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|Darkness and Light - Page 3|
Ledger's Joker, who boasts that he brings chaos into the city just for the anarchic joy of seeing it happen, sets the harrowing and assaultive tone of the film. Christian Bale—muscular, intense, and dark in American Psycho and Batman Begins—is controlled and self-contained, but, underneath it all, seemingly as emotionally vulnerable as we are. In his everyday identity as Bruce Wayne, he's a very lonely man whose only confidantes are the long-time family butler, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman, who develops and takes care of his hi-tech, crime-fighting gadgets. Sweet-faced Maggie Gyllenhaal (Jake's sister) replaces Katie Holmes as Batman's love interest and Gary Oldman (Beethoven in Immortal Beloved) is Batman's solidly dependable friend on the police force, who desperately tries to protect his own family from the scary underworld in which he must work. Aaron (Possession)Eckhart (of the deeply cleft chin and the look of total integrity) is the conscientious new district attorney of Gotham.
As the film begins, law and order in Gotham has broken down completely and Batman is being blamed for modeling such superheroism that he dispirits the police force. District Attorney Eckhart is jealous of Maggie's obvious interest in Bruce Wayne, but doesn't know that the billionaire playboy is secretly his other rival, Batman. Eckhart wants to be as big a hero as Batman, but, unlike the caped crusader, has more ordinary needs and isn't totally incorruptible. Into this already explosive mix falls Ledger's Joker, who, once he makes his appearance, is promptly crowned as the new superhero, as terrified citizens flock to whomever simplifies complex problems in a sound bite or bumper sticker.
The Joker likes to set up tests to expose the moral callousness, hypocrisy, and self-interest of those who oppose him. He fills two ferries with people and explosives and tells the hostages in each that the only way to save themselves is to blow up the other ferry first. The Joker next straps Maggie and the D.A. to barrels of explosives on opposite sides of the city, so Batman can only rescue one of them. The Joker's thesis is that in a corrupt world, the only sensible position is to have no morality at all. He sees morals as weakness, and shows people that, despite their pretensions, if pressed, they'll choose to live with no concerns for anyone else. Once Eckhart has lost his fiancee and half his face, he turns sadistic himself, flipping quarters with crooks to determine whether or not to kill them, much like Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.
Dark Knight is a daring and politically provocative film, at times simplistic and at other times profound. Each of Nolan's stars reveals a complex character. Eckhart, in the film's most absorbing performance, is a spotless moral hero who, like Eliot Spitzer, loses his halo in the end. Bale's sheer gymnastic agility is astounding as he does many of his own stunts, but his greatest accomplishment is showing us he knows he's only human. Ledger steps outside his usual range of adolescent suffering to reveal the anger and pain of being the permanent outsider to ordinary human experience. The explosions keep us on edge as we reflect on the moral issues Nolan slaps us with. Unlike the preceding Batman films (with painfully miscast Michael Keaton as Batman and inherently absurd Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the villains), Dark Knight isn't a comedy, and the Joker is clearly no joke.