fellow "Phoenix" film critic Brett Michel for being one of the few ( Dave Kehr makes similar observations in his blog) to recognize the
resemblance between Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight” and Andy
Robinson’s antic, anarchistic Scorpio in “Dirty Harry” (1971). Physical and
stylistic similarities aside, they are basically the same in being domestic
terrorists, sado-masochistic nihilists willing to kill the guilty and innocent
alike in order to overthrow the status quo.
Nor does the
comparison stop there, with Christian Bale’s Batman being a technologically
enhanced, rich man’s version of Clint Eastwood’s blue collar Harry Callahan (Bale's Batman even talks with Clint's raspy whisper).
Both heroes face the same dilemma -- how to protect society from evil without
succumbing to evil methods? How to save civilization from savages without
becoming savages themselves?
popular now? In many ways 2008 is a lot like 1971. The country wants out of an
unpopular war. The government employs questionable, potentially
unconstitutional methods to fight terrorists (radicals and black activists in 1971; Al Qaeda in 2008) and other destabilizing forces. A
Republican was running for president with a platform to continue the policies
of the previous four years.
difference, though, has been the film’s reception. “Harry” was brutally
divisive among both critics and audiences. Chief among the naysayers was critic
Pauline Kael, who described the film as a "right-wing fantasy [that is] a
remarkably simple-minded attack on liberal values" and as exhibiting "fascist
criticising “The Dark Knight” would be taking his or her life in their hands,
as notes “Globe” critic Ty Burr in a blog posting
in which he describes the almost desperate popular embrace of the film, making it the “pop
tsunami so many moviegoers, primarily young ones, saw it as and needed it to
however have dared to resist the wave. Curiously, almost all of them are what
might be called “Paulettes” (the term drawn from an “Illuminati”-like theory of
contemporary film criticism I won’t go into).
In short, these are critics strongly
influenced by the opinions and style of the late, legendary “New Yorker”
critic. Unlike Kael’s take on Harry,
they don’t find “Knight” especially “trim, brutal, and exciting…” but as rather
murky, incoherent and clumsy (I agree). They also brought to bear the typical
Kael criticism that the film was too dark and punishing to be entertaining
(I’d have to go along with that ,too). But it’s the politics that most recall
Kael’s take-down of Harry -- they see the film as not so much a critique of
“fascism” as an advertisement for it (True for “Knight,” but I think Kael
misread the irony of “Harry.”).
Here are some
David Denby, “New Yorker”
has continued to drain the poetry, fantasy, and comedy out of Tim Burton’s
original conception for ‘Batman’ (1989),
completing the job of coarsening the material into hyperviolent summer action
spectacle… The narrative isn’t shaped coherently ‘The Dark Knight’ has been
made in a time of terror, but it’s not fighting terror; it’s embracing and unleashing it.”
David Edelstein, New York Magazine
“ ‘The Dark Knight’ is noisy,
jumbled, and sadistic.”
Sragow, “Baltimore Sun"
“… confuses pompousness with seriousness and popular mechanics for drama.
True believers may buy into the gloom
and doom of The Dark Knight, but many of us will ask, with the Joker, "Why
Armond White, "New York Press"
generation also has the right—no, obligation—to question a pop-entertainment
that diminishes universal ideas of
good, evil, social purpose and pleasure…. Appealing to adolescent jadedness and boredom… the tone glibly
Dark Knight" looks as if it were made from a messy blackboard diagram with
lots of circles, heavily
underlined phrases ("Duality! Good vs. evil — in the same person! Kinship between hero and villain!") and
crisscrossing arrows that ultimately
point to nothing."
N.P. Thompson, "Movies into Film"
Knight, with its sanitized,
hollowed-out approach to the most outre violence, would seem to be the
movie that Bush's Abu Ghraib America
"The Austin Chronicle"
"Or so goes the
nihilistic logic behind 'The Dark Knight,' a grim little parable on the wages of
sin and the high cost of
redemption... In short, it's a
Batman for the new age of anxiety."
Fine, "Star Magazine"
comic-book movies want to be serious literature? That’s the problem with this
movie the same way it was with 2006’s 'Superman Returns.' Instead of being exciting pop-culture entertainment that forces the viewer to take it
seriously, the movie takes itself too seriously – and misses the fun in the process."
It should be
noted in fairness that Fine also wrote an adulatory book about John Cassavetes,
a director whose films Kael loathed. So nettlesome were her reviews to the
director, Fine reports in his book, that one time when they were forced to
share a cab together, Cassavetes threw Kael’s shoes out the window.
Now, that’s a