(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Well, it’s not as good the second time you see it. It’s better!
See here for the premiere installment of the PTP: City of the Dark Knight series. Oh, and: Spoiler alert (duh).
This time I caught a lot more of the “moral hypocrisy” theme being set up earlier in the movie. It’s not as clear when you don’t know yet how significant it’s going to be later. But they’re clearly telegraphing that the restoration of moral order in Gotham is requiring some compromises of the rules – for example, this flew by me the first time, but Dent brings that mass prosecution of criminals knowing full well that he can’t make most of the charges stick. He argues to the mayor that they should go forward with prosecution anyway, because most of the bad guys won’t be able to make bail (Batman, Gordon and Dent having taken away most of their money) and thus will have to sit in the slammer while the cases grind through the system. “Think what you could do with eighteen months of clean streets,” Dent tells the mayor. Wrong? Not necessarily. Politics is the art of the possible. But it’s bending the spirit of the law.
Also, notice that Gordon tells his people to lie to the media about Dent’s disappearance. I did notice this the first time, and I thought about it for all of five seconds or so, and then I had to keep up with the movie. The second time, it stands out more as part of the hypocrisy theme.
Perhaps the most important thing I caught this time around is why Dent blames Gordon and Batman for what happens to Rachel. It’s because Gordon built his Major Crimes Unit by including officers who were under a cloud of suspicion. This is another “moral compromise” narrative. Confronted about it at the beginning of the movie, Gordon first insinuates that when Dent was at Internal Affairs he had been bringing bogus corruption cases against clean cops in order to build his career. (At first I thought this might be a signal from Chris Nolan that the movie is right-wing, because prosecuting innocent people to build a career was always the right’s complaint about Eliot Spitzer. But then I remembered that Rudy Giuliani did the same thing.) However, Gordon seems to concede pretty quickly that his MCU does contain some shady characters. He says something like, “I have to do the best with what I have to work with.”
I also caught that they’re telegraphing from early on that Dent is not all he appears to be, morally speaking. The first time I saw the movie I wanted them to do more to establish Dent’s fall – he seems to go over to the dark side pretty quickly. But now I see that he was never really that good to begin with. That, plus it occurred to me that the “Two Face” Dent is still fighting for justice in his twisted way. He’s hunting down the people he blames for Rachel, subjecting each of them one by one to the judgment of the coin.
And now for something completely different: I noticed this time that the guy on the prisoners’ boat who throws the detonator out the window has a damaged right eye (his right, our left). I got really excited by this. I thought, where else in this movie did we see a black criminal have somthing happen to his eye? That’s right: “I’m going to make this pencil disappear!” So I thought: the Joker’s goal is to corrupt everybody. But what if one of his victims found himself forced to reexamine his life while sitting in the prison hospital, and he became good because of the Joker’s actions – and that same person’s goodness was the reason the Joker’s ferry experiment failed? Layers within layers within layers!
But, alas, I was barking up the wrong tree. Somebody has posted the pencil scene on YouTube, and it’s clearly not the same actor. Oh, well.
One more thing: I found an easy way to remember the mobster’s name, the one I couldn’t remember in my previous post. It’s Moroni – the same name as the angel who allegedly revealed the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith. How’d that happen? Was the entire Warner Brothers marketing department asleep?
Let me close with a bleg: At the end, Gordon says that Dent’s rampage produced “five people dead, two of them cops.” I count Moroni’s driver, Moroni himself (assuming he died in the car crash), the first of the two crooked cops, and Dent himself. But the other cop won the toss and just got knocked unconscious. So that’s four people, one of them a cop. Whom am I missing? Are we supposed to assume Dent found a way to finish off the second cop despite the toss, just like he found a way with Moroni (assuming that’s what happened)? Is this a goof? Or what?
There was a hint of Antigone in Dark Knight. The city needs one brother to be buried with high honors and the other to be left to the dogs. But in Antigone, the lesson seems to be that one must adhere to the law of the gods (the Truth) regardless of the consequences. Is Antigone really like the Joker? Is total pursuit of the Truth the same as the embrace of nihilism?
I think you need to see the film a third time.
I’m not seeing the moral hypocrisy theme at all. What I do see are good men placed in increasingly nasty circumstances. Question being how far into the darkness can you go while still being a champion of the light.
“Dent blames Gordon and Batman for what happens to Rachel.”
This is true, though not exclusively obviously.
“It’s because Gordon built his Major Crimes Unit by including officers who were under a cloud of suspicion.”
I’m not sure of that. It was my impression that the “deal with the devil” was in reference to Batman; in other words, if Gordon had not relied on Batman to begin with, Rachel would not have died. My hearing is pretty poor, so I very well may have missed some things said which are crucial.
“Gordon first insinuates that when Dent was at Internal Affairs he had been bringing bogus corruption cases against clean cops in order to build his career.” I didn’t see that at all, but again, see my comment about my hearing.
“But now I see that he was never really that good to begin with.”
Yes he was, but with the tragic flaw: his excessive love for Rachel. It was due to the threat to Rachel that he goes pseudo-psycho on the Arkham escapee. It was due to Rachel’s death that he lost it completely and became Two Face. Don’t believe me on the excessively in love assertion? He asks a girl to marry him who won’t even tell him that she loves him. Twice, by my count, he says “I love you” to her and she does not respond in kind. Her answer to “Will you marry me?” was “I don’t have an answer.” Hell, when there was the attempt on his life in court, she didn’t even inquire as to his well being: “Oh, I’m fine by the way.” He is clearly more infatuated with her than the reverse. The transformation from the White Knight into Two Face required one last thing: his previously unrequited love to be, well, requited and that is exactly what happens in the few seconds before the bomb takes her life. Harvey Dent broke. In his place was Two Face, flipping his coin. Justice (getting what one deserves) obviously did not happen, so chance replaces justice since chance is deemed fair.
Moroni, I do believe, is the name of one of the two top mobsters in Loeb and Sale’s “The Long Halloween”.
P.S. If you think more than a small fraction of Americans (right or left) gave a damn about Spitzer, then I think you are vastly overestimating how much the average American cares about New York.
I also see hints of Lost in Dark Knight. Is the world governed by a plan or by chance? The Joker argues that he has no plan other than to reveal that all of the others are “schemers,” falsely asserting that there is purpose and order to the world. Dent’s fall occurs when he abandons the notion that there is a plan (“I make my own luck” ) and adopts the view that chance is “fair.” But there is nothing purposeful and no justice in a coin flip. Chance is the same as the chaos that the Joker represents.
Getting perhaps deeper than the source will allow, here’s a thought on the coin.
On the one hand it is random. 50/50 odds.
It is also an external arbiter. What the Joker does comes from himself. What Two Face does depends on the coin.
Jay: Yes, in his twisted way the Joker is committed to “truth.” He wants us to “admit” that we’re evil. But there are two ways to admit that you’re evil. One is to be like Don John in Much Ado About Nothing: “Though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain.” The other way is to be like the Publican in the parable: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” What the Joker really means when he wants us to “admit” the fact of our sin is that he wants us to embrace it. But you can admit that you’re evil and not think it’s a good thing. Antigone wants the city to admit that it’s done wrong, not so it will embrace wrong but so it will repent from it.
Captain Napalm: I think the Dent-loves-Rachel theme you’re bringing out is there as well, alongside the theme I’m looking at. I think you may have missed some key dialogue: In the meeting in Dent’s office, Dent tells Gordon that some of his cops at MCU are dirty, and Gordon says something like “If I didn’t work with people you investigated when you were making your name at IA, I’d have to work alone. I have to do the best I can with the people I have available.” Then, later, on the rooftop, after the bank raids go wrong, Gordon and Dent have an argument over whose office is infiltrated by the mob – Gordon points out that the bust went bad as soon as Dent’s office got involved, Dent asserts (again) that Gordon’s unit contains dirty cops.
Thanks for the tip on the origin of the Moroni name!
Ah, I knew there was important stuff I could not hear properly. Bale’s disguised voice doesn’t bother me, but sometimes I can understand nothing he says. I’m very much looking forward to buying this on Blu-Ray.
I did hear the rooftop stuff. It helps me when people are yelling… which possibly explains why I’ve always liked heavy metal.
Eckhart and Oldman were so terrific in this film. The small things that Eckhart would do, like holding his hand out for Rachel, which she didn’t even acknowledge. His honest earnestness was something not too often seen in movies.
Oldman’s Gordon was like watching the comic book Gordon walk off the page and start talking. If I ever meet the man, I’m just going to say “thank you”.
Yes, and I’ll tell you, it’s a shame that Eckhart and Oldman’s performances are getting overshadowed by Ledger’s, which is of course a masterpiece. The excellent script writing also deserves more attention than it’s getting. I plan to do a future installment in this series just to draw attention to all the people who had to turn in outstanding performances to make this movie what it is.