I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about Christopher Nolan’s 2009 film The Dark Knight. It’s the sequel to Batman Begins, it’s arguably the best film of the series, and possibly the best of the entire Batman franchise. It’s a great film and I think about it often.
Actually, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I saw it seven years ago, shortly after my thirtieth birthday, and I distinctly remember feeling a sense of relief on that first viewing; knowing that even as a grown, thirty year old woman, I could still enjoy something as juvenile as Batman. I knew I would have to grow up soon, and my time to appreciate things like Batman was waning. But things sort of just stayed the same for me. I still don’t have a career, and I still find new ways to talk about The Dark Knight almost every day. My grandparents were putting my mom through college by the time they were my age. I’m trying to save up for a 4k TV so I can watch TDK on it.
Some of the articles I read I agree with. Others rub me the wrong way. I’ll consider a list of reasons why The Dark Knight is the best or worst of the Nolan trilogy, and I’ll find myself shaking my head, sometimes audibly advancing complaints at my computer screen. How could you say that, I’ll mouth to myself, having an invisible argument with some listicle writer I’ve never heard of. It’s because I love The Dark Knight. Last year my mother died.
I still think about Heath Ledger’s performance, and how deeply moved I was by his dedication to the character. He’s an agent of chaos, he says. How interesting, how incredibly twisted and dark! I’ve spent a lot of time deconstructing the role over the last seven years, in which time I’ve seen two relationships dissolve and I’ve stopped receiving “we miss you” emails from eHarmony.com. Every day I’m finding new things I like about the Joker, and every day I’m finding new moles that I should probably worry about.
The critical element of Joker that makes him such a great character is that he’s not necessarily good or bad. He’s simply troublesome. He’s not helping the mob, nor is he helping the police. As Alfred Butler (Michael Caine) explains to Bruce Wayne in one of the best scenes of the film. some men just want to watch the world burn. Heath Ledger’s joker is one of those men: so twisted and psychologically complex that the role ultimately killed Heath Ledger, who has posthumously accomplished more than I have in the last seven years. I graduated high school in 1995.
I like the Nolan Batman films because they take material that was primarily for children and dress it up in something that appeals to adults: a shit ton of studio money. And all that money translates to high production values and aesthetic cues that I’m programmed to appreciate. I know that Batman is for me, an adult, because they removed the humor and made it dark and brooding. That means that The Dark Knight is a serious reading of Batman, and if it’s serious it must mean that it’s okay for me to spend this much time thinking about it, here, in 2015, where I’m 37 years old, twice divorced, and otherwise ready to die.
Seven years is a long time. I miss my mom.