Sentinel At The Chaos Gate: The Dark Knight Resonates In Dark Times

Director Christopher Nolan’s decision to set his brilliant new film “The Dark Knight” in a present day, American city, tells us everything we need to know about the dark times we live in. Gotham City isn’t some fanciful creation of an art director with a blockbuster budget … it’s Chicago, right here, right now. Batman walks among us, battling the same demons that all people of conscience do … ignorance, intolerance, envy, greed (to name a few) … and the havoc any one of them can bring.

Moral code, moral compass, code of honor … The Dark Knight straps these on like his Kevlar batsuit, battle tested but always vulnerable in certain spots. It’s a heavy load. Too often it’s the more nefarious reading of life’s rule book that brings the quickest success. Enter, The Joker.

So there you have it, possibly the most successful movie of all time, playing out on screen the same day to day drama we all have a part in. You don’t think so? Have you picked up a newspaper or watched a newscast lately? It doesn’t matter if the evil is in capital letters or lower case, we all come up against the forces of chaos, and must make a choice. Do you do the right thing and possibly suffer for it … or do you go for the quick score, regardless of the consequences? And who’s to umpire which is fair and which is foul.

Wait a minute. How did a popcorn movie, based on a comic book character become a crash course on existentialism? This is Bob Kane not Jean-Paul Sartre. True, but sometimes the most complex themes are best explained in plain language. The thing that I admire so much in “The Dark Knight” is its ability to start a very important conversation about right, wrong and that massive gray area in between.

It’s also true that a lot of folks will just want to soak in the spectacle of “The Dark Knight.” I’m cool with that. The storytelling is perfect for this multi-tasking generation. Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker is one for the ages … his untimely death adding another level of pathos and loss. The fact that his face is caked in macabre make up adds to the mythic feel of the role … the demons that haunt his character begin to meld with the demons that haunted his real life. This performance becomes his legacy to the art of acting. You can only marvel at its depth and complexity.

So, what about Christian Bale? Isn’t he the star of this thing? And Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent? He’s almost as key to the plot as The Joker. Too true. Yet, somehow, it’s still the mad clown that holds our attention the longest. He’s the perfect metaphor for times like these … the chaos of war, the chaos of politics, the chaos of greed, the chaos of hate. And it’s Batman who stands at the gates, a comic book hero with a psyche twisted by hope and fear.

And I stand with him.

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