The Kubrick Award – for Film Appreciation
The Dark Knight (2008)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
The Dark Knight is a wonderful piece of cinema. It does everything it wants to do perfectly, while even doing more than it supposedly wanted to without knowing. It’s a fantastic action film, first and foremost, but it’s also a riveting social commentary narrated by an unforgettable villain. And with such ease does it achieve this feat, we never even catch it until after the film; until we’ve soaked in the film, until we’ve had a chance to think about it, until we’ve realised just how special it really is.
As I said, yes, it’s essentially a social commentary on the madness of society. Ironic that a madman himself is the one performing it for us, but it’s riveting nonetheless. And it does get you thinking. For example:
“They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be.”
– The Joker, Interview Room w/ Batman
This is the perfect example of a piece of genius. The writers, Christopher Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, do such a superb job of crafting even the most ridiculous ideas of social injustice, and articulating them so perfectly into the mouth of a character who, like the words he says, is perfect. In fact, that entire Interview scene is a masterclass in conversation that actually means something, and conversation that actually works.
Here’s another example:
“You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan”. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”
– The Joker, Hospital Room w/ Harvey Dent
The Joker is a character who we find so repulsive to look at, whose morals we find so far-fetched, whose motus operandi is so ruthless, but we still find his opinion riveting, and we still find what he says about society to be somewhat true. In doing this, the Nolans are convincing us that maybe madness isn’t so beyond the normal human after all.
But the one thing that has always bugged me about the talk of The Dark Knight is people saying the film is entirely Heath Ledger, meaning the whole film rests on his incredible performance. I completely disagree.
The screenplay, so intriguing, allows us to connect with every single character on their own level; Alfred with his “jungle story”; Gordon with his family being put in danger; Batman with Rachel; Rachel with Batman; Dent with Rachel. Much like Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, the screentime for each character is perfectly balanced.
Christopher Nolan’s direction is a winner on all fronts. It’s personal, and yet it feels like the Batman universe is incredibly big, seeming to enlargen with every aerial shot. In fact, The Dark Knight creates one of the most investing worlds I’ve ever been in. Nolan uses the camera so perfectly in every sense, showing us exactly what we want to see, whilst not making us feel like he’s saturating us with boring, negative, self-indulgent crap. And the way he directs his actors is great.
And The Dark Knight features some of the most exciting, well-shot action sequences we’ve ever seen. It’s not like Transformers where we’re bombarded with CGI and lame fight scenes; in The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan gives us fun action without it being too campy. The tunnel chase featuring Dent in a SWAT car stands out in my mind as one of the funnest action scenes I’ve ever seen, combining top-notch graphics with great direction and awesome explosions. Who doesn’t love to see a good car or two being blown to bits.
Hans Zimmer’s score is simply unforgettable. His Batman theme stands out to me as one of the great action film themes of all time. He scores each character perfectly. Let’s face facts: the man is a genius. But he can’t take all the credit. James Newton Howard wrote a lot of it too. It’s okay Jimmy, I love you as well.
Christian Bale is also a kickass Batman.
But it’s more than a single aspect of the film that makes it so special. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s everything about it, collectively, down to the finest detail, that makes The Dark Knight truly heroic. I doubt we’ll see such a prolific, breakthrough piece of cinema again – at least not for a long while.
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