Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight, Part II

Reading the New York Times' glowing review of The Dark Knight, written by a critic - Manohla Dargis - who in my view quite too often comes off as divisively elitist, I came across this observation about The Joker, as portrayed by Heath Ledger:

"He isn't fighting for anything or anyone. He isn't a terrorist, just terrifying."

This statement immediately got me to wondering, why is Manohla Dargis reluctant to refer to Heath Ledger's Joker as a terrorist? (We are, mind you, talking about the New York Times, so Dargis's reticence to call a spade a spade isn't that much of a surprise).

The filmmakers leave no doubt as to the opinion of Gothamites, that that is what The Joker is - a terrorist (he is referred as such more than once). Why the hesitation, on the part of the critic? His creed is chaos, his targets generally civilians (the Joker - in a televised message which eerily brings to mind those occasional al-Qaeda video updates on al-Jazeera - threatens to continue killing civilians until and unless Batman unmasks himself). What the Joker finds humorous terrifies the citizens of Gotham into a panic. In "The Dark Knight," the Joker is very much a domestic terrorist who hopes the fear felt by citizens will send them over the edge, and make them abandon what we conceive of as our "humanity".

An inability to call a terrorist a terrorist leads to our coddling those who walk the walk and talk the talk; just because a terrorist might not refer to himself as such, doesn't make him any less of one. The Joker, at least in The Dark Knight, seems insane. But he is methodically, undeniably brutal in carrying out his exacting plans of death and mayhem, while claiming that he bucks the trend - that unlike others, he's kind of just winging it...hoping and waiting to see what happens next, with a firm notion about what SHOULD happen next. And when things don't go as planned, disappointment is easily - if only momentarily - read upon the face of this anti-plan master planner brought to memorable life by Heath Ledger.

"...that a spectacle like this even glances in that direction (9/11) confirms that American movies have entered a new era of ambivalence when it comes to their heroes..." - Manohla Dargis, "Showdown in Gotham Town"

Manohla Dargis can take a none-too-subtle pleasure in the ambivalence of a hero, or anti-hero, such as Batman in The Dark Knight. Even so, The Dark Knight is an allegory, representing not some new, profound truth in whatever "post-(insert phenomenon, idea or event here)" era, but rather one which points to an eternal truth. Despite the reluctance of many in America and around the world to recognize evil, and that it has its opposite, The Dark Knight boldly proclaims that evil exists, that there is a dichotomy separating it from good, and that it is a very fine line all too easily crossed by choice, even by those who might have at heart the best of intentions.

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