Dark Knight, The (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace.
Length: 152 minutes
Grade: ADB+A=A
Budget: $185 million
Box Office: $1.166+ billion (530 U.S., 466 Intl., 200+ DVD)

Written and Directed by: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan (The Prestige, Batman Begins, and Memento)
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman.

With Batman, Detective Gordon, and the new Gotham District Attorney, Harvey Dent, on the verge of destroying the mob in town, they turn to the assistance of a lunatic assassin, the Joker. Unfortunately for them, he turns out to be bent on total anarchy rather than on their measly goal of accumulating money and power, and he begins setting up Faustian dilemmas for Gotham in order to destroy them and Batman in the process.

Entertainment Value: A
Wow! There’s a very good reason this film has grossed well over a billion dollars so far. (It’s 2nd all-time in the US, 26th when adjusted for inflation, and 4th worldwide.) The action is awesome. The plot is awesome. The acting is unbelievably awesome. And, amazingly enough, it’s really two movies for the price of one. They could easily have split this one right in half and probably made more total money. I’m so glad they didn’t. But here’s the most impressive thing about this movie. Heath Ledger gives the best performance of a villain you’ll ever see in a movie here. I wasn’t watching Heath Ledger play The Joker. I was watching The Joker, especially the one given life in the one-shot Batman graphic novel, The Killing Joke. If he doesn’t win the best actor Oscar posthumously, or at least get serious consideration, it’ll be the only proof we need that the Academy has no idea what it’s doing.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity A-, Violence D, Language B, Illegal Activity F
There are several cocktail party environments, there are some romantic situations, and there are mild profanity. But the real concern here is violence, mayhem, and generally disturbing manifestations of insanity. I was surprised this film was rated PG-13. Not that it’s a hard R or anything, but I would certainly go R-15.

Significant Content: B+
My analysis of this movie is a lot like my analysis of Sin City, although the picture isn’t quite so bleak. There are three sorts of paradigms in the world: immoral, moral, and Christian. Vigilante movies are usually about the conflict between the good and the bad, while the best gets no mention. In this film, however, lots of attention is given to the difference between a real hero who works through the system (Dent) and a hero who works outside the system (Batman) in fighting criminals. What Joker tries to do is destroy them both in order to prove to everyone that civilization is a fa├žade and a fraud, much the same as that implied by his own mask. If The Joker is viewed as a Satan figure, then the goal is not to destroy people, but to show people that they are all essentially corrupt and evil inside, just like he is. What this movie shows, however, is that not everyone is so evil inside since even some of the supposedly worst of them choose to do right at personal risk. Having Harvey Dent (Two-Face) also raises questions about fate, chance, and order that are reinforced by The Joker’s soliloquies.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Where to begin? Let’s just say that it’s not merely highly entertaining and horrifying, but thought-provoking as well, to say the least. I think this film has one of my all-time favorite scenes in it, the one where the Joker simply lights a fire to a massive (seriously, massive) pile of money. It’s virtually Biblical in its poignancy.

Discussion Questions:
~What do you think of Batman’s mid-movie choice? Why does he make it? Why do others find it so hard to understand and forgive? What do you think of Batman’s end-of-movie choice?
~It’s been said that at least a selfish person can be bargained with, but a principled person is the most dangerous because they’ll do anything in pursuit of their vision. Who in this movie is selfish, and who is “principled” in this sense? When people completely reject the things this world has to offer, do they usually become more dangerous or more benevolent? What does Arthur mean when he says that “some men just want to watch the world burn?”In the boats scene, what did you find yourself wanting to see happen?
~A key theme of this movie is that many times in order to defeat some great evil, we become the thing we seek to conquer in the process. Is this true? Was it true of Jesus?
~“The only morality in a cruel world is chance.” Do you agree with this assessment by Two-Face?
~In what sense is The Joker a terrorist? In what sense is he really the embodiment of all terrorists everywhere? If so, what does this movie have to tell us about how we can ultimately defeat terrorism?
~In what ways is The Joker like Satan? What is The Joker’s purpose in what he does? Is he successful?
~The Joker talks a lot about rules and the mythology that rules will save people from chaos. He seems to be saying that the rules are just a veneer that everyone will violate when given the chance. Does he turn out to be right? In what sense is an attachment to rules healthy? In what sense unhealthy and limiting? What is the Gospel perspective on this? In what way might his idea that plans can't give you control be ther first part of a genuine Christian sermon? If so, how might Joker push people to see their real need for true faith in God rather than in themselves?
~Joker claims that he and Batman need each other. Rachel claims that Batman needs Gotham more than Gotham needs Batman. Batman claims that Gotham needs Harvey more than it needs him. Discuss these claims and what each of them is trying to say.
~Joker tells Batman while being beaten that Batman has no power over him because he has "nothing to threaten me with, nothing to do with all your strength." Joker cares about nothing and is therefore invulnerable. In what way is this the very definition of hatred? How is this the opposite of love?
~Joker says, "I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve." He seems to be saying that he's not categorically different from anyone, just a matter of different in degree. Would a Christian agree with this or disagree with this assessment of anyone not redeemed by Christ? In what way might Joker be seen as the ultimate embodiment of what we all become when consigned to hell by our own selfishness?
~There’s much more I could mention, but I’ve already written a lot.
Overall Grade: A
Obviously. A billion dollars at the box office aren’t likely to be wrong. And I’m serious. If Heath Ledger isn’t at least nominated for best actor, I say the Academy should be put in Sheriff Arpaio’s tent city for the summer.

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