Appreciating Christopher Nolan: The Dark Knight

Image retrieved from IMDb

DARK KNIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD! Though, this is another movie that so many people have seen and that is old enough that I don’t really feel like I need to add this. Though I’m a nice guy, so I’m warning all of you who haven’t seen it.

The Dark Knight (2008)

So much has been said about The Dark Knight in the last ten years. It’s widely regarded as the greatest superhero film ever made, so it’s only natural that every last second of it would be examined. Two of the things that people love most about it are how great of a villain the Joker is and how it is able to transcend the superhero genre.

I’m going to start off by discussing the Joker. There have been so many different iterations of this character on so many different mediums, from TV, to film, to comic books. Because of this, it’s difficult to bring something new and original to the character. But as he does so well, Nolan is able to do this. We bring a crazy and chaotic version of the character that is so much different than any we’ve seen. He brings organized chaos to Gotham City for Batman to deal with.

Batman dealing with the problems that the Joker creates shows more about Batman than it does about the Joker. In typical Christopher Nolan fashion, The Dark Knight is a character study that looks at Bruce Wayne. Throughout the film, a couple of the Joker’s main goals are to get Batman to turn himself in and to break his “one rule”. He wants to show that, “This is how crazy Batman’s made Gotham.”

Joker is just there to show us things about Batman/Bruce Wayne, and he does so effectively. Two-Face being the other villain in this movie serves two purposes. First, it gives a reason to have the Harvey Dent character in the film, as he’s extremely important to the story. Second, it’s symbolic. Dent’s “thing” is that he flips a coin – one side is good and the other is bad. This goes to show that Batman and Joker are two sides of the same coin, as the saying goes. They both want a better, or different, Gotham, but they just go about achieving this in different ways. Batman fights for good, while Joker brings chaos and terror to show that Batman is ruining Gotham. Everything that he does, from blowing up a hospital to capturing Rachel and Harvey, is to get Batman’s attention and to bring out some sort of response from him.

This is where Nolan is at his most Nolan-y. He does all these things with the Joker character to dive much deeper into the mind of Batman/Bruce Wayne. What are his limits? He originally says, “Batman has no limits.” But as we will find out more and more as the movie goes on, he has one limit – no killing. Joker tells Batman that, “Tonight, you’re gonna break your one rule.” At face value, it seems like Joker is just toying with him trying to get him (Batman) to kill him (Joker). But when you take a deeper look, he’s actually saying that when Batman saves one of the two hostages, he will be effectively killing the other. That’s how Bruce takes it – he feels like it was his fault that Rachel died. Basically, he feels like he killed her. Nolan’s just looking deeply into Bruce’s psyche, like he does with so many of his other movies.

The other thing that The Dark Knight is able to do is transcend the superhero genre. People talk about Marvel Cinematic Universe movies all being different subgenres – Ant-Man is a heist movie, Winter Soldier is a political thriller, and so on. But they all still feel distinctly like superhero movies that follow that formula. This is not so with The Dark Knight. It feels like a crime drama that happens to have two people who dress up as a bat and a clown. Batman is definitely in a good deal of the movie, but a lot of the most important investigative scenes come from Bruce and Gordon. The action set pieces aren’t cut to death and they mostly use guns and fist fights – a relatively small scale for a superhero movie. It just has a different feel than other superhero movies have. The only other superhero movie that I feel like is able to do this almost as well as Dark Knight is Logan, which I hope to have a post on at some point.

But that’s what makes The Dark Knight stand out: it’s so unlike anything we’ve seen from this genre. Christopher Nolan tackles two characters we’ve seen a million times in a million places, but still makes them new, fresh, and exciting. It’s a testament to his work as a writer and director that it looks and feels the way it does.

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