The Batman Project: 2008 ‘The Dark Knight’ Invites Darkness
No comments yetJul 20, 2012
It is only the things we love that break our hearts.
I remember exactly where I was when I heard Heath Ledger had died. I remember exactly what I was wearing when I saw the Dark Knight for the first time. I remember the first thought I had as the credits rolled and the impossibility of Ledger’s absence struck me again: Is it any wonder? This is not to say that I made any peace with the death of this fine actor and father, but given the world he had enmeshed himself in to prepare and play the Joker, it made a certain kind of sickening sense.
People give actors a lot of shit. I know I have in the past, and I know I will again – probably later today. But, like a friend who adores you for even your most infuriating tics of personality, I can speak in an arch manner about actors because I love them. Here is where I disclose that I was one. Here is where I try to explain that I didn’t stop because I wasn’t good enough, but because the ounce of bravery that steels my spine is best utilized by whispering words in someone else’s even braver ear – that’s how I derive my happy, that’s where my sense of dangerous creation lives. It takes a completely different sort of talent to say those words so that everyone can hear them – you have to stick your neck out every day, it can be death or glory, and I love that. I recognize that when I see it.
The truth is that good actors work very hard. The truth is that good actors know that this work is necessary so that this good work is also safe work. Because – the truth is – acting is very dangerous. I’m of the belief that every human being has a couple of doors in their brains that are largely labeled ‘DO NOT OPEN’ and usually for good reason. Many people access these doors, because they feel in order to balance out their lives in a way that makes sense, they’ve got. These are the seekers and the thinkers and they are wise enough to know that no journey to the center of one’s self should ever be chartered unsupervised. Some people chug along, see that door out of the corner of their eye and when a cold wind blows, shiver to themselves and ignore the draft – these folks are often people who are naturally gifted at acting. These folks need to start to get to work, and how, because having a cracked door and no understanding what’s behind it means you could do yourself great mental and spiritual anguish. The best actors know these doors, look at them, gauge them, respect them and scare the bejesus out of you presenting as demons that could have come out from behind one of your own doors.
Which is all to say that acting is one of the most dangerous professions, and Heath Ledger was lost to it. I read recently that he locked himself away for 6 weeks in a motel to prep for the joker. That, my friends, is a red flag. But Becca, I hear you ask, Daniel Day Lewis does that shit all the time. To which I reply, yeah, and he knew better than to play the Joker, didn’t he? If you love an actor do not let themselves lock themselves away in a motel for six weeks alone ever unless they are playing a character called “Very Well-Adjusted, Affable, Hermit.” The work might be great, but you’ll lose them. There’s just no need for such extravagant waste. Ledger would still have been lauded, I think he would have still earned the Oscar, had he lived. Death does not have to be the toll you pay for brilliance in the art form.
Ledger is often touted as a victim of the Batman story, of the darkness that is seen at the story’s heart. How do you defend a story in wake of a human being’s death? How do you defend a story in the wake of the death of twelve and the wounding of 50 more? My editor and I discussed the rest of this series in the wake of the shooting that took place in Colorado early this morning. The sadness we felt was almost immediately stymied by the media’s attempt to point a finger of blame. On the one hand it’s understandable, in a time of chaos the brain demands an explanation – to say nothing of what the heart wants. By the same token, and this may be providing too revelatory a glance of my world for you guys – people get sick, and horrible things happen. That’s our world – there’s a lot of good but just as much bad. The only thing shocking about last night is how completely unshocking an event it has come to be. The fact that the shooting took place in Colorado, not far from Columbine High School only highlights this.
Man. I’ve been ten kinds of somber about this – should I inject some levity? I think I will. Here is me talking to my boss. Also, a disclaimer: I am not a dick.me: ….
can I say something awful?me: you can’t tell anyone!me: …..
I secretly hoped it was zombie evil Heath Ledger who thought he was still the joker….
….me: and that….maybe Batman is real and will strike baaack!me: agreed.me: Because like, theoretically,
there is NOTHING TO STOP Batman from existing.
The internet would make keeping his ID under wraps challenging
but still.me: Right!me: I know!me: Everyone would be all “that dude is mentally ill”
and I would quietly love him.
Because, as I once came regrettably close to titling a brother sister comedy act I am working on with my brother – you gotta laugh.
If ever the outside world had to crash in upon such a navel gazing internet experiment, I have an eerie feeling about it being this one. As Alex mentioned above, with Ledger’s death already a part of the Nolan Batman legend, the events in Colorado are enough to give the Bat the side-eye of ‘curse’ from here in perpetuity. But if you dig deep, especially in Hollywood, curses are everywhere, unhappiness is everywhere. Staying with a theme – exhibit Katie Holmes – she starred (a practical usage of the word here, not an adjectival one) in the first of the Nolan trilogy and went on to recently experienced great personal upheaval and then get hit by a lot of cars, It’s grasping, but grasping is what we do in the face of chaos.
The Dark Knight is a brilliant film for its exploration of that chaos.The plot is traditional, an almost staid reintroduction of Harvey Dent, his transformation into Two-Face at the hands of the Joker, and Batman’s necessary self-sacrifice. The Joker is the character who distinguishes himself here. By making the deliberate decision to tantalize with the joker’s origins but never actually give anything away, they made a character who was as deliberate and inexplicable and the force of chaos he ushered into a post-mob Gotham city.
I was going to continue on and say that subbing in Maggie Gyllenhaal for Katie Holmes had done little if anything to fix what was wrong with Rachel Dawes as a character. I do not, in fact, consider this to be entirely so. The linchpin here is Harvey Dent. When the Joker announces that he will kill one person everyday until Batman reveals his identity, it is Harvey who stands up and claims the suit to be his own. It is a secret dream of Bruce’s to be able to publicly acknowledge himself at Batman, but not a practical one. To reveal himself as Batman is to reveal the strange fractures that have made him. To reveal his identity would mean giving up certain aspects of it, and, as appealing as the thought of being fully known is – he has no intention of turning away from the life he’s made, no matter the personal cost. In this sense, Harvey’s proclaiming himself Batman is layered – in so doing, in beginning a relationship with Rachel, Bruce is able to see what a different sort of life would have looked like.
In Nolan’s Gotham this secretive look is both rewarded and punished. Punished in that by allowing another to take his name from him in such a noble but destructive way, Bruce must witness Harvey not just die but first become as fractured as Bruce himself, only devoid of qualities that made him laudable by the outside world. It is not that his goodness is punished – it is that his goodness does not matter. In the face of chaos, the scale of good and evil bear equal weight. It is in this way that Bruce is rewarded and where Rachel gets to take on a little more weight that Begins allowed her to.
Because Rachel is a casualty, she dies, effectively destroying even the illusion for Bruce of another world where she would have been safe, where anything he could have done would have been something that could have saved her. In this way, in the only way possible for a man as divided as Bruce Wayne, there is a modicum of absolution. Insisting that he make himself a murderer to allow Harvey to remain a hero, fleeing on another exile, is as close to a happy ending as he is capable of receiving. Batman is only happy when he carries the weight of all our crimes, like a more self-obsessed kind of Jesus (second time I’ve compared him to Jesus) taking on the guilt he thinks he deserves is what sustains him, and the reward of adding Harvey and Rachel both to the pantheon of those whose deaths he can blame himself for is the proverbial cherry.