John Candy as Poirot, in the SCTV parody of “Murder On The Orient Express”:
“Perhaps…zee train itself ees a murderer…!”
Hey, it’s not the craziest idea I ever heard of.
Way back when Batman Began, I amused myself by imagining that the apparent inconsistencies and fuck-ups in that movie were entirely deliberate: in service to a somewhat unusual theme, for what you’d expect to find in an action movie, superhero movie, or coming-of-age movie.
Of course, this was just a supposition, a theory: I still could’ve been wrong about it.
But because of this little pet theory of mine, when I went to see The Dark Knight in the theatre I was on the lookout for just such inconsistencies in that movie, that might hint at a similar thematic treatment. And I thought I saw a couple of them.
But boy, was I wrong.
So for all that I’ve had my fun saying it’s probably wrongheaded to read too much of allegory into TDK, it seems I may have to eat a bit of dark, flapping crow about it now: because either this movie is much more complex than I originally gave it credit for, or it’s a colossal screw-up on a scale simply unprecedented for a big-budget studio picture. Are there no well-paid continuity-checkers? Actually, forget the continuity-checkers, they’re not even necessary as far as catching this level of inconsistency goes…this stuff’s out there.
And you know…I didn’t even notice!
Even though I went in there looking for them!
But that’s how this stuff works. It’s a magic trick: pledge, turn, and prestige all in one. All the sleeves are turned inside-out, but we get misdirected from it…and it’s all on purpose…
Because the movie itself, just like its villain, is an unreliable narrator.
And that is what this is all about.
So we’ll start small: Batman jumps from one parkade level to the next, and lands on the Scarecrow’s van. It’s an absolutely stunning comic-book scene, straight out of Marshall Rogers. The cape looks fantastic.
Except, he lands the wrong way round.
Look at it again. He does.
Oh, what’s that? You say you don’t care? FOOL! I care, a LOT! I freaking LOVE it, that he lands the wrong way around!
Because don’t you see that it’s all on purpose?
Let’s stay small, and take another: Lucius and his bloody jokes. It gets TIRESOME, because it’s supposed to. It’s misdirection. It is so stupid, that we’re always paying attention to it…! Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox stand some feet apart, as Bruce Wayne explains that no, he doesn’t want a more stylish sport-jacket, he wants a new Bat-suit. Lucius looks down at the sketch in his hand, unfolding it: “ah, you want to be able to turn your head.”
But how did he get that sketch into his hand?!
If you think about it for one second, you will see that the ordinary way this scene would go is for Bruce Wayne to hand Lucius Fox that paper with the Bat-sketch on it. I promise you, however: he doesn’t. Regular movie:
BRUCE: “Ha ha, no here is what I want, Lucius! Observe as I utilize the space between us filmically, in order to place it in your hand and thus advance the plot while producing the opportunity for a cool composition!”
LUCIUS: “Oh I see, Mister Wayne, I say as I take it from you, it is a new Batman costume that you want! And from your drawing here it seems you want to have more mobility! I employ my expressive facial movements in close-up to signify that your previous gesture had great emotional meaning for me, in that I realized you were the heroic protagonist of this superhero movie, who wants to do better still than you have been, because you’re awesome!”
Regular movie: that’s how it shakes out. This movie: a lot of Twin Peaks dream-sequence stuff, instead. Lucius’ hands are basically full of creamed corn, all of a sudden. But we don’t notice…
…Because we’re not looking, and this will not be the last time Lucius ostentatiously misdirects us out of our drawers, believe me. But let’s get back to that later; first let’s just bear in mind the fact that it will be over an hour until we see this new Bat-suit, and that when we do it will be in the context of another magic trick altogether, in an altogether different context. There are so many things in this movie that we never see: this is only the first of them. Think about it, hold it in your mind, for just a second…now it’s gone. But what’s that behind your ear…?
Is this your card…?
Why is the new Bat-suit even mentioned?
Never mind, we’ll come back to that. Let’s look now at the admirably-understated motif of the spiral: the ramp in the parking garage. This whole movie is a spiral: it takes Batman Begins and moves it forward, but in a curved section, and upwards…we never notice. Hey, remember those bat-men here, those wannabes? Watch as Nolan makes them disappear too…poof! Were you expecting some comment on the old “super-hero-fascist-bad” social deformation thing, here? Hope you didn’t blink, friend…!
But that’s not actually the beginning, of course. The real beginning is when the Joker carefully steps…steps…manoeuvres…
…Manoeuvres his henchman into standing in front of the bus, as it backs in through the wall of the bank at high speed, thus killing him.
It backs in?
Through the wall? Of the bank?
Misdirection again, folks: the Joker has manouevred you just exactly as he’s manoeuvred his flunky. You try to approach, to see…he shifts, you shift…the masks try to suss each other out, across a tension-filled distance…
And then WHAMMO. What you end up looking at, is the one thing you have to look at, for the trick to be successful. What you end up not looking at, is the one thing you have to not look at, for the trick to be successful. And that thing is usually the biggest thing. Because it’s a performance, okay? This is a comic-book movie. The bus can’t back in through the wall to split-second timing, that can’t happen. Hey, for that matter, there’s little reason for the dizzying zip-line scene at the very very opening of the movie…that’s not necessary either…
And, not to just skip around and ahead, but how does the Joker affix the pencil to the table?
It doesn’t matter, because he speaks an absolute truth when he says: “and now the pencil has disappeared.” Well, naturally.
It was never there. By which I mean: you did not see it.
You only thought you did.
Why “how about a magic trick?“, for heaven’s sake? I mean really, should we take anything at face value in a movie like this? The Joker just suddenly “decides” to do a magic trick? And the filmmakers have nothing to do with that choice, I suppose.
Of course they do.
Let’s jump ahead again! In Batman Begins, Batman does not “punch people out, Bam SOCK!” — instead there is a flapping of black fabric and a sound of some kind of ninja flurry, and the bad guys fall to the sound of the bat-wings that terrorized Bruce Wayne in the cavern under Wayne Manor when he was a boy. Neat touch. Here it’s different, though. Batman punches, in this one, blocks kicks, snaps limbs all rectilinear and steps into people, pushing them along…and the black flapping frenzy is reserved for the visual chaos of the bat-sonar. Itself pushed along the curved section, and up one storey, you see?
Everything spirals up, in this one.
Also note that the bat-sonar takes less time for Bruce Wayne to develop, than the new Bat-suit takes Lucius to make…
Of course, it seems he’s been working on it for a while now!
So we’re told!
But of course that’s plainly bullshit!
Jump back down now; land, impossibly, the wrong way ’round.
The Joker isn’t crazy. He says he isn’t crazy, in the most believable way possible. He’s not crazy! He isn’t. He isn’t.
I don’t know: all the upright men of Gotham do seem to experience a very weird lack of panic at the more bizarrely freaky scary developments in this movie…maybe they’re crazy? Alfred doesn’t want to apply jojoba oil to the Russian ballerinas on the sailboat…is he crazy? Oh, poor Alfred, only there to voice meaningless sentiments that properly belong to the guy sitting behind me in the theatre…half the time, but then the other half of the time you say remarkably profound shit that no one seems to even hear. Hey, how does a comic book work? Does it make sense?
It doesn’t, really, does it?
No, and neither does this…but this is really quite in your face about it. Bruce Wayne wants to fall back up into a plane, and Lucius, like Walt Disney, licks his chops at the prospect of a really cool piece of pseudo-acrobatics…but Bruce also never leaps out of the plane, as he promises he will, and so it isn’t as Pirates Of The Caribbean as all that, after all, and…hey, what the fuck happened, man? I was waiting for that!
They set me up…!
And then they made me forget. Suddenly, somehow, he’s just standing there on top — on top! — of a building. How? Why? I won’t go back to the “Shock And Awe” bit, I said my piece on that in “Allegory Revisited“…but I will note that if Bruce Wayne and Alfred have a conversation about his limits…God, but Alfred is such an old woman, isn’t he…?
…Then really there is a substantial allegorical bit in there, and here, and over here, and is this your card, America? Because it’s all about America after all, as it turns out, but not the way you expect…
Because it’s all about how America can’t afford to stop and think about what’s going on.
Yes, all that is logic and consequentiality…America can’t stop to think about that. Can’t. Big flapping wings. Inability to move on. And not that the Bush presidency political stuff isn’t in there, because you KNOW it is…but there’s something more primal, here. Limits?
“Please God, keep them ever-mysterious”, wishes Bruce Wayne.
Poor bastard: he gets his wish.
Let’s jump around and ahead again for a moment: talk about that hospital. HOLY JUMPIN’ CATFISH did that thing blow up good! YEE-HAW!!! Incredibly ridiculous: that’s not “gasoline”, Joker!
Whatever that is, it’s not cheap…!
Jump back: let’s look at Maggie Gyllenhall. Eerie how she replaces Katie Holmes, right? I wish she’d lived, so that they could’ve found yet another actress who looks disturbingly like the old actress who played the same role. One hopes desperately that in the next Batman movie (and oh yes, there will be a next one), that this mysterious unknown next Rachel will appear to Bruce Wayne as a ghost. As a TRICK…!
Or a clue.
It is all about the tricks and the clues, anyhow.
Because man, you know…I kind of felt she was a ghost already.
Jump back. You know, the conversation between Lucius and Chinese Osama in Hong Kong doesn’t make any fucking sense at all. Watch it again. Watch carefully, too, the lame business with the magic cell-phone: it doesn’t make any more sense than Lucius unfolding the magic piece of paper that the creamed corn is in, back in the boardroom when Bruce Wayne revealed the meeting had all been a bit of misdirection.
Our Chinese Osama even says it’s ridiculous…echoing Lucius himself, as it happens, a little earlier on. It actually verges on totally awful, as indeed the whole movie does. It’s a mess. Everything is lantern-hanging here, there are lanterns everywhere: yes, we already deliberately pointed out that it makes no sense, thank you for noticing. Now observe this extreme nonsensical corporate breast-beating, this pseudo-polite tough-talk sparring, that makes no sense at all. Seriously: it makes no sense. And now whatever you do, don’t think about how a witness might go about smuggling a loaded gun into a courtroom, or what would have to happen to the whole world if he did! Concentrate on Eric Roberts’ smug bad-guy face instead….my God, the man practically shines like an obnoxious sun in every scene he’s in, we are not meant to look elsewhere! BAM! SOCK! POW! We’re not meant to look at anything we’re not supposed to.
SHOCK AND AWE! Okay, I lied. Because here we’ve got Batman’s voice, too: we are not meant to look around. Not meant to. Growl. What is that growl distracting us from? What is it we’re not seeing, in the lights over Baghdad?
No one dies at Bruce Wayne’s party. Even though the Joker is there. You would’ve thought he’d have made them all fight it out with broken champagne bottles. It didn’t happen. But don’t blame the Joker. He would’ve killed them all, if he’d only been given the chance…! But Nolan switched the scene. Just as Batman writers and artists for years upon years have switched the scene, “making their own luck” — a real-life Joker would never be sent to Arkham only to escape again and again, and continue his mass-murder rampages. Think, for two seconds. This isn’t Batman’s fault. It isn’t Gordon’s fault, or the fault of the police, the lawyers, the judges, the citizens of Gotham…it’s the authors’ fault, of course. But why would you complain, when you get Batman stories out of it?
Hey, how did that “get fragments of the bullet, set up a range, find a fingerprint, then an apartment number” thing work, anyway?
Well, obviously it didn’t.
What about the brilliant plan of Gordon’s to throw himself in a bullet’s path?
Really low-percentage plan, Jim.
Gaping holes? You want gaping holes? I’ll give ’em to you. How did Batman find Harvey when he was working over the Joker’s goon, and at just the right time? There’s no way he could’ve done that. How did he figure out the goon was an Arkham patient? We never see him figure that out. How did the Joker get from one side of Gotham to the other in a heartbeat? In a car? He fucking teleported. This is a comic-book movie, with real talent. Space and time don’t need to apply. No reviewers even complained about this, I swear. None of them even noticed. I didn’t notice.
That’s Nolan’s genius, here.
Keep ’em focussed on the party where no one dies. Beat beat beat. Beat away at the lunacy. Bruce and Rachel could never have survived that fall, NEVER. The school bus never backed in. Batman never made his way to the top of that building in Hong Kong. There was no pencil. Creamed corn is everywhere, seething. If this was a comic book, we wouldn’t accept it. Nothing here makes sense.
It’s truly gorgeous stuff. Wanna know how I got these scars?
Batman gets shot, in the Hong Kong adventure.
Then suddenly, he is behind the shooter.
Oh, it’s Shock and Awe, all right. I watched that scene five times on slo-mo. Batman teleports too. And I don’t know how anyone could call that a mistake.
Jump forward. It’s interesting to me that the Joker thinks the moment when one ferry will blow another up is at the last second…but if we think about this for a first second…
The prisoners aren’t in command, never are in command, of their ship’s detonator.
The cops are. Like a dozen of them. With guns. The prisoners don’t even rush them.
On the other ship: like three hundred innocent people.
It’s a rummy problem, eh? But not really. Because all the “bad” cops have to do is not press the button. That’s all. And all the “good” cops have to do is wearily press it, or not. Should’ve been over in a minute…the tension, that is. Because like all of the Joker’s plans the only threat is sleight-of-hand…and only if you believe in it are you phuqued. Also like most of the Joker’s plans it relies on everything going just so…but he can’t make it go just so, and doesn’t even try to. Mayor Batmanuel might have overruled Gordon about putting prisoners on the ferries…
But we will assume the Joker had another contingency. He always does! Because after all, he’s not crazy…
But how crazy would the prison guards have to be, to wait until the last second to press that button?
What was it, that they thought they were waiting for?
Let’s JUMP, now, to a big one. A big inconsistency, a big issue. Not the biggest. But big. Something everyone wants to know.
If Batman told R’as, “I’m not going to kill you…but I don’t have to save you…”
Then why did he save the Joker, whom he despises much more?
This one, I’m happy to report, is straightforward. It’s about Batman’s vengeance on the Joker. Think of it this way:
“I’m not going to save you…but I don’t have to kill you.”
He does save him though, but give the man a break, it’s a good comeback. It is beautifully inverted. The Joker, of course, doesn’t care if he lives or dies! He just wants to fuck with Batman! But Batman says no to that.
What a beautiful character this Joker is. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if I was fifteen years old and going to a pot party, and I was the guy getting the movie…yes, this, THIS, is what I’d get. Everything is crooked here; no one ever does the thing they say they’re going to do. They tell us what they’re going to do, and then they don’t do it. Everything’s corkscrewy, like a corkscrew. This isn’t just a bunch of loosened threads, as in Batman Begins. This is a whole weave of loosened threads. This is barely fabric at all.
There are only two, maybe three scenes people really care about in this movie. Okay maybe five. Let me just preface my remarks about all of them by saying: REALLY? Harvey rejects pain medication?
I tell you what, no he doesn’t. Not unless he’s a supervillain already. But okay, look at that coin come down (by the way, why the FUCK!!! does Batman save that coin for him?!?!? This is freaking Velvet Goldmine levels of not-making-sense, here!), down on the wrong side, where it never had a wrong side before…it’s brilliant. Harvey was never responsible for anything before; everything always came up okay for him, because he made his own luck. Now he’s responsible because he can’t…it’s screwy, I tell you! And he is Two-Face at that moment. That’s when he snaps. Under the weight of the world. And…okay, the biggest moment in the movie: the Joker as nurse, to Harvey. And this would have been an extremely amazing scene even if it did make sense, eh? But oh Lord, it so doesn’t. It is the one scene in the movie that cannot — CANNOT! — be explained! Because I said Harvey was Two-Face at the moment the dark face of the coin came down…but that isn’t really true, is it? Harvey isn’t Two-Face until he doesn’t shoot the Joker.
But, there is no reason for him not to shoot the Joker, is there.
Heck, he could always be Two-Face the next day, right? You’d shoot the Joker. I’d shoot the Joker.
But it’s a comic-book movie. So the journey just isn’t as important as the destination, you know?
Nolan gives us all destination.
Ordinarily, this doesn’t work.
But in this movie, it does.
Let’s talk a little Jim Gordon, the everyman with whom no one sympathizes. The psychological insulator, between Dent and Batman. No, let’s not talk about him. He’s invisible. In this movie, he’s invisible…until he’s not. Time and again. He’s real, but he’s not there: like us. Meanwhile Harvey Dent is there but not real: he’s an illusion throughout. I mean the man starts as No-Face…he might as well have been called “White-Man”. There’s absolutely nothing to him, as soon as you see him it’s like a Jump. Bruce’s endorsement of him is cruel indeed: he doesn’t care who Harvey Dent is, he just chooses to believe in what suits him…his belief is strictly provisional…
Jump. Here comes the new Batman mask, the one with “mobility”. Wait, jump back. Question: how long is this movie, anyway? Answer: a hell of a lot shorter than “Spider-Man 3”, but it’s still plenty long enough to realize that Batman never gets into that cell with the Joker. It just doesn’t happen.
It just doesn’t happen. There’s only one FUCKING DOOR…!
But Batman’s got a new mask, and Gordon was just there…seriously, whenever that guy leaves a room, he drags a vacuum behind him. Invisible plot-lubricant. Suddenly he was there…suddenly he’s not…
But oh look: suddenly, on the opposite side of the room, it’s Batman.
Pop! He’s just there.
Absolutely impossible. This, if anywhere, is where the Joker’s “won”. Because Batman’s changed: he’s gotten personal. This isn’t armour anymore, it’s skin: he can be hurt in it, he speaks with the Batman voice when he doesn’t need to (even to Lucius!), he doesn’t have properly human eyes anymore (think on that, Bat-fans!), he’s become the thing that the Scarecrow saw in Batman Begins…and he’s done something really, really forbidden by getting in that cell when he can’t possibly do so. This is where Bruce Wayne commits to the Batman persona, not as a guise but as an identity, where the Hong Kong foreshadowing of “what the, how’d he get up there…?” finally pays off. This is the start of a whole new movie, right here: where Batman gets limits, because he finally becomes someone other than Bruce Wayne in a mask, and he just does shit from now on, superhumanly…as Bruce Wayne’s face, his voice, his very “secret identity” itself is made to disappear…or at any rate it’s in serious danger of disappearing, and he must get it back somehow by the movie’s end.
Not that the Joker makes it easy for him. It is almost too hard to go on, Bloggers: the Joker plans for Batman to find him when he can’t, so of course he does, and then — impossibly! — the Joker’s ready for him. Except, he really isn’t. Look again, this is all just chaotic shit, it really is. Dark, flapping wings; storms of bats. Everything the wrong way ’round. The action sequences versus the cops don’t make sense. Look again. LOOK AGAIN. The way Lucius pinpoints the Joker doesn’t make sense. LOOK AGAIN. It all becomes creamed corn, in the end. Everything the Joker does makes sense…if he planned to go crazy and become a supervillain. But, how in the hell, as good a planner as he is, could he plan for that? When he can’t do it, not really do it, until the “new” Batman shows up in his cell, finally for him to properly try to fuck with. Everything bootstraps itself, in this movie, pulls itself up…and around…like a, like…like a…
Yes. Well. Say, how is it that the mobsters manage to contact the Joker anyway? Do they use their one phone call, and ask the operator to connect them to a playing card? Alternatively, how do the people way back at the party not end up knowing Bruce Wayne is freakin’ Batman? Because I am not the sharpest spoon in the drawer, friends, but I think even I would’ve figured that one out…
They said it was “escalation”. Remember?
But that’s the wrong word.
This is a superhero action movie that cheerfully eats itself right up in front of you, licking its lips, and then it asks you (while you’re staring at the bizarreness of it) to pass it the salt, and you look down at the salt…and the salt’s not in front of you, it’s in the movie’s hand instead, and at that moment it SLAPS you with the other hand, and you spit out your ravioli all over the carpet…I’m telling you, this movie’s like watching Mission: Impossible while incredibly stoned. This movie’s the Showgirls of superhero movies. This movie is a goddamn satire…oh, thank you, yes the crow looks perfectly done, my compliments to the chef…
And thus it is absolutely and 100% full of shit. It is absolutely and 100% fucking tail-yanking, chain-rattling crap.
And absolutely and 100% one of the most brilliant things I have ever seen. Allegory? Check out this for allegory, I despise Lucius Fox and I want to punch him in the face. Also, Jesus Christ is Alfred an old woman, and I want him to punch Lucius Fox in the face. Bruce Wayne is an idiot throughout, a sentimental meathead whose mental compass points south-southeast AT BEST, and if you look carefully, the guy goes flat-out nuts. Harvey Dent is a fucking blond-haired lantern-jawed cipher, who does a lot of acting. Jim Gordon is not even there.
Because what this really is, is the Adam West “Batman” played STRAIGHT, and for CHILLS…or to put it another way, it’s a dream gone well off the rails, that the dreamer has to somehow put back together by the time time runs out…a dream that he has to drag himself out of. Very Batman, really. But some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb, you know?
Hey, how about a magic trick?
Jesus, how about one.
Nothing up my sleeve but Gary Oldman. I defy any of you to watch this movie three times and say it makes sense. It’s pure genius. It’s absolutely bananas. It’s drug-addled. It’s “this happens, then this happens”. If Batman Begins was about the necessity of rejecting other people’s ideas about your identity, this movie’s about what in the HELL happens once you’ve done it…once you’ve seen it, and liked it. And what happens is: congratulations, you are now the proud owner of a big double-handful of creamed corn. TA-DAA…! And now, for my next trick…
…I’m going to make you believe me.
And now…the disbelief…has disappeared. Applause, applause! It is just what I wanted from a superhero movie! It was smart.
And of course, Heath Ledger was bloody marvellous in it.
Would see again.