I finally watched The Dark Knight on DVD over the weekend, and it was actually not as bad as I expected. In fact, once the movie switched from the Joker as the villain to the far more interesting Two-Face, it became thoroughly enjoyable. But then Two-Face has always been a more rounded villain, even in the comics and animations.
And, of course, the chameleonic Gary Oldman is always worth savouring. I’ll bet most people didn’t even notice that “Sirius Black” was in The Dark Knight. Or “Dracula”. Or the blood-chilling “Stansfield” – after years of watching Oldman as the villain it is a real pleasure to see him in a run of sympathetic roles.
So, on to the verdict of Heath Ledger’s performance. The Joker is a very flat, one-dimensional character at the best of times. Jack Nicholson played him with tongue-in-cheek relish, which made for an enjoyable piece of theatre. The writers of The Dark Knight didn’t give Heath Ledger much to work with when they stripped this character down to nothing more than an ordinary psychopath with lousy make-up. Such a character serves entirely as a foil for the hero’s skills and abilities. And unfortunately Ledger didn’t have the skills to imbue such a flat character with any further depth. I didn’t find this incarnation of the Joker a particularly dark version, either (contrary to what has been ceaselessly touted in the media since Heath Ledger’s death). But, as the facilitator of the emergence of Two-Face, the Joker is fine, and depth of character is not required for such a role.
But there are some really good examples of the techniques of showing and telling in this movie. First the Joker tells the story of why he has scars on his face (no, I hadn’t noticed the scars either), then later he gives a completely different explanation to someone else. This is an example of telling used as showing. The actual backstory is irrelevant; the point of the story is to reveal the Joker’s insincerity and unreliability as a narrator, and this is a technique that can be used to good effect in a story if used with care.
In comparison to the exposition of the Joker, the audience is shown the transition of the character of Harvey Dent to the villain Two-Face. This is a very clear example of how the technique of showing creates empathy, whereas telling simply provides information without emotion. If you need empathy from your readers, showing the character or particular plot thread is your best option.
It’s funny how interpretations can vary. To me, the Joker was the star of the show. I thought Ledger was brilliant. And I thought the characterisation of Two-Face was a bit wishy-washy. But that’s just me. It’s always fun to hear a different take on things!
Posted 27 December 2008
That’s interesting. I know I was putting my own knowledge of the various incarnations of both characters into the viewing, which was probably unfair of me. Maybe if I had watched this as just a realism based movie, rather than a continuation of a franchise, I might have appreciated Ledger’s performance more as just that of a psychopath. With Two-Face, I was disappointed with the choice of Eckhart for that role, but I think he really benefited from sharing a number of scenes with Gary Oldman, particularly at the end.
Posted 28 December 2008
I have no desire to see this movie even after being a fan of the batman series for many years. The whole Heath thing is still raw for me. I haven’t watched any of his movies since he died. While others celebrate, I avoid.
As for the joker, I can’t imagine anyone being darker than Jack (Heath was never a dark actor in my opinion but Jack definitely has been on many occasions).
And yes, Gary Oldman is superb. Definitely one of the talented ones out there that tends to blend in well.
Posted 24 August 2009