Saturday, July 19, 2008

Trust Is No Joke

When I was in the 9th grade my family visited my great-aunt who lived on an orange grove in Southern California. She bought all of her meds in Mexico and took us across the border one afternoon. I bought a hempy-looking pullover hoodie thing that said "Hard Rock Cafe Mexico" on the back. If you were in junior high or high school in the early 90's, you, no-doubt, can picture exactly the hideous garment I'm describing. I loved it. These jacket shirts were the height of cool that year in my small northern Utah hamlet.

It was stolen from our church during a combined young men/young women activity less than two weeks after I got home from California.

In the grand scheme of things, it was a very little thing. But for a long time afterward, I had a hard time trusting the kids in my ward, and I still have serious suspicions about who did it. To this day, I think twice before I hang something in the foyer at the church.

Our society functions simply because most of the people, most of the time, keep most of the rules. Especially the big rules. And whether it is because of conscious moral decisions made on a daily basis, or because they care too much about social norms to break with conventions, most people can be trusted. If not, you wouldn't dare leave your house. (Not convinced? Think of violent inner cities or war-torn countries.)

But now and then, things happen that shatter our innocence and plunge society into chaos:
* A girl is kidnapped from her home and held hostage for months by a homeless, crazy man her parents had tried to help.
* A father imprisons his daughter in a basement for two decades to cover-up his incenstuous relationship and the children he has fathered with her.
*A woman is tortured in her home before fleeing from her random attacker, whom she had never seen before that day.
*Two teenagers snap and mow down fellow-students in a place of learning.
*Nineteen "devout" men wrecked four planes, destroyed two buildings and took 3,000 lives after years of careful planning.

For those who have been victims of crimes, particularly violent crimes, abuse, or who have been betrayed, perhaps the worst part of the damage is not the act itself, but the years it can take to rebuild your faith in the goodness that constantly wars with the evil in man's nature. I don't know how awful it would be to look into the eyes of those around me and wonder, "Will this friend betray me?" "Will this man rape me too?" "Who in this room might be capable of opening fire on the crowd?" And even if you have not been a victim of something entirely life-shattering, I bet every one of you has thought at some point, "Will he break my heart too?"

These thoughts on trust have been in my head for weeks now, but have really come to the surface in the last day or so. Plantboy and I saw "The Dark Knight" on opening day. (No, it was not entirely my husband's idea, and, yes, I'm a geek, get over it.) Whereas Iron Man Tony Stark is funny and playful and happy to admit to being a hero--treating his vigilantism as a phase--Batman Bruce Wayne is dark and serious and tragic and secretive--treating his alter-ego as something that can only be excised from his soul when another comes the mantle can be passed to.

This post is not, strictly, a film review. There are many out there that are better writers than I am; you can read their reviews if you are interested. Nor will there be any spoilers here: if you like this kind of film you'll see it, and if you don't, then the plot details will be entirely uninteresting to you. My next paragraphs will be more about how this film affected me, and what I took from it.

Heath Ledger. He is everywhere in this film, and does every bit as good a job of stealing the show from Christian Bale as Jack Nicholson did from Michael Keaton in 1991. Though, I might argue, that Ledger's upstaging required greater skill than did Nicholson's. Bale is so much better as Batman than Keaton it is almost laughable. While Nicholson's Joker forces us to suspend belief and makes us laugh with his over-the-top antics, Ledger's Joker is frightening on a scale seldom seen at the movies. When I laughed at Joker's jokes in the film, I did so nervously, almost looking over my shoulder to see if he was watching.

His psychosis is so complete that he doesn't even look at cars he guns down in the street. He never has the same counterpart thugs in two scenes: there is no such thing as a right-hand man if you trust nobody and care for nothing. Even the mob bosses he obstensibly works for look like good family men who will draw lines somewhere. This film is a tragic exploration of good and evil, light and dark, crime-fighters and criminals. Ultimately the revelation is that both sides exist in all of us: it is our choices that define which way we go.

The story here is rich with juxtaposition--Joker v. Batman, Batman v. Two-face, Harvey Dent v. Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent v. Comissioner Gordon--the writing and directing is just subtle enough to not feel beat over the head with it, and just obvious enough so that you don't miss it in the middle of the mayhem. And mayhem it is. I left the theatre quite unsettled, wondering about the effect that a single person, completely uninterested in society's rules, could have on all of us.

The only performance I didn't really like was Maggie Gyllenhall. Why does every role she play seem so sexual? It is in her sultry, half-open eyes, her swishy walk and her ill-fitting bra. I actually really preferred Katie Holmes in this role--earnest, naive, adorable. I think I would have been much more moved by an unexpected plot twist had it been Holmes in the role. For me, Gyllenhall is just like Rene Zellweger and her brother: highly overrated. Maybe that is just me? I am also sad that Joker will be the defining role of Ledger's short career. I think of him in Knight's Tale--boyishly good-looking, funny, quick-to-smile--this fiendish character will instead be the last thing we know of him.

Anyway, if you are looking for a time at the movies that entertains, makes you think and keeps your eyes riveted, don't miss it. If you are looking for a light-hearted laugh . . . . Mama Mia might be a better weekend choice.

Oh, and don't forget to lock your doors.

8 comments:

Christie said...

I loved the last Batman movie, but even before Heath Ledger's death I was contemplating skipping this one. Then, following the shocking news of Ledger's overdose, I knew I'd never see this film. Some have said that Heath's immersion in the role of Joker unsettled him, may have contributed to the medications he was taking. I feel like somehow attending this Batman film makes me an accomplice to his death.

If we demand movies that are so dark that actors playing in them must seek psychiatric help, what does that say about our society? There is enough darkness and evil in the real world. I'm not going to watch it as entertainment.

Slyck and Slim said...

And you are a Science Teacher? Maybe you should teach drama. Love to read what you write. :)

FoxyJ said...

We, of course, saw this yesterday too (in IMAX even). I had many of the same thoughts you did, especially since the people next to me actually laughed at some of the more gruesome things the Joker did. I thought it was a great movie, but I was also disturbed by it as well. Have you read any of the comics it's based on? The Long Halloween is really well done, writing and art both. You should read it.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Belly Acre, I read some where that Heath Ledger was more of a method actor. In other words, he worked hard to look the part, not internalize it. He would spend hours in front of the mirror perfecting the look, stance and mannerisms of a character rather than feeling their emotions. And while I'm not sure you could stay totally separate from this one, I think it is more likely that his personal life was the culprit of his self-medication and abuse. I think your decision is not a bad one, of course, but seeing his incredible performance may be a great tribute to a talented artist choosing to check out much too early.

Slim, My first love was drama. I thought seriously of majoring and then teaching, but the competition was too fierce for my looks, ability and probably height. Besides, the environment would not have been too good for me at that age. I'm happy to be employed (as needed) and an aficionado.

FoxyJ, I do like the Batman comics. I considered collecting when I was in high school, but the phase passed. I've even toyed with doing a Batman novel, but I'd love so much more to do something original. For super hero stuff though, it is hard to beat the psychology of Bruce Wayne.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I think the Christian Bale Batman films are among the smartest, highest quality superhero film ever made. That said, Batman Begins was a bit dark for my taste (what can I say - I have a low threshold), and a single commercial convinced me that Dark Knight would be way off my chart. Who knew a villain could be so disturbing in mere seconds on a screen?

As for the connection between Ledger's character and his subsequent overdose, I don't have all the facts but I can't help wondering whether even a method actor would be impacted by such a brutal role. If the choice to smile even when we feel lousy can lift our spirits, and on the other hand the spirit of a sinful place can drag our spirit down even if we're not actually participating in negative things, I suspect cruel words, actions, and facial expressions would affect a person as the weeks went by, even if they aren't "real."

Doreen said...

I've never watched Batman, so can't comment there. But I do lock my doors. I've been a bit paranoid since moving here. The majority of the neighbors all have ADT, even though this is supposedly a safe neighborhood. I'm contemplating signing up myself. Especially if Dave should ever go out of town for a conference or something. I know I'm going to be awake all night listening for stuff...

ELASTICWAISTBANDLADY said...

I read this post the other day but I was too rude or tired or something to comment.

I watched Mama Mia with my oldest daughter because she HEARTS all things musical. Not a day goes by that she doesn't bust out in song with selections from her favorite musicals. I thought the movie was kind of "meh" and overly long but Lauren loved it and is begging for me to buy the soundtrack.

You have no idea how many times I sighed and said, "Awww crap, are they singing again?"

ELASTICWAISTBANDLADY said...

My Papi watched Batman and proclaimed it to be one of the best movies ever.

And on a sidenote: I had a really cool hoodie that my grandma sent me from her trip to Brussels. I wore it to P.E. because it was cold and left it in my locked basket. Well, someone snipped the lock and stole that plus my watch. I remember a girl posting a sign in the locker room asking for her jewelry back. By the end of the week we had all penciled in the things stolen from us all over the sign as well.

Papi has adopted the X-Files catchphrase: "Trust No One."