Dir – Christopher Nolan
Year – 2008
Running Time – 145 minutes
Screen writing genre – Monster in the House (Nihilistic)
As well as being one of highest grossing films in cinematic history the Dark Knight is also a landmark movie in many other ways. For what is normally considered a blockbuster movie genre it shows a level of competence and sophistication that really raises the bar. Heath Ledger deservedly winning both an Oscar and Bafta for his role as the Joker further cements the films place as something far more than Hollywood fluff.
What’s in a name?
Our first clue to what lies ahead is the name of the film. Batman’s name doesn’t appear in the title and instead we are left with the ambiguous term ‘The Dark Knight’. At first glance this is obviously a reference to our caped hero but it also goes much deeper. The title refers to Gotham city’s dark night, (as referenced by characters saying "it’s always darkest before dawn") and the trouble the city is about to face.
What makes it great?
Aside from Heath Ledger , the film is full of strong performances from the likes of Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhal, Morgan freeman, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman. The cast alone is not one you would normally associate with a big budget blockbuster.
The Dark Knight also has some of the best use of sound around. Anyone wanting to know how to score a film should pay extra special attention to how atmosphere, pacing and tension are handled through the use of seemingly simple pieces of music.
Above all the film is built on the basis of an incredibly strong and tight script. The writing is such that it allows its expert cast to show off their skills to maximum effect.
The Dark Knight as a ‘Nihilistic Monster In The House’ Movie
At first glance you could easily say that ‘The Dark Knight’ is a member of the Superhero genre. On looking closer though we find that the A story of the piece is far closer to that of the Nihilistic Monster.
In this instance the ‘Monster’ is the Joker and Gotham City is the ‘House’. This idea is affirmed heading into the films third act break when the Joker effectively cuts off all ways out of the city which leaves its inhabitants trapped inside with him. The third act also reveals Harvey Dent, through his transformation into ‘Two-Face’, to be the ‘Half-man’ we often find in the monster in the house genre.
Now we know we are in the ‘Monster in the House’ genre it is easier to see the Joker as the Nihilistic creature. A Nihilistic monster is a creature that rejects society’s rules and ideals and often has no real moral center. The monster is created by the sin of others – even if they don’t know what their sin is. Another good example of this is the character of ‘Jigsaw’ from the ‘SAW’ movies.
The major sin on show is not only committed by Batman, but also by the mobsters and Gotham City as a whole. The sin in question is the sin of ignorance and arrogance. The Joker is allowed to flourish and grow in power by being ignored as a serious threat for much of the film. Even the gangsters who hire him don’t see him as any kind of problem. Through a series of false victories we see the good guy’s confidence grow, only for their plans to be exposed by the Joker at almost every turn.
Slowly the Jokers influence grows on Gotham until by the third act break he has complete control of the city which, ironically, leads to his own sin of ignorance and his eventual downfall. The only real way to defeat a Nihilistic monster is through personal sacrifice and Batman will come to learn this by the end of the film.
Other examples of ‘Nihilistic Monster in the House’ Movies – SAW, American Psycho, The Others
The Time Line
Opening Image – We open on a calm, light filled Gotham City.
Theme stated – We are presented with a theme for all three main characters in the film. We will learn which one is the real theme by the end as two of these characters will fail to learn from their own words.
Joker’s Theme – Control is an Illusion
Batman’s Themes – Know your limits (13 minute)
Harvey Dent’s Theme – Die the hero or live long enough to become the villain. (20 minutes)
Set up – The bank raid by the Joker is followed by an introduction to all the major characters doing what they do best. Batman’s first ‘Save the Cat’ moment is at minute 10 when he doesn’t kill someone. There is another at minute 18 when he refuses to sign with a shady company.
Catalyst – At minute 21 the police decide to raid the mob banks. This is what starts the chain of events that leads to the Joker taking control of the city.
Debate – This event is followed by a debate between the mob and the Joker and Harvey, Gordon and Batman. Both debates discuss joining forces. We also see Batman discussing new equipment he needs.
Break into Two – Happens at minute 30. Batman leaves for Hong Kong and returns to a ‘new’ Gotham. We are now in the upside down version of Gotham being terrorised by the Joker.
At minute 38 the cops have a false victory as they arrest a large amount of crooks. They are still unaware of the threat of the Joker.
Fun and Games – At minute 44 the fun and games start. We see the Joker kill off a number of high ranking Gotham officials as his games begin. At minute 47 the Joker crashes Wayne’s party looking for Harvey Dent. Here we get the ‘promise of the Premise’ as Batman and the Joker engage each other for the first time.
B story – Though it has been hinted at already the real B story kicks in a minute 43. Here we begin to learn about the developing relationship between Wayne, Rachel and Harvey.
At minute 51 Batman begins to realise his sin of ignorance after Alfred relays the tale of the jewel thief.
At minute 55 the short C story starts when a Wayne employee tries to black mail him with evidence that will prove he is Batman.
At minute 60 there is a false defeat as Gordon is ‘killed’
Between minutes 63 and 66 the theme is discussed between Batman and the mob boss and then Batman and Rachel.
Midpoint – The midpoint hits at minute 70 and ‘Batman’ is arrested. This represents both a ‘false defeat’ and a ‘false sacrifice’ on the real Batman’s part. He will need to sacrifice more to win the day.
Bad Guys Close in – The Joker attacks the convoy leading Harvey Dent to jail. This leads to a false victory at minute 80 when the cops plan is revealed and they arrest the Joker.
All is Lost – The sin of ignorance is revealed again when the Joker’s plan comes to light and he escapes. The ‘Whiff of Death’ here is a full blown explosion as Rachel is killed and Harvey Dent begins his transformation into ‘Two-Face’ it all happens at minute 92. This is also another false defeat.
Dark night of the Soul – At minute 94 we are presented with Bruce questioning if it’s worth being Batman. He is now worse off than when he started.
Here he learns that he must break some of his rules to win the day, but not the one the Joker wants. The B story ends with the burning of Rachel’s letter. The C story will also end shortly with Wayne rescuing the employee trying to blackmail him.
At minute 97 ‘Two-Face’ appears and acts as both a ‘Half-Man’ and ‘Booster Rocket’ for our story. Harvey has forgotten his own words and has indeed lived long enough to become the villain.
Break into Three – At minute 100 we are now in Gotham City under the complete control of the Joker.
Finale – At minute 110 we are now fully trapped in with the monster. The Joker continues his game but is undone, like Harvey, by not sticking to his own theme. Through him we know control is an illusion and he has forgotten this. He has now committed the sin of ignorance and arrogance.
The Jokers plan unravels as the people on the boat don’t do what he expects at minute 127 and Batman, working under slightly different rules, apprehends him. To finally save Gotham, Batman now realises what needs to be done to save the day and commits the ultimate sacrifice by metaphorically ‘killing’ himself for the city.
Final Image – The film ends at night and with Batman being chased by the police. Gotham is entering its dark night and though safe, is now even more chaotic than before.