BATTERSBY EATS SOME HUMBLE PIE
Yes, yes, okay: so we saw The Dark Knight during the week. And yes, even though Heath Ledger has been firmly ensconced, high on my Kurt Rusell Memorial List of What The Fuck’s The Fuss All About Over This Two Rate Hack? for several years, I admit, in public:
He’s pretty bloody amazing in this one.
Truth is, as a superhero movie, TDK isn’t all that good. That’s not to say it isn’t a good movie– it is. It’s a fascinating, multi-layered, quite literary examination of duality, of what it means to wear a mask in both public and private roles, and how the assumption of moral sets defines the way we interact with the society around us. Batbruce is a person playing two roles, both false, both dependant upon the other. The Joker is not only the antithesis of everything Old Pointy Ears stands for, he is the antithesis of all that Wayne holds dear as well– eschewing money, eschewing position, and power, setting his stock not on the preservation of social hierarchies but on their destruction. (Could Batman exists without Wayne’s priviledged place in life? I doubt it.)
Ledger is hypnotic, by far the edgiest and sanest character in the movie, a twitching, self-destructive Tyler Durden figure that almost, almost seduces you into his nihilistic point of view. Indeed, it would have been very easy for the creators to paint him as the good guy of the piece– a few less pointless killings, a better choice of targets (swap hospitals for missile sites, clean-cut District Attorneys for slum lords……). The Joker has an advantage that villians in comic books always possess: he is proactive, whereas Wayne, Dent, and Gordon, (the status quo-reinforcing elements) must wait, and can only act in a reactive capacity. The Joker sets the agenda, creates the milieu, and has the greater capacity to alter the perceptions of the viewer– if what he does works, then the status quo is damaged irreparably– Tyler Durden wins in the end, after all, and despite the carnage along the way, creates a world without debt burden, leading the viewer to accept his message as a positive one. The Joker wipes out millions of dollars of illegal assets, destroys several powerful crime families, and almost ruins a dangerous vigilante with enough power and influence to break international judicial agreements and suffer not even a raised eyebrow in consequence. It’s only because he chooses civilian targets, and because the law enforcement system considers Batman too powerful to abandon (not too right, mind, just too effective), that he must be sacrificed in order to preserve the current balance of power.
And Ledger nails it. I’ll admit it: he absolutely nails it. This is no laughing looney, no Clown Prince of Crime. He ain’t Jack Nicholson’s cringingly awful fatboy clown. He’s an urban terrorist: intelligent, amoral, aware of the street value accorded those who don’t blink. He’s Anarky, stripped down and painted black, and Ledger is brilliant.
It’s the role that will define him, in the same way Brandon Lee will always be The Crow, and James Dean will always be the Rebel Without a Cause. Because, for the first and last time in his truncated career, he stripped away the staginess and uncomfortable posings of his performance and spoke directly to the truth of his character. It’s ugly, and distrubing, and utterly mesmerising.