Monday, December 15, 2008

In Darkest Night (or just hanging with Dark Knights) Pt. 3

I noticed in re-reading my last blog that I treat fictional characters as if they are real, justifying their decisions by what is presented on the silver screen. It makes me sound like a geek.

Well, I am a geek. The truth is, good writing pulls from the heart, from intuitive knowledge, from shared experiences, hopes, dreams, desires. A good writer paired with a good director choosing the right actor to portray what they feel is true is an almost irresistable combo. It is to their credit that they make fictional characters come alive so well. They go from little ideas on paper to living breathing humans in front of an audience. That's amazing to me, but it just shows how truth is revealed in art, in fiction. So if you are one of those nay-sayers saying "For cripes sake, its just a movie!" I hear you. Hear me as well - much of the stories on film need to be treated like that, but excellence in film does grab the lyrical soul. It is rare. It is the successful collaboration of multiple artists, and it is to Christopher Nolan's credit he got Michael Caine and Gary Oldman in SUPPORTING roles, top-notch actors who have been front-liners, each taking second seat to Christian Bale as Batman.

In other words, Nolan nailed his vision of truth so well that big names came to serve him. Amen to that. The man's got talent.

So with that aside, I want to reveal MORE geekness, taking a small excursion away from spiritual comments this blog (though I promise nothing).

GEEK MOMENTS OF UTTER COOLNESS
A) Bruce Wayne in a Lamborghini - it is as it should be.
I was watching TDK (again) and then the scene with Bruce Wayne racing through the streets to save his whiney Judas accountant came up. With perfect hair and grim intensity, he races down the city's canyons in a sleek gray Lamborghini, engine howling, as images of the El's support beams flit across his windshield -and I could not restrain myself. I jumped up and shouted to the heavens:

"BRUCE WAYNE IN A LAMBORGHINI RACING THROUGH THE STREETS OF GOTHAM! I'VE WAITED 30 YEARS TO SEE THAT!!"

I geeked. Hard. Why? Because it had been so long in coming.

We who grew up with Batman of the 70s and 80s had known this is how he should be portrayed. The artist who got closest to this was Michael Golden wayyyyy back in 1984, who put Bruce talking on a car phone as he was driving a Rolls Royce with RayBans on. Oh yeah, he was speeding.

'Cause bringing justice and defending the defenseless should be a timely event. 'Nuff said.

B) Nolan gives us a Joker so real, he's terrifyingly understandable.
Only a few characters are so sociopathic that you are truly scared of what they will say or do next. Joe Pesci in GoodFellas and Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets both come to mind. You are afraid of what they will say or do next. They cannot be predicted nor controlled. They are only as kind as they see it will benefit them. They are utterly unsocialized. (A clear and chilling definition for the layman is here.)

Heath Ledger's performance of the Joker falls into this category. He hates the banality of the mob and ends up wiping them out, one by one. Batman he actually appreciates: he admires his theatrics, his breaking of human conventions, his one-track dedication to his mission. I mean it - who ELSE would impress the Joker?

Oh - by the way - with the Nolan brothers penchant for realism, I have a pretty good clue as to the Joker's "real identity" or "motivational background" if you will.

They are all there on film. You only have to connect the dots. See if you agree.

I believe the Joker is an ex-Special Forces Black Ops agent, trained by the CIA and then went rogue after a failed mission - some scenario in which he was brutally betrayed by his higher-ups.

1) The Joker uses lies and misinformation without remorse. It is a tactic to manipulate his opponents again and again. From switching the addresses of his victims so Batman cannot save Rachel Dawes, to telling Dent he had nothing to do with her death (since he was locked up), to telling the mob he wants "half" of their money - you cannot trust anything he says. He doesn't want "half" - he wants it all. How many mob bosses lived to the end of the film? None.

This is a person who has zero relationships of trust. He is utterly alone emotionally.

2) He understands torture, the psychological impact of fighting hand-to-hand and can resist amazing amounts of pain. When Batman bashes his head to the table, the Joker uses it as a teaching lesson. When Batman slams his fist into the Joker's, he ignors the pain completely to make his point. Last time I saw something like that on film, it was James Bond being abused and making jokes about it. From "Never start with the head! The victim becomes all fuzzy and can't feel anything!" to "Do you want to know why I use a knife? You see, a gun's too quick - you can't savor their final moments..."

3) He plans everything meticulously and has multiple contigency plans. He robs a mob bank, and leaves in a school bus just as the daily convoy is passing by. He left the bullet in the wall with the fingerprint of the goon he was using so Batman/Bruce would find the officers - and had a timer so when the shade came up, sniper rounds would pepper anyone there. And how DO you put explosives on boats, in a hospital, and inside one of your own men without pre-planning? His words to Harvey Dent: "Do I look like a guy with a plan?" are utterly deceptive. He was even able to take out a police helicopter with two cable-firing goons as he attacked Dent's police convoy.

4) Urban terrorism is his forte'. He understands everything about police procedure, emergency services and when he DOES want to infiltrate them, he uses stealth and disguise. These are not simple things. When it suits him, he can use a silenced pistol. Hmmmmm. Again, close relation to this? James Bond.

5) The story of his scars that he tells his victims are designed to dig into their souls. He tells a man who grew up in African-American area of the inner city about an abusive and alcoholic father - and earlier he used a pejorative reference to his grandmother to anger him into action. Boys who grow up in those situations often revere their moms and their grannys and suffer through much physical abuse from males. It is a calculated dig.

What he tells Rachel is the story of a ideal romance turned tragic. Ow, ow, owwww. And most telling, after fighting the Batman and pinning him, he begins - BEGINS to tell yet ANOTHER story of how he got his scars - for he is about to kill our dark knight and wants the pleasure of shock and awe - and we the audience are prevented from hearing it. Did the Joker understand basically WHAT kind of man he was fighting? It seems he did. Earlier: "Don't talk like them! You're not one of them - even if you WANT to be." So he has the equivalent of a Masters in sociology or psychology - he understands his victims perfectly.

6) He knows military hardware and also has NO IDENTITY, NO PRIORS, NO FINGERPRINTS, NO MATCHES anywhere. How can you get that done? By the agencies that use special forces in very scary places.

7) He is physically a match for veteran officers, mob enforcers and nearly the Batman himself. He has speed, strength and agility. His "magic trick"? Whoa. He knows some serious martial arts.

8) He is fearless in tense combat situations and can command small teams with precision: "I just want my phone call" "Rack 'em up, rack 'em up, rack 'em up!"

9) His own prediction of what will happen to Batman once he's "no longer useful": "They'll drop you at the first sign of trouble." "You'll be cast off - like a leper!" How many times have we heard of this treatment of soldiers - 'dropped and left to die' in some foreign jungle? Of MIAs who were in fact POWs? Guess who's describing his past with such seeming authority? The Joker. (Small film allusion is also here: In Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, do you remember what our protagonist, the news correspondent and laughing cynic was called? Joker.)

Final analysis: we are looking at a man betrayed by the U.S. government and left to die - scarred and disfigured. Now he's come back to teach these men "with all their little rules" how "pathetic their plans really are!"

Why won't he kill Batman, though? Because he was Batman - in another country, another time. He wants to justify himself of the irresistible nature of evil by making others like himself. "I took your White Knight and gave him a little push - for as you know, madness is like gravity - all you need is a little push!"

But you can also push back - and that's what Bruce did. And the Joker admires him for it: "You really are incorruptible, aren't you?"

Well, that's all fanboys. This blog is getting long.

But remember what Jesus said: "If the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"

Let us keep in mind that we have a responsibility to use the power and intellect God has given us to make the world a better place, not a bitter place.

Amen.

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