Why So Serious?
“Insanity is like gravity. Sometimes all you need is a little push.” – Joker
The first time I saw The Dark Knight doubled as my first experience in an IMAX theater. This was before I had moved to Los Angeles, and before the IMAX craze had really caught on, so there weren’t an abundance of them around. We had made a special trip up to one of the few IMAX theaters in Oregon to really get the full effect of Dark Knight. We stood in line outside the theater for 45 minutes or so, talking with the usher about what a crazy week it had been (Dark Knight had been released the previous Friday) and where he suggested was the best place to sit for optimum IMAX viewing (Slightly higher than middle, slightly left). When the movie started and that first crystal clear shot of Gotham appeared on the huge screen, someone behind us said “Wow!” without even thinking about it. They spoke for all of us.
While it’s likely true that the death of Heath Ledger took this film to another level in terms of publicity and public interest, that only turned out to be a good thing because the movie was so well made. Had the movie been anything short of amazing, that buzz would have worked against it, and critics would have crushed it for not living up to expectations. Fortunately, the movie was good. Really, really good.
The Dark Knight isn’t your typical summer blockbuster. You don’t sit there mindlessly enjoying the ride while devouring a bag of popcorn, you don’t laugh very much, and you probably don’t leave the theater on an emotional high note. That’s because of all the movies we’ve discussed, Dark Knight is probably the “heaviest”.
One of the movies iconic scenes is when the Joker has rigged two ferry boats to explode, and giving each the option of saving themselves by sacrificing the other. The reason that this scene was so powerful wasn’t just the literal ticking time bomb, it was the fact that everyone in the audience was asking themselves what they would do in that exact situation. Typically self-introspection and Milk Duds don’t go together, but in this case, they did.
And speaking of the Joker, I really liked the decision by director Christopher Nolan to never try and solve or explain the character. He was who he was. The best explanation came courtesy of Michael Caine, who speculated that “some people just want to watch the world burn.”
Of all the successful superhero franchises in recent years (Batman, Spiderman, Ironman, X-Men, etc.) I always found it interesting that the most fascinating and deep series was the one that took the most “realistic” approach, and examined what it might be like for a superhero in the real world, with no superpowers. As much as people love to make-believe, I think Batman proves that they’re happiest firmly grounded in reality.
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