Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dark Knight Thoughts with BIG SPOILERS

First, a non-spoiler, semi-demurral from Santino, who says that I think Dark Knight is headed to Titanic territory in terms of box office. I don't think Dark Knight has $600M in it; though I do think it has an excellent chance of $400M, a very good chance of $425M, and a fair chance at $450M and above.

I think I've made this observation before here, but to repeat: You cannot predict the biggest box office successes. A movie that does historic-level totals does so by having great legs and you only get that sort of repeat-viewership when the movie taps into, and becomes part of, the culture. And that's something you just can't predict.

If you're a studio chief, you can basically manufacture a film with the goal of making, say, $80M, or $200M. But there is no way of manufacturing a cultural phenomenon on purpose. Look at the all-time list adjusted for inflation. The one thing most of the movies have in common is that you'd never guess they'd be on this list on the first day of their releases: Gone with the Wind, Sound of Music, The Exorcist, 101 Dalmatians. You get my point. I think Dark Knight is going to end up on the un-adjusted top five grossing list. And I think it could become a phenomenon. But I wouldn't predict that.

Now on to the more interesting point. Galley Friend T.J. sends in a particularly keen observation. Spoilers Ahead!):

Here is something I immediately noticed last night upon viewing the film. Nolan has brilliantly inverted the world of Batman's past. Take, for example, the climatic scene where Batman and Gotham police try to save both Rachel and Harvey Dent. The situation neatly parallels the predicament that Batman faces in Batman Forever (a terrible film). In that film, the Riddler has captured both Robin and Batman's lady love. Batman/Bruce Wayne must choose which one he will save: his love, who represents Bruce, or Robin, who represents Batman. In the end he saves them both in a classic bit of heroism by diving down a seemingly never-ending shaft, scooping up both just in time, and explicitly proclaiming that he is both Batman and Bruce Wayne.

The Dark Knight turns that situation on its head. There is no option for Batman to save both Rachel (Bruce's love) and Harvey (Batman's sense of duty). From the first, he must choose ("Rachel" he tells Gordon, as he jumps on the Bat pod to save the day) and then when he does he is deceived by the Joker. He thinks he is going to save Rachel, but it turns out the Joker has reversed addresses on him.

But Rachel and Harvey die as a result. Rachel is, of course, killed in the explosion. Harvey is brutally scarred (emotionally and physically) even though Batman helps him escape. Harvey Dent as anyone knew him is now dead, with Two-Face taking his place.

This is probably over-thinking it. But I found this to be a neat parallel to Batman Forever. It shows Nolan's Batman does not reside in the same world as previous incarnations. He can't "save" the day in a classical sense. He is forced to make one impossible decision after another and even then he can still lose everything.


Anonymous said...

I would largely agree with T.J.'s observation. I think one of the frustrating things with superhero/comic book films is they often end up unrealistically portraying the consequences of our choices. The Joker fully understands the nature of choice and the necessary consequence. His desire to use the hero's choices to try to corrupt him is precisely what makes the film soar. We inherently identify with someone who is doing his best and finds that things go to hell anyway. We at least can respect that guy more than we can respect the hero who always, always, always saves everyone and everything. Allow me to channel my inner Dante (Hicks, not Alighieri):

"Dark Knight" had the better ending. I mean, Batman gets hunted in the night by cops and dogs, couldn't save Rachel, which you know was killing him through the last reel, Harvey goes bat-excrement crazy and tries to kill him, and Gordon's kid. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that's what life is, a series of down endings. All "Batman Begins" had was a bunch of CGI effects.

I'm just saying...

Anonymous said...

I can't help thinking that in a misguided moment, George Lucas was called in for plotting. The result is a 'Darth Vader' moment as Dent turns to the dark side. It was cheesy and unconvincing and thoroughly destroyed even the original three Star Wars movies. It was cheesy and undonvincing here.

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that Batman purposefully chose Harvey over Rachel because Dent was more important to Gotham than Rachel was to Bruce (in keeping with JKL's point that Batman always takes precedence over Bruce). Isn't there dialogue in the film implying that?

Anonymous said...

First off: Way to backtrack, JVL.

Spoilers from here on out...

Second off: Anon one, Dent has to turn into Two Face, and Two Face is no cream puff. He's an evil dude. What was interesting to me was the way in which his evil was focused--against the corruption within the city and against the crime boss, and then, finally, himself, Gordon, and Batman. He blames himself for bringing death to his loved ones. I'd make a point about the West, liberal self-loathing over American power, and terrorism, but I don't want to push things...

Third off: The Joker does understand choice, and I love the way he subverts it. Is there any doubt that, had one of those ferries pulled the trigger, their own boat would have been destroyed?

Anonymous said...

I mentioned to JVL, that with both you and he in agreement with me on your last point, I feel safe in saying that is surely what would have happened. The Joker is what all bad guys should be, absolutely untrustworthy. The idea that for the ferry sequence he would suddenly discover morality and tell the truth to the very passengers whose lives he was threatening is laughable. That's one of the reasons the Joker is iconic. His villainy was soaked deep in the marrow.

Anon 2, the Joker tells Batman that Harvey is at 250 52nd street and Rachel is at Avenue X. The film never explicitly declares that the Joker's mistake was intentional, but based on what we saw later, the hostages dressed as clowns, and the expectation that Sonny mentions, I feel safe saying it was. I chalk it up to the professional imperative of Batman that we did not see him so much as flinch when he discovered that he had been tricked.

I had a small comment on that point on my blog.

Unknown said...

Ditto to Joe and Sonny on the ferry scene; in deciding to save the folks on the other boat, the citizens of Gotham saved themselves. (It took me a second viewing to realize that the prisoner who tosses the detonator off his boat is "Tiny" Lister.) I think the film's last act turns on whether you buy that Dent was so in love with Rachel that her loss drives him to the edge of vengeful madness; if you can see him getting there, it's no trouble imagining that the Joker's bedside chat pushes him over the cliff and sends him off dispensing the "fair" justice of fate to every actor in the chain of events that took Rachel from him (though it doesn't seem to fulfill his new mandate to flip the coin on Maroni's driver after Maroni himself has been spared; maybe the DA in him isn't completely dead and he thinks that all mafiosi should stand before the bar, or maybe he's acquired a taste for dealing out fate, or maybe he's not satisfied seeing Maroni walk away unscathed and takes the driver as an excuse for one more shot at him).

Ralphie said...

I liked the cell-phone-fueled Oracle prototype, but I'm not sure why sparks flew when Fox shut it down (and does this mean he'll be voting against the FISA bill?).

Interesting how they set up the next movie to be like Miller's Dark Knight, in that Batman is driven underground. But why couldn't they pin all of Dent's crimes on the Joker?