But there is a second deeper level. At that level, "The Dark Knight" is a discourse on the nature of evil.
And then... there is a third, still deeper, final level.
At that final level, this movie is a bunch of violent, purposeless noise.
People are buying scalped tickets this weekend for $100 apiece. The critics say it's brilliant. You've likely heard them, speaking in uniform voice, extolling the profundity of this very, very important movie. The hype has been unmatched. It's the best of its genre -- ever. Thoroughly engrossing, thoroughly entertaining, thoroughly -- you know -- important.
So it's interesting to watch people emerge into the light of day in the hot Florida sun, looking for their cars in the crowded lots. They look kinda...bored. Like they did when they walked in. Almost like they didn't just see 2.5 hours of non-stop explosions, ear-crushing destruction, screams, bleeding, shotgun blasts, and brutal torture scenes.
Let the record show that in the waning days of western civilization, when we were artistically spent, the going rate for 2.5 hours of defibrillation was $9. Anything -- anything! -- to get our hearts pumping again, if for a short time, before exiting to find where we put the Accord.
This movie is well-made, of course. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, "People who enjoy that sort of thing will certainly enjoy that sort of thing."
"The Dark Knight" is that sort of thing. Death, mayhem, horrifying chaos -- wrapped in ooh-that's-deep philosophizing that will prompt many an essay from high school sophomores. Too bad it, ultimately, means nothing.
Granted, my experience was colored somewhat. Carolyn and I were sitting next to a three-year-old, who was treated to a happy-time-with-dad buffet of burnt flesh, maniacal laughing, and corpses. It's only PG-13, you know, which just means parents need show guidance, as they guide those they are to protect into their seats in dark, stranger-filled blood shows. Where would we be without parental guidance?
Focus on the Family gives this movie 2-and-a-half stars for "family friendliness". For what family, the Mansons?
Will kids say they liked it, though? Will the junior high boys like it? Here's an experiement: Ask a group of junior high boys for movies they say that were NOT awesome. I've done it. There follows a long silence. This is because they are fools.
"The Dark Knight" is cultural rigormortis. It's what happens when we are done, and we are done. Jacques Barzun had it right, when he wrote a history of western culture up through the 1990s, and said, certainly, that our age is defined by boredom. We are excited by nothing, really, but maybe for a moment here, or a moment there, we can try to be turned on. Sex can do it (or fake sex, much more likely) but brutal violence can work, too, if for a short time.
Our culture is lying on the table, and "The Dark Knight" is just another jolt before the flatline resumes.
At least give us this: Our mass-market (which included me, yesterday) is willing to pay for it, but also demands some sense that it was all, ultimately, high-minded, that it was making some statement, that it was horrific, yes, but redemptive, blah blah blah. Expect many hip Christian types to write as much, because 1) That's the essence of being hip, and 2) Who doesn't like Batman?
But it's not redemptive...unless...
Unless we can emerge in the sunlight, after ALL THAT HYPE for this masterwork, this penultimate expression, this marvel-ous creation, saying, "Really? That's as good as it gets?"
Then we walk out into the sun, and decide it's infinitely more interesting than what we just paid to see.