Movie Monday! The Dark Knight

Because my friend asked for it.

There are three kinds of good movies. First, there’s the good movie that’s so good, you leap up out of your chair and pump your fist in the air, wishing you could do what the characters did in that fantastical celluloid world of make believe that our imaginations and video players give life to. Scott Pilgrim is one of those movies. The second kind of good movie is the one where you can lean back and smile: maybe because it was a really funny movie, or maybe because it was just so heartwarming that the entire world seems softer, happier, better. Up is one of those movies. The third kind of good movie, however, is the kind that gets into your mind, turns you in upon yourself, and leaves you holding your new wife close to you at 3:30 in the morning, crying and unable to stop thinking terrible thoughts. A movie that well written, that well performed, that well put together, is very rare indeed. I saw The Dark Knight last night, two years after its release. I had been waiting for two years for the moment to be right, for the time to be right, for the hype and the love to die down and I could truly enjoy it without a jaundiced eye and a cynical heart. It took two years and the insistence of my very good friend to finally see it and, after all of the accolades, I was uncertain as to just how this movie was going to live up to its own reputation. I thought I was ready to experience this movie, I thought I was ready to see what all the Oscar-winning buzz was about, I thought I was ready to finally watch, and REALLY see, this movie.
I was wrong.
This movie scares me. It terrifies me. It upsets me. And it is damn good. It is so good that I don’t know if I can watch it again. I’m still scared. It made me uncomfortable as only the best possible movies can do, but at a level that I had never experienced before. Yes, Scott Pilgrim affected me as it mirrored several things I had experienced and combined that with a big-screen spectacle that will probably never be duplicated. The Dark Knight, however… it showed me things I haven’t experienced… and I hope I never have to, because I don’t know how I would handle it. What’s more, I don’t want to know. God, I hope I never have to know.
The movie is sublime in its depravity. I found myself at several instances wondering aloud "how can they write this?" It was several of my darkest fears and most uncomfortable thoughts brought to life on the big screen, and it was done just perfect enough to keep me literally shaking with suspense as to how this would work out. It’s almost impossible to describe, so I suppose I could just let Mr. Freud do it for me. It’s very possible that director Christopher Nolan was purposefully using three main characters to mirror classic archetypes bordering on id, ego, and superego. From the impulsive, chaotic Joker, to the butchered morals of Harvey Dent, to the strong idea of right and wrong in Batman, I know I wasn’t the only person who saw bits of myself in all three of these characters…and managed to freak myself right out because of it. In my younger, more foolish days, when I thought mental illness was something that would make me seem "deep," I created different personas for myself: There was Eric, the ego, middle of the road, still impulsive but with the capability for decisions to be made. Second was Willy Hairtrigger, my id, the person who I turned to who would say all the things I couldn’t say, do the things I couldn’t do, all without any fear of repercussion. Lastly, there was The Professor, who is a firm believer in the letter of the law, black and white, no exceptions, the superego. Even the title of this very journal is testament to that joke I played on myself, the punchline I am still feeling as I try, now twenty-five, to make sense of my adult life.
I have a Dent, a Batman, and a Joker.
My Joker teases me with visions of revenge exacted against old bullies, revelling in the warmth that seems to emanate from my heart at such visions, or horrific images of dead loved ones that I sometimes cannot seem to stop. My Dent manifests itself as the frustration I feel as a supposedly "exceptional" person working at a simple call center, only a flip of the coin away from an outburst or an episode. Finally, my Batman is there barking out moral codes and the idea of absolute justice, and feeling a nearly palpable desire to set things right that are so very, truly wrong. This movie, this film, brought such uncomfortable things to the surface that I cried myself to sleep after watching it, terrified of what lies in me, in all of us, and how we can possibly overcome it. The mere idea of having to tell someone that everything is going to be all right when you know it isn’t is something that, more than twelve hours later, will make me want to collapse if I think about it too much.
Thankfully, the movie has its spots of hope: the ferry scene is a charity in the darkest of times, so much so that you nearly cry at its conclusion. The bits of humor sprinkled throughout the film make for a welcome reprieve as the darkest bits eat at your soul. And the ending, the admonishment and the creation of a new villain for Gotham City, is so bittersweet and so perfectly executed that you lose yourself in the movie. You cry over the deaths, and you cheer on dogged, decent men like Jim Gordon, played increasingly beautifully by Gary Oldman. You become a citizen of Gotham, holding out for that savior and yet despising him at the same time. Still, I wonder… do we despise him because he does what we cannot, or do we despise him because he shows us the blackness in our own souls?
This movie is perfect. It hurts in the best possible way. I don’t know if I ever named a "movie for 2008," but if I didn’t, this would be it. Perhaps there is a bias, almost certainly there is, but I can’t help but think that the same bias is within all of us, and more movies need to be made like The Dark Knight to get us to think about ourselves in something more than a Tweet or a Status message. We are more than 140 characters… we are three characters, every last one of us, and if we don’t confront the Jokers and the Dents present in our own souls, then… well, there will be dark times for us all. In this world, sadly, there will be no Dark Knight to rescue us. It is something we will have to do for ourselves.

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