incoherent blockbusters and the Dark Knight



Freddie deBoer used to blog at, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Bob says:

    Your comment on internal consistency in movies is so to the point. I recently recommended Tropic Thunder to a buddy. I said it was very funny, which to me it is, but even though it could be called stupid, I did not see any inconsistency within it’s story. And besides Tom Cruse is a treasury, the last bit with him dancing by himself is something I wont soon forget.Report

  2. Avatar aboulian says:

    lapdancing: den beste doesn’t know it’s bullshit.

    plus, plenty of art doesn’t ‘make sense’. no one talks like hamlet. what matters is whether we realise or care.Report

  3. Avatar Boonton says:

    I too was troubled by the Joker supposedly being an agent of choas, a ‘man without a plan’ pulling off such intricately, impossibly detailed convoluted plans. But then I caught the movie again and I think a different take on the Joker makes better sense.

    Forget about the Joker’s speech to Dent. It’s his final speech that reveals his true nature. The Joker is like the Devil in the Book of Job. You recall the Devil tried to break Job by tormenting him with an array of horrors. Horrors so unlikely to all happen at once that they are almost totally implausible. I think this is what the Joker is about in The Dark Knight. He pushes and tests Batman, Dent and the people of Gotham by constantly upping the ante.

    When I saw the movie I was struck with how realistic it seemed. Many seens took place during the day where Batman and his gizmos look kind of silly. Gotham isn’t the semi-fantastic city from the first movie or the movies in the 1990’s but a pretty real looking city. The reaction to the Joker isn’t all that unrealistic as you make it out. In the real world who would have expected the Joker to not only plant a bomb inside one of his cronies but also to be able to time the arrest of himself and his crony just right so that the bomb would spring him from jail? Like the Devil, the Joker’s torments are realistic in the sense that we can imagine a terrorist or criminal doing any one or a few of them but there is something borderline supernatural in his ability to gather all the torments together and keep inflicting them on the victim. There’s a moment when you imagine the people of Gotham saying ‘no way’ as they hear not only has the Joker escaped but planted a bomb in a hospital…wait blew up a hospital but now will blow up two giant ferries filled with people! How did Job feel when he suddenly woke up with oozing sores AFTER his wife died, his kids died, his livestock died, his house burned etc.

    Unlike Job, the Joker is pushing multiple people. Batman mostly passes, resisting the temptation to violate his rule against killing the criminals he fights. Dent fails, allowing himself to be sold on the idea that his committment to justice was just an illusion and the world is nothing more than meaningless chance. The people of Gotham pass after both its criminals and citizens decide they will not murder others to save their own lives.Report

  4. Avatar Paul H. says:

    Oddly enough, I actually enjoyed ‘Eagle Eye,’ despite knowing that it made no sense; but maybe this just means that I’ve grown to know standard plots so well that I can make do with half-assed allusions/indications toward coherence.

    But maybe, as well, you’re missing the point that ‘truth in film,’ as it were (and I’m not original in this; see Bazin, Deleuze), isn’t simply propositional or plot-driven. There are all sorts of different aesthetic phenomenological manifolds going on … often I don’t really care about plot at all, and many great films don’t care so much about it either.Report

  5. Avatar Freddie says:

    But maybe, as well, you’re missing the point that ‘truth in film,’ as it were (and I’m not original in this; see Bazin, Deleuze), isn’t simply propositional or plot-driven. There are all sorts of different aesthetic phenomenological manifolds going on … often I don’t really care about plot at all, and many great films don’t care so much about it either.

    I respect that. I just think that there’s got to be some sort of artistic tradeoff to be had and, often enough, there is none. But that’s a good point and well taken.Report

  6. Avatar Bob says:

    aboulian, I’m guessing that at one time folks did talk like Hamlet, at least some folks did. Few talk like a Valley Girl today but a movie depicting that time and place had better get the lingo correct. Right? So if the lingo was, say Ebonics, a fair criticism would be that it is not internally constant. (However, a Valley Girl speaking Ebonics might be pretty funny.) But the point was that an internal constancy is desirable. If I see an inconsistency I have a big problem. After all we are talking about a low brow art form, Hollywood blockbusters.Report

  7. Avatar Freddie says:

    So if the lingo was, say Ebonics, a fair criticism would be that it is not internally constant. (However, a Valley Girl speaking Ebonics might be pretty funny.) But the point was that an internal constancy is desirable. If I see an inconsistency I have a big problem.

    Right. Like I said, I’m willing to judge movies based on their own internal conventions; I just want them consistently applied. For instance, when the Kevin Costner Robin Hood came out, people criticized him for not having a British accent. That in and of itself doesn’t bother me, any more than a movie set in medieval times having people who speak in conventional times doesn’t bother me. What made that Robin Hood weird was that some people had British accents, some had inconsistent British accents, and some had none. That bugged me. Likewise, if in a movie you have some characters who speak in modern slang but some who speak like era-appropriate people, that’s a problem, to my lights.Report

  8. Avatar Bob says:

    Speaking about incoherent movies, I would like to nominate 88 Minutes. That was so bad. Okay, I’m threaded by a really bad unknown someone. What do I do? Well what any one worth his salt, Hollywood hack writer, would do. Concoct a plot that involves putting everyone I know in danger. 88 Minutes makes Eagle Eye look like a paean to clear thinking.Report

  9. Avatar Kyle E. Moore says:

    Interesting. As I started to get to your take down of the Dark Knight, I was all ready to defend it, but the problem is you make more than valid points. I really liked the movie, but if I were being honest with myself, it really was little more than a summer fun movie with the marked exception of a brilliant performance on Ledger’s part (having not seen Brokeback, I won’t argue which role was better acted, but I do disagree with you on the level of the Joker performance and its significance and artistic value and quality).

    But even before this, there were parts that niggled at me about this movie. One was the disagreement between the “agent of chaos” and the Swiss watch intricate machinations of said agent of chaos. Also, while Ledger’s performance was astounding (at least in my mind), he was surrounded by a cast that was lackluster, at times even laughable.

    It’s a sad thing to say, but the main character of the movie was ultimately a joke. I like Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, but his Batman is god awful and has provoked my favorite afternoon radio show into constantly insulting the BatVoice.

    But I really didn’t want to talk much about the Dark Knight. What I did want to mention was that as I neared the end of your piece, another movie popped into my mind; Silence of the Lambs.

    Now that was a MOVIE, and one that really did respect in many ways its viewers. Part of its success was the nature of the story. It was a dark psychological thriller, but as opposed to the modern day definition of the sub-genre, what we mean by psychological thriller is that actual (or perhaps fantasy, I’m no psychological expert so I admit to not knowing), psychology. Motivation is, thusly, a centerpoint of the movie. You know EXACTLY why Wild Bill does what he does because the lynchpin relationship of the film between Lecter and Clarise is centered firmly on understanding Wild Bill’s motivations in such a manner that those motivations could be used to actually catch the man.

    There’s of course some of the hyperbolic fantasy involved. Lecter, much like the Joker, seems a bit too pressient, too capable of predicting human nature to the point where he can plot out strategies that would hinge on seemingly random events and decisions. But the movie doesn’t go nearly as far as modern fare does in this regard.

    The other thing that really makes SotL is that the movie making was phenomenal. Direction and cinematography were brilliant, and instead of just having ONE actor turn in a star performance, the entire cast brought the house down.

    I’m an avid fan of Monk, and even though I’ve got five seasons on DVD, and watch each new episode religiously the moment it’s available on the internet, I STILL get this weird feeling every time Ted Levine(sp?) comes on screen.

    So I dunno, I just figured I would interject that what you are looking for, it would seem, is that the summer blockbuster machine would look more towards Silence of the Lambs for inspiration than for perhaps the latest greatest comic book movie to come down the woodwork (though, to defend the comic book movie genre, there have been a couple few that have been excellent as well. The first Spiderman, I thought, was very well done. I liked Iron Man because that really was the kind of movie you could write off as a summer fun movie without also trying to defend its artistic qualities. And, to be fair, I think the motivations for the characters in Iron Man might have actually been more believable than those in Dark Knight. And I will urinate on anyone who speaks ill of Sin City. ANYONE!).

    The last point I wanted to make was that I think one of the things that has degraded the quality of the major blockbusters has been technology. I don’t mean just CGI special effects, though that is a big part of it. But you know, the big movies have always had a certain feel to them. There’s a certain polish on the production in a big movie, and once you cross that threshold of polish, it’s like you are automatically leaped into a-movie status.

    What with technology being what it is today, with digital pictures, and computer special effects, and even music composition taking a 2.0 flavor, you can take the biggest heaping turd and spruce it up to cross that imaginary threshold.

    I dunno, it just seems like the turds are a lot shinier and that is really making a difference.Report

  10. Avatar Josh says:

    Yeah, thanks for saying this, Freddie. I enjoyed The Dark Knight, but I turned off my brain for it and reflexively/intentionally opted not to examine the story as a whole for inconsistencies—because I knew they’d be there. I think there are still plenty of things that make it worthwhile, and definitely entertaining, but critics of all stripes seemed to be overly taken with the fact that the first “serious” superhero film was being made. And of course, Heath Ledger’s death muddied the waters of the conversation further. (That’s a good point about his performance not being acting per se—I had never thought about it that way.)Report

  11. Avatar James says:

    This is the stupidest thing that I’ve ever read from yu.

    By far.

    But I guess what bothers me the most is the fact that the Joker, the “agent of chaos”, can plan so many far-flung and convoluted plots to such intricate and perfect detail that everything breaks just so and leaves him exactly with the situation he’d hoped for.

    Did you even watch this film.

    What does the Joker do each and every time he tells somebody about himself, Freddie? He lies. And you imagine that that scene was the one exception? The one instance where he decides to let everything slip and just let himself go?

    No Freddie, that scene is where he executes the part of his plan that sends Harvey Dent mad. If you imagine that the Joker is telling the truth then you are suggesting something deeply inconsistent and entirely at odds with the rest of his behaviour. Whenever he offers information about himself at any other time its a piece of deception, there is no evidence to suggest otherwise there.

    And yes, he can predict reactions. Pretty deterministic?Yes, but that’s why a daft existentialist such as yourself couldn’t enjoy it properly. Because the way you understand the world is fundamentally flawed. The Joker could predict how people would respond to his stimulus in much the same way that V could predict how people would respond to his performances (in the original comic, mind, not the relatively shoddy film), except for whereas V uses his sole actual superpower (his knowledge of the human mind and capacity to engage in otherwise impossibly elaborate planning) to topple an authoritarian regime the Joker uses it to inflict carnage upon the world and prove his points.

    The downside being that, unlike V, the Joker is thwarted since despite having the micro down to a T (like you say) his macro is entirely wrong: humanity aren’t a foul bunch, so when he relies upon them to blow each other out of the water he gets it wrong.

    His error regarding humanity is fundamental and much like it has prevented you from enjoying this film properly it prevents him from executing his final, grand, masterplan. In effect it’s much like the comic Killing Joke which heavily inspired this film: there the Joker wants to show that a bad day (enough trauma) can send anyone mad and he doesn’t manage that, because it’s only true of some people, only true of him.

    Both narratives display the Joker attempting to demonstrate that at their core most people are just like him while in fact what he achieves is solely a demonstration of how alien he is to the rest of the world, and how aberrant.

    And if you don’t think that that’s got any meaning behind it then well, fuck you.Report

  12. Avatar raft says:

    the joker is no more (or less) unrealistic than Batman. no, a normal bad guy couldn’t pull off the stunts the Joker pulls. that’s why he’s a supervillain. That’s why his adversary is a guy who drives around in a 500 million dollar car beating up criminals with his hands. I don’t think you realize in what dangerous territory you’re in here, freddie. You are questioning not just bad plotting but the foundational premise of all superhero stories from the Illiad to the Matrix. do you really wanna go there man?

    p.s. the Dark Knight was AWESOME.Report

  13. Avatar Freddie says:

    Some superhero movies make sense. Some don’t. I prefer those that make sense.Report

  14. Avatar raft says:

    p.p.s. i (mostly) second James’ post above.

    p.p.p.s. the fact that you think people like joker don’t exist (that is, that one-dimensional people don’t exist) is pretty shocking to me. the unrealistic part of the joker character is his talent, NOT his mind.Report

  15. Avatar Freddie says:

    I’ve been wrong before. I could be wrong now. I don’t think so, though. And I have to tell you, extreme defensiveness about movies, books or music almost always says more about you than about the movie, book or music.Report

  16. Avatar raft says:

    yeah, and extreme aggression about movies, books or music too 🙂

    maybe i shouldn’t have used CAPS. Some clarification: i don’t disagree with your list of the plot holes (besides the “supervillain defense” i mounted above). it’s still not clear to me how TDK is in any way more of an incoherent blockbuster than, say, Return of the King, which won Best Picture. my point about one-dimensional people is not about TDK but real life.

    still buddies, a’right?Report

  17. Avatar Joseph says:

    I admit that I was one of those people, who after first watching it used the Joker’s speech to sorta-justify the movie’s poorly plotted motivation, and thanks for puncturing my poor logic. (I mean that sincerely.) Upon a second viewing on DVD, I think the movie so dumbfounded people (including me, who saw it at the midnight opening), especially in its tonal/thematic seriousness and the realism of the setting, that we missed a lot of these plot holes, which we may have caught in a less overpowering movie. I enjoyed it immensely, but I also have to admit that, yeah, it’s not

    But this is also not a very good year for movies.

    But I’ll second Iron Man as being internally consistent in ways Dark Knight wasn’t. And as for favorites, well, IMO the best movies I saw last year were The Edge of Heaven and Kung Fu Panda (yes, I liked it more than WALL*E). Make of that what you will.Report

  18. Avatar karrsic says:

    While I enjoyed Ledger’s performance, more than once he reminded me of Dana Carvey’s Church Lady.

    In general, I agree w/ Freddie. While much of what Raft and the juvenile James say is true, I don’t think it changes Freddie’s point much. Writing has taken a back seat in movies for a long time now. And for no reason.

    The Dark Knight is a visual spectacle and it’s dark. Dark is the new “twist.” Remember how great everyone thought “Jagged Edge” was because of this amazing, unforeseen “twist” at the end? This led to 25 years of plot turns, which as long as they beguiled the viewer, required no internal consistency.

    So it is now with “dark.” The 007 movies, comic books, Jason Bournes, etc., are all: visible interesting w/ more than just explosions, but “artistic” cinematography, high-class directing, and darkness. Though I don’t think these movies are great, I think they’re good and generally enjoyable to watch and better than their category predecessors.Report