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.