Virgin Viewing: ‘The Dark Knight’

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Virgin Viewing   The Dark Knight  thedarkknight jpgNot all classics were made before I was born. Though many of the movies I’ve watched so far for this feature have been older than me, I realized that there are plenty of contemporary movies I’ve missed out on. One of those was The Dark Knight, the movie that will probably always be best known for winning Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar. And while the film is well-directed, brilliantly acted, and has great art direction, it’s not a movie I plan to re-watch. Because even though The Dark Knight is a good movie, it wasn’t an enjoyable movie. It turns out that something can be of incredibly high quality and still be absolutely terrible to watch.

Part of the reason I chose The Dark Knight over Batman Begins, the first of Christopher Nolan‘s franchise reboots was because of Heath Ledger. I’d heard so many great things about his performance that I was curious to see it for myself, and I also wondered if I’d ever be able to separate his death from the movie. I remember the press junket for this movie and how most of the actors were asked more questions about Heath, his legacy, and what it was like to work with him than they were about the process of making the movie, and I wondered if Heath’s shadow would loom so large that it would swallow the movie whole. But it didn’t. One of the tests of a great actor is whether they can still disappear into a role once they’ve become really famous – I spent most of Forrest Gump thinking “Tom Hanks is playing this character” rather than thinking “This character is incredible,” for example. But Heath Ledger did that, and he did it brilliantly. I’d always thought of the Joker as one of the more cartoonish Batman villains, with his outlandish purple suits and makeup, and was skeptical whether he could be brought into the new, darker, more stylized world of Gotham City. But Heath’s performance erased any concerns I had.

That said, as much as I appreciated the film, I didn’t enjoy it. I understand that Batman has always been a dark and brooding hero – it’s why I preferred him to the sunnier Superman – but this movie was an endless stream of deaths and heartbreaks. The two and a half hour length felt like five. I couldn’t stop and take a breath without something else horrible happening. Though there is a sort of redemption at the end, it was too little and too late. I’ve seen peppier Holocaust documentaries. The scene with the two groups of people on ferries, each with the option to blow up the other one, could have been really tense and fascinating, but by that point I was so dragged down and depressed by the whole movie that I had just given up. I’m not saying that the movie needed occasional bursts of slapstick, but I wished that someone – anyone – could have gotten a slightly-less-than-miserable ending. I’m not familiar with the comic books, so it’s possible that the entire point of the Batman story is that everyone has to be miserable at the end. But as a viewer, it made me feel exhausted and depressed. The acting was incredible, the direction was top-notch, and the movie was a complete fucking bummer.