It’s easiest to describe The Dark Knight, which garnered the largest weekend gross ever, by saying what it isn’t. It isn’t a breezy summertime flick for the whole family; indeed, its PG-13 rating is something of an indictment against an increasingly lax MPAA. It isn’t a whiz-bang superhero movie; rather, it’s a cerebral crime thriller more preoccupied with ideas than gadgets. And, most interestingly, at its heart it isn’t really dark at all.
Some may take umbrage here. Allen Barra of The Wall Street Journal calls the movie “a $180 million-plus snuff film,” and one blogger sees it as emblematic of “the waning days of western civilization.” True, this is a film where a giggling psychopath rams a pencil through a man’s eye, where a justice-minded district attorney is burned alive for his troubles, where IEDs get re-imagined as a particularly gruesome form of elective surgery. What’s not dark about that?
A lot actually, for these are only the ingredients of a story and not the story itself. If such critics as the ones above were more familiar with noir and grand guignol, they’d know director Christopher Nolan’s mélange of menace, violence and fear could have become something much, much grimmer. The difference lies in The Dark Knight’s themes. Nolan posits a society on the edge of collapse, a society best by chaotic criminals armed with gasoline and gunpowder and a desire to see that “everything burns.” Against them is a billionaire willing to give his wealth, his safety and his very identity for the city he loves. This isn’t blackest nihilism; this is hope and light. That evil is often strong, that the good guys sometimes falter, that the job is never finished doesn’t alter this fact. One might as well fault Paradise Lost for its world-corrupting Satan or the biblical book of Judges with its child sacrifices and gang rapes. As for Nolan’s knight, he soldiers on, and the darkness does not overcome him.
(Picture: CC 2008 by cgines)