Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dark Knight's Screenwriting Lesson

Hey guys,

I would’ve posted this sooner, but I got hit by a bus.

Yes, I’m fine, thank you.

The bus company is paying for all the damages to my beloved sports car. Just so you know, in the world of insurance, you can’t cause an accident by avoiding an accident. Just as an FYI.

Okay, let’s talk Dark Knight. Seen it twice. I went to a special Imax screening and saw it over the weekend in Digital Projection. Imax is the way to go. This movie’s too damn big for a regular screen.


I also managed to read
The Killing Joke. What a fabulous comic book. I’ve always had mixed feelings about comics because the crappy dialogue drives me crazy. Everything is so on-the-nose and everyone’s always stating the obvious. But The Killing Joke’s dialogue was simply electric. Not only that, and I never thought I’d say this about a comic book, it had sensational transitions between scenes.

While Joker’s origin story wasn’t used nor would any other aspect of Killing Joke’s story be found in the film, the Joker’s character, on the other hand, the point behind his terrorism, Joker’s philosophical views about humanity, were absolutely incorporated. Listen to what he tells Batman as he’s being chased in a fun house in the third act. To set this up, Joker had murdered Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, kidnapped Gordon, and tried to make him go insane. And he says all these things as Batman races through this fun house narrowly escaping booby traps while passing giant mirrored reflections of Joker’s face...

“You see, it doesn’t matter if you catch me and send me back to the asylum… Gordon’s been driven mad. I’ve proved my point. I’ve demonstrated there’s no difference between me and everyone else! All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. You had a bad day once, am I right? I know I am. I can tell you had a bad day and everything changed. Why else would you dress like a flying rat? You had a bad day and it drove you as crazy as everybody else… only you won’t admit it! You have to keep pretending that life makes sense that there’s some point to all this struggling!

“God, you make me want to puke. I mean, what is it with you? What made you what you are? Girlfriend killed by the mob, maybe? Brother carved up by some mugger? Something like that, I bet. Something like that… Something like that happened to me, you know. I… I’m not exactly sure what it was. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another. If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! Ha ha ha!

[Which explains why he had different stories about his scar.]

“By my point is… My point is, I went crazy. When I saw what a black, awful joke the world was, I went crazy as a coot! I admit it! Why can’t you? I mean, you’re not unintelligent! You must see the reality of the situation... Do you know how many times we’ve come close to world war three over a flock of geese on a computer screen? Do you know what triggered the last world war? An argument over how many telegraph poles Germany owed its war debt creditors! Telegraph poles! HA HA HA HA HA! It’s all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for… it’s all a monstrous demented gag! So why can’t you see the funny side? Why aren’t you laughing?”

I love it. You can almost hear Ledger’s voice behind those words.


As with anything popular, there will be a backlash.

Dave Kehr:

The Dark Knight is Dirty Harry stripped of Don Siegel’s ambivalence and ambiguity. Here again, one madman (Christian Bale’s Batman/Clint Eastwood’s Harry) is posited as the only effective way of combating another (Heath Ledger’s Joker/Andy Robinson’s Scorpio). The two figures are identified as morally equivalent (”You complete me,” says Ledger to Bale, nastily referencing Jerry Maguire), but where Siegel’s camera literally recoils in horror at the moment Harry leaps into madness (when he steps on Scorpio’s wound in the football stadium), Nolan seems to embrace, and even romanticize, his hero’s obsessive, abusive behavior. Is the Dark Knight just George Bush with a better outfit, demanding that he be allowed all of the available “tools” to combat terrorism, even if they include torture and eavesdropping? Like Bush, Batman has his own warantless wiretapping program, but Nolan is kind enough to assure us that, once his goal is accomplished, the superhero will blow it up. Is he suggesting that we can count on the Dark President to do the same?

And here’s
Keith Uhlich:

Now you see it, now you don’t. That about encapsulates the depths of feeling and artistry in The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan and company’s sordid exercise in avert-your-eyes sadism, a work at best inelegant and at worst inept. The film would have us believe it’s about dualities and polarities, the so-called Dark Knight of Gotham (Christian Bale as billionaire Bruce Wayne and vigilante alter-ego Batman) compared and contrasted with White Knight—soon-to-be literally two-faced—Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), both of them joined in messily chaotic battle with the facially-scarred villain known as The Joker, whose mid-film “You complete me” declaration to Batman is less Jerry Maguire-jest than Matrix-like pseudo-philosophy.

Yes, we’re back in the realm of “awesome!” anagrams and pothead palindromes that the Wachowski Brothers popularized nearly a decade ago, only now they’re spoken with a solemnity and verbosity borne of a beat-down Western warrior spirit, and lent gravitas by a cast only stellar in theory. But then it hardly matters if The Dark Knight’s dispiriting view of a city at war with itself doesn’t hold together, not when you have Morgan Freeman (as Wayne Enterprises liaison Lucius Fox) and Michael Caine (as stalwart manservant Alfred) spouting gloomy old man platitudes about the culture of surveillance, and everyone else monologuing ad nauseum about various and sundry long, dark teatimes of the soul…

Dawes returns in The Dark Knight (this time the paramour of Dent and in the form of Maggie Gyllenhaal), but now she’s little more than bait, a damsel-on-the-railroad-tracks plot device. I’m certain Nolan thought he was being transgressive by killing Rachel off, but her death packs zero punch because it’s so blatantly a screenwriter’s contrivance—mainly to motivate Dent’s split-personality revenge—and one executed with the same amount of “Gotcha!” shallowness as an earlier fake-out murder featuring not-yet-Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman).

Dave, the point was, know your limits. I would respond to Keith, but I think the 310 angry comments said it all. On a lighter note, DK Holms, in his
article in the Vancouver Voice, brought up an interesting point about “The Curious Case of the Dogs on the Knight.”

“How did there get to be so many canines in this movie? I can’t think of another recent film in which dogs figured in the plot so much. Though here, they don’t figure in the actual plot so much as they add more texture. The vigilantes at the beginning have dogs; The Joker has three dogs (a mythological reference?), and in the dreamy time-shifting ending Batman is pursued by police dogs through an industrial section. Bruce Wayne even has a chat with his “Q” (Morgan Freeman) about improving the bat suit to withstand dog attacks (which inspires an allusion to a possible Catwoman presence in a third film, as various talkbackers have ejaculated). These dogs are vicious but controlled, synecdoches of the ideal Gotham, creatures who are loyal, unlike cops and gangsters, and not subject to corruption except by those who train them, the corruption lying on the next level up of power.”

The dogs are a great allusion to the gangsters, certainly. In various mythologies, they were the guardians of the Underworld. The dog-headed deities in Ancient Egyptian art had the duty of “imprisoning and destroying the enemies of light” and of standing guard at the gates of holy places. Ancient Germans had a terrifying hound, Garm, which guarded the entrance to Niflheim, the realm of the dead, a land of frost and darkness. The Vikings had the myth of Garmr, “the greatest monster,” who was bound before Gnipa's Cave.

But from a storytelling perspective, I think it’s all simpler than that. You have to start from the ending and work your way back. When Harvey Dent shoots Batman, you want the audience to gasp and feel “Oh no.” Well, how do you do that, because the suit would protect him? You have to setup that moment properly with a discussion about the suit. He has to want to change his suit, which means, he’ll want it to be lighter, and thus, someone will talk about how he’ll be more susceptible to bullets. So what would give him problems to make him want to change his suit and be more flexible? Dogs. This also solves another problem, that is, how can Joker get the upper hand in a fight against Batman in the third act? He can’t use drugs, because we saw that in the last film. He can’t really take him in a fight, either. We’ve seen Batman take down multiple tough guys all throughout the film, so how can you show something different? Dogs. You setup first how much dogs give him trouble, and thus when he has difficulty because he’s being attacked by Joker’s three dogs, we buy it, and we know he’s in trouble.


Ya know, one could point to so many strengths of the film, especially the characters and their distinct voices in the dialogue, the superb tension, the bravura filmmaking, the twists, the action sequences, etc. For me, there is one great screenwriting lesson in DK that’s above all its other strengths, that really sets it apart, and that is the power of
inner conflicts. Nolan said he wanted to “push these characters and test them in new ways.” How do you do that? Inner conflicts. And not just any inner conflict but GREAT inner conflicts. I think this is what shaped the story overall, that is, the desire on the part of the filmmakers to give every character an inner conflict of some kind. By doing that, you can easily come up with a lot of material that might push a story toward 2 ½ hours. And (I know this is an unfair blanket statement, but) I get the impression from all the scripts I read that too few writers actually care about or even try to master inner conflicts.

Seeing that film made me regret not having blogged more about inner conflicts. A great inner conflict is the heart and soul of high-quality dramatic writing, isn’t it? This heightens emotions in scenes beyond the norm. It’s what keeps a story consistently compelling from scene-to-scene. It’s what adds tension in the sense that this thing could go wrong in so many ways. It’s what gives actors the opportunity to shine even if they don’t have a lot of face time on screen. Plus, to a large degree it’s what makes an ending more satisfying, because it is make or break decision time for all those conflicted characters.

So what inner conflicts did we have in DK?

Bruce: Reveal himself to Gotham or endure the terror? And that’s a conflict rooted in his origin story, too. Because we understand now his dark, inner needs to put fear into the hearts of the criminals. I think he knew the truth about his unlikely future with Rachel, too, but he couldn’t face it. And there’s also Harvey Dent. Should he fight or support him? He's a good guy, yet he'd love to knock his teeth in. Later, should he save Rachel or Harvey? Well, that wasn’t much of a conflict. He told Gordon he was going to save Rachel, but the Joker had switched the addresses. There were conflicts about Bruce’s limits, too, his physical and moral limitations as Batman. And we also sense that he was conflicted about his one rule – should he kill the Joker?

Rachel: Bruce or Harvey? Accept the proposal or not?

Harvey: Should he work with or against the Batman? Should he arrest him? He, too, faced his own inner conflicts about staying within the ethical limits of his power. Remember that scene where he tried to interrogate one of Joker’s minions? He wanted to go too far and Batman stopped him. And later in the third act, shoot or not?

Gordon: Should he work with or against Harvey Dent?

Alfred: Share or destroy Rachel’s letter?

Lucius: Help eavesdrop on the city in a way he doesn’t approve?

Lau: Cooperate with Harvey or face the Joker?

Salvatore Maroni: Work with or turn in the Joker?

People on ferries: Turn the pins or not?

It’s amazing how many characters had inner conflicts and also how many inner conflicts existed in the main protagonists, like Bruce. Even that little accountant that wanted to blackmail Wayne Enterprise $10 million a year had his own inner conflict: reveal Bruce Wayne or face the wrath of a notorious, brutal, and wealthy vigilante?

The only one who didn’t have an inner conflict was the Joker, because he had no rules, although he seemed to be of two minds about the Batman. He first hated him and wanted to destroy him and reveal to the city what a farce he really was. But then he changed his mind. He wanted to prove his point to him, practically convert him, and perhaps bridge a partnership. I loved the fact that the ending was rooted in the characters. The idea about the two ferries not only had great tension but it was rooted in the Joker and what he was trying to prove about humanity, that when the chips are down, “these civilized people will eat each other.” And in that moment when the people choose to not blow each other up, we see a brief inner conflict in the Joker.

Harvey, of course, proves the Joker correct. As a society, we can rise above this, but individually, we can fall so easily from a bad day.

Okay, so, for all the newbies out there (and those in the middle east, eastern Europe, and Africa reading my blog), let me ask the question: what is an inner conflict? It’s not simply putting a character into a position where they have to make a very difficult decision, although it is that, and we saw a lot of that in The Dark Knight. In great characters, though, it is also designing that tragic flaw and putting them in a position where they are forced to face that flaw. In non-tragic contemporary terms, this could be weaknesses of heroes, the internal obstacles of characters that keep them from achieving their
end goals. You can read more about inner conflicts here.

There was a great post by
Nienke Hinton over at the Writing Life on Inner Conflict. I still love this quote from Caro Clark:

“A character's inner conflict is not just being in two minds about something, not just being torn between obvious incompatibles (“I want to be a priest, and yet I love her”) but is about being in a new situation where old attitudes and habits war with and hinder the need for change. For instance, a man who drives himself to succeed because he doesn't want to be like his happy-go-lucky father is suddenly confronted with a situation where he isn't winning. Or an executive discovers that her ambition to be vice president of her company is being thwarted by her own self-doubt. This war inside each of your characters makes them act and react in complex ways.

“You show these internal conflicts not by means of internal dialogue (which is a cop-out and is dull), but by showing your characters responding to their own inner compulsions. She, for instance, decides to confront her own self-doubts by taking on a no-win project where the local people are opposing a development. She is determined to be hard-nosed, prove she's vice-president material. He is always confrontational, fearing that one minute of negotiation would be the first step to becoming a wimp like his father. You have a grade-A opposites-attract situation here, yet it is believable because we understand why each of them is acting the way they do, why they are foolishly stubborn, by it's important for each of them to win.”


wcdixon said...

Sorry about the bus...

Good stuff...saw film tonight and yes Nolan directed the shit of it, but he also helped write the shit out it as well.

Anonymous said...

Just discovered this site recently. Like what you're doing and glad that you're doing well after your encounter with the bus.

In regards to THE KILLING JOKE, Joker does shoot Barbara Gordon but she doesn't die. She is left paralyzed after the bullet damages her spine, ending her career as Batgirl but leaving her to begin her career as Oracle, information broker to the DC Universe.

Zane said...

"[Inner Conflict] is about being in a new situation where old attitudes and habits war with and hinder the need for change."

To state it more simply, can we say that Inner Conflict forces our protag to question his or own philosophies on life?

For instance, a man fought in the Vietnam war, and he's always told his son, "if you wouldn't go to war and die for your country, you don't deserve to live in it."

And the son has always questioned the father's philosophy by saying, "but what if your country is at war for bullshit reasons?"

To which the father has always responded, "It doesn't matter... What's important is that you remain loyal to your country. First and foremost."

Then one day, the son gets drafted to fight in the War on Terror. The son, still opposed to fighting in bullshit wars, asks his father for money to move to Canada.

Now the father must ask himself, "do I stick to my guns tell my son to go fight to the death? Or do I give him the money and admit that I was wrong all these years?"

But the father finds a loophole ... He gives his son the money, tells him, "Go to Canada and prosper. But don't come back here - you wouldn't fight for this country and you don't deserve to live in it."

After the son is long gone, the father walks out in front of his home and stares at the American flag that's been flapping there for the past three decades. He chokes a few sobs, takes the flag down, rolls it up, and puts it in his basement to gather dust with all his war medals ...

GimmeABreak said...

Glad to hear you're ok. Sorry about the car.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there's this guy Alan Moore? He does dialouge pretty well. Also transitions. He can handle those too.

Okay...Sorry for starting off by being a jerk, but it's depressing to read that first paragraph and realize how little respect comic books so often still get.

But really, I'm just glad to see somebody discover The Killing Joke, and Moore's work, and hopefully all the other excellent writers working in the field, like Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, Brian Vaughn, Brian Micheal Bendis, Jeff Smith...The list goes on and on.

Unknown said...

Yeah I'd be very interested in Mystery Man's view on Moore's work and how it gets translated by Hollywood. Moore, at his best, was clearly a genius. But I'm obsessed with the ending to Watchmen, which my screenwriting sense tells me is a little off. Do professional screenwriters get the same reaction? All the early screenplay drafts changed the ending, so that would seem to confirm it somewhat.

James said...

I have a whole bunch of comments. Let's start simplest first.



The dogs in the beginning belong to a minor bad guy. Later, The Joker befriends those SAME dogs threatening to feed the minor bad guy to his own mutts. These are the same dogs that attack Batman in the complex at the end.

As far as why they are in there --

It's a reversed "pat the dog" scene. Cliche'd screenwriting rules strictly forbid cruelty to animals, particularly from the hero. Your screenwriting books will tell you, we can't sympathize with a protagonist that is cruel to animals.

I think, it was a little bit of an FU from Goyer towards those rules. It's a statement. Here's our hero. Watch him kill a dog -- do what they tell you not to in screenwriting books and classes. And you still like him.

With that in, he had The Joker have a line about him being like a dog that chases cars. In that, he wouldn't know what to do when he caught one.

I think Goyer tied it into the story with a throwaway line that people read way too much into.


Barbara Gordon -- aka Batgirl is shot and paralyzed, not killed. She becomes Oracle after this incident.

The only bit John Nolan used from this book was the idea from one of the lines that goes, "I like to think of my origin as multiple choice."

Hence, when The Joker keeps telling people how he got his facial scars it is always a different answer.

Tim Burton's BATMAN actually draws heavily from THE KILLING JOKE.


Pretty damn good movie.

There were only a couple things that I think went astray. And they were minor.

a) How did Batman (and Rachel) survive the fall when diving after Rachel?

It also ends up taking something away from the climax, because we've seen Batz fall from greater heights than the final drop.

b) The car chase. I'm not totally sure how Batz wrecked his tank car.

It looked like he was just a crappy driver and drove it into too many other cars, walls, and concrete.

I would have much rather seen the bad guys take out his Batmobile. I think it weakens Batman as a character, to have him wreck it himself.

c) I understand why the movie ended the way it did. It tied everything up very nice and neat --

-- but I would have really liked to have seen a Two-Face movie.


The couple things that bothered me, I don't see ANY critics mentioning. Instead they try and tear this movie apart by comparing it to dramas. Not exactly sure why.

It IS a comic book movie. It needs to satisfy that genre.

It seems to me most critics do not have any clue what genre even is, let alone the audience expectation of a certain genre and whether or not a film successfully delivers within that genre.

The Dark Knight CLEARLY does. I don't know what there is to debate.

In fact, my 3 little quibbles above, are actually minor problems with genre expectation, but the movie STILL delivers in spades.

I guess, they wanted THE DARK KNIGHT to be more like SOPHIE'S CHOICE. Good luck on that one.

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie last night and I am still on a high. I am so pumped after watching it. It's so bloody good. I have a new benchmark to strive for, and my God, will it be a task, but I have to aim for it. This movie has reconfirmed why I love movies so much.

Also, very sorry about your car.

Christian H. said...

Just don't tell the insurance company you were testing out your car's ability to mimic the bat mobile. :-) Glad you're unhurt. I need the discourse. :-)

Anyway, I haven't seen it yet. Maybe this weekend. I figured it would do very well, but it exceeded my expectations.

With inner conflict, I've found as may others that conflict happens when you enter a "new world." If some trait served you well in the old world, it should hinder you in the new. Or make you misunderstood. Or make you aggressive.

I think the descriptions given in one review are not really inner conflicts but scenes of personal choice in the face of two juxtaposed courses of actions. It can cause tension but is not a conflict.

Inner conflict should involve life choices, not choices between immediate actions.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about your accident, glad you're ok. I love the article here, and your thoughts on TDK, Mystery Man. One thing that caught my eye and I can't make sense of - what did you mean when you wrote "to those in the middle east, eastern europe and africa"? Are they particularly unaware of what inner conflict means? I don't get what your intention was here, but it could easily be interpreted as racist.
And in response to James's question about how the Batmobile was destroyed - he jumped in the way of the Joker's missile to protect the SWAT truck carrying Harvey. He landed, lost control and crashed. But he did it to save Harvey.

The Corsair

Jezza said...

I think Zane's comment regarding inner conflicts was very true. Batman Begins established Bruce Wayne's ethics, and The Dark Knight (ie. The Joker) preceeded to rip those to shreds, or at least attempt to. It is up to the viewer's discrecion as to whether we think The Joker succeeded. I believe he did not, but the threat of what he represents still remains.

The Dark Knight was great because it used Batman Begins not as a crutch but the backbone with which to extend the story and furthen the arc of Batman. I think The Dark Knight suffers if we do not consider Batman Begins, because we may forget the arc that Bruce Wayne is going through and lose him in the mix.

In actuality, Batman/Bruce plays a vital role in the film, even if he seems overshadowed by The Joker and Harvey Dent. His inner conflict clashes/compares with them, which supports and strengthens each individual character and the film as a whole.

What I enjoyed about the film: each major protagonist/antagonist was acting in conjunction with the plot and theme, but never being forced to act out of character. They all were true to themselves, even when being pushed in opposite directions to what they originally stood for.

James Hull said...

100% agree with Kevin Lehane.

And even though it has little to do with screenwriting, I really appreciated how "real" danger was presented in the film. I hadn't realized how numb I had become by countless years of CGI stunts. Nolan's preference for reality over digital transformed this film into a spectacle.

I loved it.

Sorry to hear about the bus - but thanks for the article - gave me a lot to think about for my own work.

Matt said...

And of course, all of these inner conflicts are different variations on what the theme is - and what the 'moral' of the story is.

I felt that the whole movie was about how important it is to never lose sight of your principles, no matter what you're up against. So all of those inner conflicts that you mapped out play into that idea. And the outcomes are all different. Gordon is victorious in keeping his values, Dent isn't. Alfred decides to do what's right, but not easy, while Lucius irrepairably compromises his values, and is worse for it. (though there's a minor victory at the end. Side Note: I wonder if Lucius resigned so that they don't have to bring Freeman back for a Part III).

And of course, Batman has the most classical arc of all. He wants to do whatever he can to make Gotham better. He initially thinks that it can be done by representing the side of 'good' that representation has disastrous consequences for the entire city of Gotham, and at the end, learns that, at the moment, the best thing he can do for Gotham is to represent the side of 'bad.' Brilliant reversal that never feels false.

But what's most interesting about the reception of the film is that nobody is nitpicking on the numerous plot holes (like the big one in my mind: why not blame those crimes on the Joker? Or some random Thug? Why does it have to be Batman?) because the story is so damn good. A good story trumps all... even a bit of shoddy plotting.

Matt said...

And yes, of course, sorry about your accident! I'm going to pretend you drove in front of that bus to stop the assassination of an employee who was going to reveal your identidy to the world. ;-)

Mickey Lee said...

Great column, MM! Every time I read your blog, I feel like I have to go back and rewrite everything! LOL

Anonymous said...

C'mon, you can psyche yourself up all you want, but was this really just more than Die Hard 3 without Bruce Willis? Was this really a movie about characters and their inner conflicts? To me it was more about action sequences and cool gadgets. Too bad, because Batman is an interesting character, but here he was left aside, and his inner conflicts was brought up only in a shallow manner in those small talky moments between "bang bang".

Ledger was quite good. Maybe the best thing in the movie, but even his performance was overshadowed by the movies overpacked march of action sequences and twists and turns. We really didn't dig very deep into those conflicted individuals (or freaks) called Batman and Joker or even Two-Face. (And wasn't the low tone of Batmans voice borderline ridiculous?)

Maybe I'm too demanding for a superhero-blockbuster. To make a generalization, it was a movie for 13 year old boys and I myself am more into Bergman and such, even Tarantino. But I thought that the Bourne movies were quite good action movies.

And greetings from Finland. I enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...

or maybe "more than just".

-the same

Anonymous said...

Christopher did a very bold approach to the material he had. He didn't do a super-hero movie. In fact, this movie is more like Michael Mann's Heat ( which he cites as his main influence ) and Scorcese's Departed or even Die Hard then to any other super-hero movie done before.

He did it like a crime story. In fact, giving a lot of screen time to cops, district attorneys, lawyers and mob guys as he gived Batman.

Gotham as portraited as a real city, not just a bunch of buildings, but a city with real citizens, with cops, crooks, journalists, bussiness men, etc. with all those characters having a significant role in the narrative.

Anonymous said...

Would this bus happen to be a school bus :)

But lets discuss the movie. I don't know, I wasn't that impressed to tell you the truth...the movie to me went on for far to long, it just seemed like they didn't know how to end it. Some of the dialogue was great and other times it was just conspicuous. Maybe Lucious played a bigger role then I would like to see in a batman flick. The pacing was awesome in the first act, but when we got to the midpoint it was just dragging to me. Then there was like the 3 endings...which I thought was too much. I just thought you could have saved the twoface character in the third movie along with someone like catwoman. I guess they vowed against it.

Performances, Joker was making me laugh in the entire movie...good stuff. I especially like the line where, I believe gamble, says "You're just gonna take all are money"...and he easily replies, "Yeah"...Christian Bale and Aaron, did their job, didn't really care for maggie. and Gary Oldman always delivers.

But all it really is, is nitpicking the movie, all in all I would give it and 8.5/10, I thought it was good but the fanboys obviously would rip me to shreds if I didn't say it was perfect...and number 1 on IMDB is a stretch.

When I usually come across a fanboy, and I say the things I didn't like about the movie, they of course get all which I just reply...

"Why so serious."

hovercraft said...

It seemed like such a waste to literally leave the Joker hanging at the end, though. To me it felt like a flaw of the screenplay.

After all, why spend so much effort establishing his predilection for using knives if he's not going to whip one out at the end, and, as he says all madness takes is a little push, cut his lifeline, sending himself hurtling to certain death?

(I know he couldn't cut one of Batman's butch cables, but surely they could have figured out a way to string him up with one of the SWAT team's regular old ropes.)

Christian H. said...

Well, I finally saw it and I have to say it bordered on brilliant in the elements that hinged the story together.

I think the Joker character HAS TO BE continued. Heath did a remarkable job but the character was so twisted yet charming, you can't help but want to see him again.

A lot of people commented on his growl but with your jawline exposed you need something to cover your identity.

The ferry scene was a really brilliant idea as it showed that it's easy to say "I'll sacrifice you," but much harder to actually do it. And also that you don't have the right to judge who's worthy.

The use of a negative arc for Harvey was played nearly perfectly. His love for Rachel was almost palpable. And I can say I have much more respect for Maggie Gyllenhall as I thought she was the character that Katie Holmes originated. A lot of times when people are replaced in sequels they don't really capture the essence of the original performance (Speed 2 comes to mind).

Excellent use of 2.5 hours.

David Alan said...

Okay, what do you call a car that gets hit by a bus?


Get it?



Anyway, to pretty much sum it up...

Great Story + Smart, Believable Script + Perfect Acting + Full-On, Shit-Kicking Performance From Heath Fucking Ledger as The Joker = The Dark Knight

It’s truly unforgettable.

I lapped up every subtle detail.

The Joker, of course, was classic. A character you are glad is fiction and not real. Scary in its intensity.

Gary Oldman was also incredible...was cool to see him in more of a "nerdy" type role...

Harvey? He was great. Too good, too...honest. I really connected and felt for him...rooted like hell for him to escape his fate...really, I wanted him to stay good and succeed in cleaning up the city...

That’s probably the most impressive aspect. Nolan shows us how Batman's actions are taking a heavy toll on Gotham through the various plot strings. Too cool.

Also, I can’t remember when a movie has represented Newton’s Third Law so brilliantly like this one has.

And the only did get a bit "busy" in the end...I can understand how some could get lost (and not LOST!) in a few of the scenes...but overall, hauntingly perfect...

I recommend that all should see it this weekend because it's always more exciting when the theater is packed and the audience reacts.

-- David Alan

Mystery Man said...

Dix – Thanks, man.

Hellresident – Really? Thanks for that.

Zane – “To state it more simply, can we say that Inner Conflict forces our protag to question his or own philosophies on life?” Absolutely. That’s a nice example. I like it.

Pat – Thanks, honey.

JJ – “Yeah, there's this guy Alan Moore? He does dialouge pretty well. Also transitions. He can handle those too.” Hehehe… Thanks, man.

C – I’m not sure if you have a blog, but you should write about that yourself. I’d read it.

James – Great points about the film, particularly a) and c). With respect to Batz wrecking his tank car, it was the result of him taking a hit from the missile launcher. This brings me to:


Friends have tossed up various complaints about the film. Tell me what you guys think:

- First, James made a great point about Batman’s fall in the third act. I completely agree.
- There was an inconsistency with the Gotham presented in the first film, which was more comic-bookish, and the realistic Gotham in the second film. The fact that this was made out to be SO realistic made it more difficult to believe what happened to Two-Face.
- A few friends complained that Two-Face’s arc happened too quickly. I always pointed out to them the scene with Harvey interrogating Joker’s minion, which illustrated that he was very capable of going too far, but it wasn’t enough for them. They would’ve preferred transformation happening in the end, which would setup the third film. I don’t know. I’m not entirely convinced.
- But this brings up another bigger question: is the principle that many hold in HW that all films must have character arcs, which they tried to incorporate through Harvey Dent, weaken the Dark Knight? Did they incorporate an arc for the sake of appeasement when the film could’ve been just as great without it?
- How did Two-Face get his burned suit?
- The emotional impact of Rachel’s death was never really felt and should’ve had a bigger emotional impact on Batman himself.
- One friend told me that a good interrogation would’ve stripped the Joker of his clothes and makeup so he would feel more vulnerable.
- They may have overplayed their hands a bit with this whole business about eavesdropping on the cell phones of the city, because many are trying to make parallels between Batman and George W. Bush.
- Was anyone else distracted by the Mayor’s eyeliner? That bugged the shit out of me.

Kevin – Thanks, man.

Christian – “I think the descriptions given in one review are not really inner conflicts but scenes of personal choice in the face of two juxtaposed courses of actions. It can cause tension but is not a conflict.” I disagree. Choosing between two courses of action is also an internal debate about what’s better.

Anon – Oh, shit. Thanks for pointing that out. I didn’t mean that they’re less aware of inner conflicts. It’s just that I’ve been getting lots of e-mails from those areas of the world and they talk so much about what a shambles the industry is where they’re out and how they crave to learn about the craft. I just wanted them to feel included, I wanted them to know that I know they’re out there and I’m trying to help. I could’ve written that better. Thanks for that.

Jezza – This was SUCH a great line: “What I enjoyed about the film: each major protagonist/antagonist was acting in conjunction with the plot and theme, but never being forced to act out of character. They all were true to themselves, even when being pushed in opposite directions to what they originally stood for.” Thanks for that. I completely agree.

Jim – Ya know, I think CGI ennui has set in, and a trend it coming back to return to more realistic films. I also hope this will bring about the return of puppetry.

Matt – Another great line. “I felt that the whole movie was about how important it is to never lose sight of your principles, no matter what you're up against. So all of those inner conflicts that you mapped out play into that idea. And the outcomes are all different. Gordon is victorious in keeping his values, Dent isn't. Alfred decides to do what's right, but not easy, while Lucius irrepairably compromises his values, and is worse for it. (though there's a minor victory at the end. Side Note: I wonder if Lucius resigned so that they don't have to bring Freeman back for a Part III).” Thanks for that. Great point about blaming the Joker. I’m feeling great now, thanks.

Mickey – Great to hear from you, man.

Nestori – How are you? Great to meet you. You’ll have to agree that Dark Knight was about as deep as any comic book film is going to get. Unless, of course, you can name a comic book film that’s EVEN DEEPER. But I, too, prefer Bergman. I went through all his films last year when passed away, and I’ve been aching to do that again.

Octavio – “Christopher did a very bold approach to the material he had. He didn't do a super-hero movie. In fact, this movie is more like Michael Mann's Heat ( which he cites as his main influence ) and Scorcese's Departed or even Die Hard then to any other super-hero movie done before.” I completely agre.

Gabbagoo – Nope. Not a school bus. Thank God. Well, I never felt that it dragged. It was a quick 2 ½ hours for me. We walked out trying to think of things that could’ve been cut, and couldn’t find much. I though there was a little too much talk when the Joker was hanging upside down. Out of four stars, I might give it 3 3/4s. Hehehe…

Hovercraft – Good point. When I first saw it, I wondered if this was the best way to end it. I wasn’t bothered so much about that the second time around.

Christian – I don’t know, man. I’d stay the hell away from the Joker for quite a while.

David – I rarely disagree and this comment was no exception.


Anonymous said...

Hi - long-time reader, first-time poster.

Saw the movie over the weekend and, to be honest, found myself a bit baffled by all the praise. Quality-wise, it seemed to be about on a level with the first three Die Hard movies - that is, a competent, fast paced thriller with a clever bad guy who outwits the conventional police.

I'm genuinely curious about why some people see anything more in it. It seemed to me that the philosophical elements in the movie weren't pretentious - as some have claimed - but they weren't very deep either. The movie seemed to be wanting to allude to deeper subjects - nihilism, anarchy, the war on terror - but not to offend anyone or come to any real conclusions.

Take, for example, the Joker's claim that anyone could become like him, that people are basically bad (i.e. "these civilized people will eat each other"). The people on the ships would seem to disprove his claim; Harvey Dent's breakdown would seem to prove it. These two events seem to cancel each other out. The picture does not seem to be provoking thought so much as carefully not saying one thing or the other.

Since the ideas it raises are not particularly new, it came across as gesturing towards depths it did not explore. The Killing Joke, by contrast, tests the Joker's theory and not only finds it wanting (Gordon does not crack) but finds some humanity - something pathetic and pitiable - in the Joker's desire to prove that he is not abnormal. At the end of the comic, Batman's refusal to descend to the level of a right-wing vigilante by beating the Joker to a pulp (and, as the Joker says, IIRC, winning a "standing ovation from the public gallery") is itself a profound defeat of the Joker's worldview. But you could see the temptation - after all the things the Joker does, anyone would want to beat him to a pulp. By contrast, the Joker's insistence that Batman take off his mask in The Dark Knight seems easy to resist - almost calculated to provoke a "F*** YOU!" response from Batman.

The Killing Joke tested ideas to their limits where the Dark Knight just picked them up, waved them at the audience and then put them away again unchanged and unused.

This, combined with the clumsiness of the editing in some of the fight and chase scenes and the rather on-the-nose dialogue (do we really need to be told, twice, that Harvey Dent can take on the criminals of Gotham but he's scared of a fund raiser?) produced, for me, a rather unremarkable movie. Not a bad one, just a ho-hum action movie.

More interesting than the movie itself seems to be the extremely favourable reaction it has gained in some quarters. As I said at the beginning of this rather long post, I'm really curious as to why this should be. Is it just brand loyalty (because it's Batman?) Is it because Heath Ledger's performance was good (it was)? Or is it because people who liked it saw something that I didn't - a movie that cohered, that had a deeper level, a third dimension to the performances...? And if so... how?

Christian H. said...

Believe MM, I don't think you're wrong and I'm right. My perception doesn't have to be yours.

It has to work for me or I'm wasting my time.

I really thought after seeing it that the IC for Bruce was "is my love life worth more than Gotham?"

I thought Rachel's conflict was "do I love Bruce as Batman or find a normal guy?"

Harvey's was "do I support a vigilante or condemn him?"

The Joker's was "which knife do I use?"

Gordon's was "do I trust my men or Harvey?" or "do I help Batman or Harvey?"

I just think the IC needs to exist for most of the time the character does.

Funniest quote. "No I'm supposed to kill the bus driver."

Anonymous said...

I finally saw the film today (IMAX ftw!). And have been waiting to read this post.

I thought Batman chose to save Dent instead of Dawes. I don't recall Batman being surprised to see Dent. I was sold on this being the case. I kind of like this better than just the Joker mixing up the addresses, and thought Batman chose Dent for the good of Gotham rather than his own needs (more inner conflict!).

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Batman wanted to save Rachel. That's what he told Gordon, and they never showed him changing his mind.

The argument I'm having with my friends is whether or not the Joker switched the addresses so that which ever choice Batman made would be thwarted, or whether he specifically knew that he would choose Rachel, end up saving Dent, and that therefore Dent himself would shatter.

I think it's the first one, but all my friends disagree. The Joker just seemed to them to be omniscient, to the point that every moment in the film was essentially scripted by him.

I don't know if that's a failing of the movie, exactly. It's a little bit unsettling that the film-makers seem to want to deflate the Joker by the end of the story, but aren't able to. The scene on the boats is the only moment where he doesn't get his way, but neither he nor Batman are there. And there are two scenes following that, one in which Dent goes over the edge, and the Joker's climactic, self-satisfied speech, in which the Joker seems fully in control.

So, the way I see it, the Joker wins. But was he meant to, like Chigurh was? Or is he so powerful a character that he somehow defeated the film-makers intentions? I can't tell.

Dave Ale said...

I think a big key about inner-conflict that people are missing:

You have to make the decision HARD. You can't cop out... and after the decision has been made, the hero shouldn't get a get out of jail free card.

I'm going to use a Saw movie as an example of doing it wrong... can't remember which one.

The scene:

A husband and wife are back to back, several stakes going through them. The stakes are arranged in such a way that if she pulls them out, he dies, if she leaves them in, he doesn't.

The tape recording comes on, and Jigsaw says (paraphrasing): You have a choice -- are you going to let him get away with the abuse, or are you going to save yourself.

Knowing that she was abused drastically reduces the inner conflict. It effectively becomes:

Will you kill the person that hurt you a whole bunch in order to survive?

It would've been much stronger if he hadn't abused her and the question was:

Would you rather kill your husband and live with the guilt, or die together?

That is a MUCH more difficult question to answer.

There is a difference between good inner-conflict and bad inner-conflict. In bad inner-conflict the decision is easy, in good inner-conflict the decision is hard.

To use another example:

Romantic comedy. Love vs Money. The question is: Would you rather have all the money in the world, or be poor but love the person you're with?

Meh. Average question.

Change the situation:

If she marries the poor guy, she'll have to live in the ghetto AND raise her son there. If she marries the rich guy, her son will have everything he needs but she may not be happy.

Now the question becomes:

Would you rather have the love of your life but risk your son's future, or would you rather guarantee your son a good future but lose the person you care about?

Harder question = better story.

And you can't get her out of jail free right after by having her win the lottery after marrying the poor guy.

/end rant

Great post, MM. Got me thinking.

DH said...

Apart from a plot device I think the dogs are there to illustate the theme that we are all animals undernath / duality of human nature. We can be trained or changed - Dent and the gangster's dogs.
The joker is an dog, nicely illustrated as he hangs his head out of the window after escaping jail.

Mystery Man said...

DH - I agree. Thanks for that!


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