Here (replete with spoilers) are thoughts stirred by the best thriller movie of its kind in many years.

-The movie floats in over a Chicago/Gotham on a bright sunny day and ends in a similar floating sweep behind Batman who is careening into a bright light. What a perfect frame for the story. It plays out as though we are descending spirits looking into a very real and human morality play. Like Empire Strikes Back, its final bookending shot is filled with questioning. What are Luke and Leia thinking? What light is Batman figuratively riding into?

-Many have commented on the inspiration of Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’, but I also feel a heavy dose of ‘Seven’. A looming sense of dread as the pursuers are being more and more influenced by their prey. The ‘completion’ sought by Kevin Spacey is much like the Joker’s. His is a project that feeds off those who see themselves in the right, in the place of moral authority.

-Nolan’s filming has vastly improved since “Batman Begins” but his fight scenes are still murky and the choreographing and editing a bit choppy. To compare the club scene where Batman fights his way to Marone to that of the club scene in Collateral gives some idea of Nolan’s room to grow.

-Twice people are said to be ‘holding cards close to their chest’. The theme in the film of ‘who gets to know what’ and ‘what do I think others need/deserve to know’ is very interesting. Alfred, Gordon, Dawes, Wayne are all implicated in various ways of manipulating knowledge. They for their own reasons rationalize what they allow others to know. We can identify with this phenomenon from the government’s lies about the Iraq war to our telling our girlfriend ‘I was with my friends last night.’
This theme becomes strongest at the end when Gordon and Batman conceive of creating Dent as a poster boy or purity and Batman as the scapegoat sent into the wilderness. Are Gordon and Batman right about the people of Gotham needing clear cut villains and heros? I would say they are not. Just as the Joker underestimated the people aboard the ferries, so too do they wrongly believe that Gotham cannot handle the complexity of our human existence. The binary of good/evil, sinful/pure, us/them, is quickly fading from many minds as an outdated and unnecessary conceptual field. The multiplicity of our experiences, our shifting identity, and our increasingly interwoven cultures don’t really allow for binary thinking any longer.

-Harvey Dent as a slave to himself: his coin is not a coin. It is sameness. Just as a deck of cards all consisting in Jokers is not a deck, Dent structures his life by “making his own luck” but this really is a way of saying, “The outcome that I want is what I will get.” He is a God without an apple stuffed Adam. No disorder, no chaos, eschewing chance and randomness, he is the vacuum robot from Wall*E.
So the Joker enters into his equation and creates Difference. His coin now reflecting options and randomness, Dent is mistaken in believing that “chance” now must dictate his life. He has made the mistake of those few who meet the horrific pains of life and think: “Wow. This universe is a random-ass pile of cruel fate and chance. I must be free from consciously choosing my actions too!” Folks don’t stay here for long, and they are usually brought back to relationship and considerate/discerning behavior. Dent unfortunately doesn’t have the chance to see himself through this bleak tunnel and is killed too soon. This is maybe one of the script’s failings (look, I’ve got to find some fault somewhere in this stunning movie!). I think that it may have been interesting to see how Dent could synthesize chance, disorder, anarchy to some degree, and a mature negotiating of choosing ‘what outcomes do I want, and how can I get there?’

-There’s a cool repetition of folks talking about ‘trusting’ Dent in the beginning of the film. Who can we trust? Must we be assured that the person doesn’t make decisions that we see as unwise to trust them? Trust is an impossibility and a necessity. We can’t trust our family will always be there for us, or that our dog won’t run away with a Pet Circus. But to live lives without trust is devastating. What to say about his coin reading “In God We Trust”?

-Batman, as is everyone in the movie, is flawed. The scene in his hideout where he says “criminals aren’t that hard to figure out” says a lot. In the back ground there is an image of the Joker’s face with a mapping program trying to identify him by facial characteristics. I feel that the statement is that Batman is falling prey to the simple pop psychology that assumes that people’s actions and motivations can be parsed. No, we are always much more complex than Batman could even figure out. Isn’t it scary when people believe they “know” you?
Batman also is called out on his other failing by the Joker when in the jail cell Joker says, “Nothing to do with all your strength!” Batman, like anyone who prides themselves on their physical strength, will be sooner or later humiliated by the cunning and complexity of a world that does not respond to fists. This is a lesson that America still has yet to learn. Despite the RAND report which came out last week citing that ‘political means’ make up the vast majority of conflict resolutions involving terrorist organizations, and despite what the wisdom of our world’s religions, and despite what our kindergarten teachers tell us (don’t hit!), The Red White and Blue is still determined to stockpile nuclear weapons and have a military force the size of Paris Hilton’s feet.

-Maybe the Joker isn’t all that bad. He does have at least the sense to know ‘everything burns’. What I like about this incarnation is that he is not crazy. He is driven. He is not cackling with madness, he laughs in the face of our societal constructions. Its a great idea he raises: Why do we largely accept the “dead gangbanger” and the “dead soldiers”? How is it possible that just down the road there are kidnappings, murders, and worse? And that ‘worse’ I might add is the persistant marginalization and oppression of those whose color, class, education, and sex ‘just don’t measure up’.
The Joker I think has been wrongly pained at times for this picture as a ‘terrorist’. He is not, just as the snake in the garden was not the devil. The snake was a snake. And the Joker is not a terrorist. He, again to liken him to Kevin Spacey’s “John Doe” in Seven, is a man of strong belief who undertakes a project not of political impetus, but to teach others that their world is not what it seems.

To hear another view, check out Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman of www.cinemainfocus,

Ryan McGivern

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