I really enjoyed a discussion of the Dark Knight at overthinkingit.com about a literary theory analysis of the film. There is a really great discussion about the various ways you can classify stories – “mystery”, “action”, “symbolism” and “cultural” being the broad categories. The author argues – successfully – that it is the way our cultural knowledge of batman and the joker combine with the films portrayal that make this film so good. Its a great geeky read, and I love that it makes the film all about The Joker.
The classifications are quite interesting. “mystery” is essentially the plot – its what we don’t know and what we want to find out. For example, will Batman get the girl? Can he save Gotham and himself? What is the Jokers evil plan? The “action” element is not just the visual effects, but also the satisfactory explanation of the mystery. It makes the plot make sense.
Interestingly, these are the only elements that are actually about the film. The “symbolism” category relies on our knowledge of the world to add interest and a purpose to the film as a work of art, rather than just as a story. Batman is an interesting symbol of good fighting evil because he is dark and hidden himself. Batman has two sides, as does two face, and the joker as well. But the story is really all about the “cultural” knowledge we have of batman. He is a superhero, and we have a lot of expectations of what that means. As the article says,
We don’t tune in to see how Batman will handle the badguys, we want to know how the filmmakers will handle Batman.
And the big new character in this film..? We get to know how the filmmakers handle the Joker. Heath Ledger takes our expectations and turns them into something gruesome, something terrible, into something really damn cool. If we hadn’t seen all the other Batman films, he’d just be a weirdo in some makeup. But he is not: he is The Joker.