“The Dark Knight” — A Second Look

So I finally got around to watching “The Dark Knight” on DVD (I’d seen it when it was out in theaters) last night.  I had gotten the DVD from Netflix the week that it came out on video and it has just been sitting on my desk since because I haven’t really wanted to watch it that bad.  But, anyhow, watched it last night, and it is still a really damn good movie.

Unquestionably the best aspect of the film is the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker.  While there is a lot of other fun stuff in “The Dark Knight” I don’t think it would have been as well received if it hadn’t been for the quality of the villain.  What a strange thing to say, “the quality of the villain.”  Personally it is the character of The Joker that I like to contemplate on the most in regards to the movie, because as a bad guy goes he really hits the nail on the head.

I think the thing that works best for The Joker in “The Dark Knight” (beyond the great acting) is that this is a kind of villain that has no logical frame of reference in our minds.  He is unquestionably an evil and maniacal bad guy but he is more than that, he is chaos for the pure purpose of chaos alone.  That I think is what is really scary about Ledger’s Joker.  That ultimately the only purpose he serves is to be this destructive chaotic element.  There have been a lot of villains portrayed in fiction and film over the years (as well as a good number in real life) but in general the bad guys have some sort of driving cause, whether it is world domination or some sort of revenge or just a hit job, but we can’t seem to determine what, if any of these, The Joker seeks, quite possibly because he doesn’t act for any of these reasons or any others that may exist.

In many ways I think that The Joker can serve as a pretty good contrast to another scary villian that has appeared in recent cinema (and before that in fiction); I am talking about Anton Chigurh from “No Country for Old Men” (exceptionally played by Javier Bardem in the Joel and Ethan Coen film).  While both The Joker and Chigurh are unquestionably villains, in fact both are villains who have had major stirring impacts on popular culture in recent years, they are driven by completely different things.  Whereas The Joker’s sole purpose seems to be just that wanton destructive nature, Chigurh on the other hand seems to have an actually drive, so much so that nothing can get in his way of accomplishing his goal.  Chigurh also has a sort of ethics, albeit one that allows for multiple grisly murders, something that I believe a character like The Joker could never understand or embrace.  Really they are both fascinating characterizations of what we think of as “evil” but for pretty much opposite reasons.  Sure they are both killers and have no qualms about that aspect but beyond that they are really extremely different.

And what does it say about us, having this fascination in two characters who are unquestionably evil?  Personally I think that people love villains because in loving the villain, or the idea of the villain, you can further justify your own personal ethics or morality.  It is a “They are bad but I am good” sense of the world.  Of course as such people can ultimately do some really horrible things.  Think about it, Hitler vilified the Jewish population and look what happened there, and how Hitler is now probably considered the most villainous human in the past hundred years, if not ever (and he certainly should be seeing as he was a very bad man).  But also I think we desire to understand evil and why it is that some people can commit such heinous acts.  And here is the real scary part, while I like to think that most people aim to be good and not cause harm to others, the reality is that we can all ultimately be capable of horrible things.  It isn’t to say that we will do them but that we could.  Anybody, anybody at all, could kill somebody else if they decided to.  Life is fragile and the effort probably wouldn’t be that great.  Cynical, I know, but true.  So maybe what we are really scared of is the fact that we might be capable of horrendous evil ourselves.

All and all, “The Dark Knight” is an awesome film and Batman is a super bad ass.  If you haven’t seen it and you like action movies I recommend picking it up.

~ by Nathaniel on January 14, 2009.

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