Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight*****

I have often wondered - why do I like watching films, or reading fiction? Does it have any functional importance? The simple answer - either to figure out what the world Is like, or what it Could be like. However, when the two streams merge to tell me that maybe this is what the world Should be like, it becomes magical. Isn't Mahabharata a believable human story of relationships and ambition, put together in a divine context?

Our ancient mythological heroes were easily the first superheroes invented by mankind. Much later, with the advent of the publishing industry and show business in the US, DC and Marvel invented a few more of the ilk. In the mid-70s, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg went a step further to create the new cinematic kiddie stuff for grown-ups. Inspired, Richard Donner and Mario Puzo brought Superman from the comic books to tinsel town in 1978. Tim Burton took the genre forward with his brooding Batman and Batman Returns. Joel Schumacher killed it with his horrendous Batman & Robin. Rakesh Roshan tried both the tricks in India, with his acceptable Koi Mil Gaya and clumsy Krrish.

At the turn of the century, Bryan Singer (of The Usual Suspects fame) is credited with reinventing the genre with X-Men. I personally got hooked only with Sam Raimi's take on the nerdy Spider-Man, especially the 2. A couple of years later, Martin Campbell dragged James Bond out of the grasp of technology in his Casino Royale. It was not very dissimilar to the comic books industry, when the funny and campy 60s and 70s had given way to graphic novels, like the ones written by Frank Miller.

Miller is known for his film-noir comic books, a balancing act of appealing to die-hard comic book fans, but in an adult story-telling format which attracts new mature audience. To much critical acclaim, his Sin City was adopted to the silver screen by Robert Rodriguez. In 1986, Miller also wrote and possibly reinvented Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Miller's Batman inspired Christoper Nolan more than Burton. In the new century, Nolan decided to undo Schumacher's damage, and made Batman Begins. The entire premise - Bruce Wayne fighting his childhood demons, his creation of an indestructible motif, the usage of his resources and technology, and the dual identity, was not radically different from Gladiators. Batman and his foes fight in the realms of sci-fi; Spiderman's enemies are genetic aberrations like him.

Christian Bale makes a very good and believable Batman. Most importantly, his differentiation between the his two identities is possibly the only one in super-hero history where it is impossible to tell the difference. (Just remember the morons in Superman who could not decipher Clark Kent because of those big-framed spectacles).

The best casting in Batman Begins is Michael Caine as Alfred, Bruce Wayne's trusted butler and Batman's conscience-keeper. Caine makes a brilliant Alfred, combining just the right dose of humility, servility and fatherliness. Gary Oldman as then Lt. and later to be Commissioner Gordon is also an apt choice. Bruce's love Rachel Dawes was actually the most uni-dimensional character, and played even more so by Katie Holmes. Alfred is possibly a far more interesting conscience keeper than the lecturing Rachel.

If Batman Begins is my favourite 'super-hero' film, I can say The Dark Knight does away with the classification. As Daniel Craig had said, however much realism you can inject into Bond, he does live in a fantasy world of his own. The only thing comic-book about The Dark Knight is the masked & caped vigilante, and an equally theatrical adversary. You remove the fantasy, and the film is a real-world crime drama.

The Dark Knight is My kind of cinema. A visual spectacle - the scene where Lau is kidnapped in Hong Kong and the Joker captured in Gotham - are mind-blowing. Batman and Joker go for each other like Arjun and Karna, with no reason d'etre apart from possibly immense mutual respect, leading to a burning ambition to out-do each other. As the Joker tells Batman (in a stunning prison encounter where immense rage meets indomitable spirit), 'you complete me'.

The Dark Knight is better than The Departed, where the demarcation between good and evil disappeared. 'Can you avenge evil, and not become it?'. The Joker is not after money or power. He just wants to prove a point, obvious only to himself. First he wants to unmask Batman. When he realises that someone else can easily beat him to it, the challenge is gone. He successfully decides to bring down the other hero (a quirky take on Two-Face, who in the comics got his face disfigured when a mobster threw acid on him). Finally, the only challenge is to get Batman to break the only rule he has, of not Killing (neither does Spider Man, which makes Batman Begins and Spider-Man 3 interesting). 'Welcome to a world without rules'.

Batman's morals are questionable, when he continues to risk the lunatics' terrorists activities without giving in. When he tries to prop up Harvey Dent, he is contradicting his entire flesh-and-blood symbol premise in Batman Begins. The tale from the forest narrated by Alfred brings out the true Darkness. Both the adversaries adopt all the Al Qaeda tactics. While the Joker threatens human lives, Batman causes immense willful collateral damage (check out the scene where his motor-bike is first unveiled).

However, for all the supreme competence of Christian Bale, the film truly belongs to the late Heath Ledger, the Joker. I could not really decipher his drawl in Brokeback Mountain. However, if one believes in destiny, he was born to play the Joker, a fact further accentuated by his untimely death (some say that playing the Joker led him to suicide).

Substantially weaker than Batman, and with less technology and resources at his disposal, he stands up to him every time. The makeup is just an apt prop. The hiss in the voice, the serpentine use of the tongue, the unkempt mane, the gaze at his victims, the fluctuating tales, are devil incarnate. If Amitabh Bachchan has to figure out why Aamir found him loud in Black, he simply needs to go and see Ledger.

Jack Nicholson's comic portrayal of Joker was ranked 45th in the American Film Institute's list of greatest villains. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter was the best. I cannot say if Ledger overcomes Lecter. For me, there are portrayals, where the demarcation between the artist and the character merges. Al Pacino was Michael Corleone, Om Puri was blind in Sparsh, and Ledger was the Joker.

All of us take pride in our work, even if happens to be mindless blogging. I figured out another reason why I watch cinema. It tells me things. Ledger says that even a short life is worth while, if your professional performance matches the Joker.


svety said...

The webs you weave are immensely interesting to jump from one comparable to another, all the while adding your point of view to the subject in hand...Karna & Arjun..yes..come to think of it..yes...also because our Arjun was racked with so much doubt, introspection much like the Batman while Karna stood strong to his singular principle..may have been black at time but still his principle.
Can you avenge evil and not become it??? Brilliant co relation.
You've taught me to watch cinema for the same reason..and its been an enriching experience..
Am putting a link to ur review on my blog...can't promise more traffic..haha but the official review needs to be seen with a rambler's experiences..

Citizen Shaker said...

well Karna Arjuna is also equally grey...who is right, who is wrong..and much celebrated....

as for the avenging evil line, it was used in the promotion of the its not that I have invented it...

Abhilasha said...

A few minutes back I wrote on Svety's blog that hers was the best review that I had read of the Dark Knight. Unfortunatley, I will have to withdraw that commendation and give it to you...
I really, really like this post.. And the last few lines are simply superb.
One point of trivia...did you know that Jack Nicholson was offered Mike Corleone's role before Pacino? The though came to me while reading your "Al Pacino was Michael Corleone, Om Puri was blind in Sparsh, and Ledger was the Joker"...All my admiration for Nicholson aside, I fully agree that only Pacino could be Michael.

Citizen Shaker said...

I know the Pacino and Nicholson trivia...Both are to an extent hams (esp. if you compare them to your favourite De Niro)...

But Pacino in that series simply grows...his Godfather 2 was ranked the 11th best villain by the way...

Watch it if you can...also watch Batman Begins..I'll anway show it to you when you are down...