like people idolize the joker. I have a problem with that - it's a sign that society has more issues than I realized. Especially the younger half.

Britney said...

I saw The Dark Knight in the theater over the summer, and felt very overwhelmed by the violence/darkness in the first few scenes, too. At some point, though, I was able to really enjoy a lot of the same aspects you described in your review. I've since watched it again, and loved it even more the second time.

In fact, I think if we were talking versions with regards to superhero films (like you did with the classics in your recent post, "Let's talk versions"), The Dark Knight would undoubtedly top the list.

sarah said...

i thought it was a little scary in the theater, but also very exciting to see the action on the big screen. i have to be in the right mood to watch it does have a lot of darkness in it. but every time after watching it im glad i did.

elliespen said...

So I'm reading this nearly three years after you posted it (thanks, "You might also like" feature!), but I just wanted to add my two cents and say that I absolutely agree with you on this movie. For me, it's a sock to the gut and emotionally wrenching to watch, but I always feel better for having watched it. I think it wonderfully portrays the range of humanity and the human experience and it never fails to move me on several levels.

You might also be interested to read Orson Scott Card's review of this movie, if you haven't already:


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