2008/ UK, USA
Director: Christopher Nolan
Words: R. Topham
The Dark Knight is critically and publicly regarded as one of, if not the, best Batman films of all time. Not only is this because of Heath Ledger’s universally admired performance as The Joker, but because Christopher Nolan is a directorial wizard that injected some life and intensity into a previously struggling franchise. He truly grasped and understood what would constitute an authentic Batman film that honours the characters, story-lines and fans alike.
Hollywood blockbusters can walk a thin line between being an OTT cheese-fest and not delivering quite what was promised or expected. Ask around and prequel Batman Begins was the latter, though it introduces the perpetually solemn Bruce Wayne as a separate entity to Batman in a more authentic and pragmatic way than previous depictions. Christian Bale’s method acting and dedication to his work really shines through in this role, and even after the 500th time of watching The Dark Knight he’s so intense and convincing it’s hard to imagine him not as Batman.
The infamous Gothamite may be tough as nails after all that fancy training with Ra’s al Ghul, but he wasn’t quite ready for what The Joker was scheming. Core to this film is the binary opposition between good and evil, Batman the former and The Joker the latter. Since his creation, Bruce Wayne/Batman is hailed as the ‘good guy’, but Nolan cleverly reinforced the complexities in his character, emphasising his slightly twisted undertones that fellow superheroes don’t really tap in to. We see this during the interrogation scene, when Batman attempts to intimidate his annoyingly nonchalant nemesis and assert his authority through violence, getting so angry it literally oozes out of him in his spit.
Bruce Wayne is adamant that “Gotham needs a hero with a face” and that Harvey Dent is that hero. The district attorney’s fall from grace, however, is perfect because it shows the fragility of human nature and the overwhelming force of grief on our behaviour. Aaron Eckhart was a surprising casting choice, but his portrayal of Harvey Dent, the ‘good guy gone bad’, is perhaps one of the most underrated roles in the film.
The symbolism of the Batman character – that he could be anyone – is iconic in itself, and The Dark Knight anchors the tensions that a faceless hero acting above the law would unearth in a metropolis like Gotham. As Carmine Falcone reminds us in Batman Begins, people always fear what they don’t understand – fear is a foundational emotion in how Bruce Wayne/Batman conducts himself, and beneath the suit and the bravado he’s fearful of The Joker because he doesn’t, and can’t, understand him.
The Dark Knight has become a classic of the genre, a cult phenomenon. Every component of the film is memorable: Hans Zimmer’s legendary score, the solid script providing an abundance of unbeatable quotes, Heath Ledger’s improvised hospital scene… The list goes on. Ledger’s disturbing and tragic interpretation of The Joker will be remembered for generations to come as one of the finest performances of the 21st century, for it remains a true honour to watch.