Sachin Tendulkar dancing down the track to Michael Kasprowicz and clubbing him over mid-wicket for a six during Desert Storm. Hearing AR Rahman blend together multiple tracks of Sonu Nigam’s voice to create *that* magical harmony at the beginning of the Saathiya title song. Roger Federer crumbling to the floor, after winning his maiden and only French Open against Robin Soderling, which meant he had equalled Pete Sampras’s record of 14 Grand Slams. Few moments have made me feel like my insides were on fire. It was a Saturday morning exactly 10 years ago, as I walked in to watch Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and came out a believer.
One has to remember, these were still the pre-Nolan fanboi days. The Internet didn’t have a deluge of information about the director’s eccentricities – his fanaticism about celluloid and projection, his aversion to email and cellphones, his habit of wearing crisp suits and drinking multiple cups of Earl Grey during a shoot-day. This was also way before Inception’s furiously-debated climax. There were no sub-reddit threads mocking the ‘typical Nolan fan’. Few people knew that the man behind this Batman film, was also at the helm of cult indie hits like Memento and The Prestige.
The film begins with a camera slowly zooming in to a Chicago tower. A glass window explodes and two people wearing clown masks, zipline to the opposite tower with Hans Zimmer’s incredible score playing in the background. This is a bank heist replete with Beretta rifles, grenades, masks, and getaway cars.
The extraordinary five-minute sequence leads up to one of the most iconic introductions in film history, “I believe… whatever doesn’t kill, simply makes you stranger.”
What follows is 145 minutes of seamless filmmaking, where the director marries a superhero movie with a hard-boiled crime drama, and nothing looks out of place. A formula many directors have tried to replicate and miserably failed at.
Batman’s world lends itself to realism, gritty filmmaking and the world of a detective. And that’s why it isn’t completely ridiculous to see him reject darkness (his ally), and sit under the bright lights of an interrogation room. The film isn’t quite content with painting characters as good and evil, it wants more. It wants to have a dialogue with evil, and try to understand what makes an evil cause equally righteous.
There is obvious discomfort when the Joker says, “when the chips are down, these civilised people will eat each other,” because you know he’s right.
Coming to terms with the Joker, the antagonist of The Dark Knight is also understanding that he’s a maniac, everything sinister and pure evil… but not dishonest. There’s a truth to him that optimists are forced to confront, and that’s what made Heath Ledger’s performance so incredible.
The Joker is the cherry on top of an ensemble, where all parts have a lived-in quality to it. All of them have a past where they’ve made decisions, that weighs on their present. Whether it is Bruce Wayne or Harvey Dent, Rachel Dawes or even Alfred Pennyworth – all characters are trying to contribute to the greater good, within their limited means.
Alfred doesn’t mind burning a note where Rachel chooses Harvey over Bruce, to help him preserve his sanity. Lucius Fox doesn’t mind hacking into every phone in Gotham city, to avert terror threats (sound familiar, Mr Snowden?) Harvey doesn’t mind going full vigilante to weed out the corruption in Jim Gordon’s police force. Batman doesn’t mind being called a murderer, if it means protecting the soul of an entire city. They’re all real characters existing within the grey realm. Everyone’s trying to do the best they can.
One of the reasons why The Dark Knight is still such a potent blockbuster – is how it encompasses blockbuster dialogue. “Why so serious?”, “You know the thing about chaos, it’s fair” or “Some men just want to watch the world burn” are only a few of the finest lines from the film. The way The Dark Knight has found its way into pop-culture conversations, and many times to a newspaper headline, speaks of its tremendous impact.
The film changed the way directors wrote villains – which something director Sam Mendes accepted for Skyfall and the effort behind finding a ‘righteous cause’ for Raoul Silva (played by Javier Bardem). The Dark Knight impact was recently visible in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. Erik Killmonger is a product of society, just the way the Joker is and their vengeance comes from a ‘pure place’ even if it’s morally abhorrent. Hans Zimmer’s score became a template for scores in future superhero films where the firebrand cello became a mandatory thing during heightened emotional stakes. It also became a reference point for the DC Extended Universe, destroyed by a certain Zack Snyder, one film at a time.
The Dark Knight made us question our philosophy around ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’. It made us question what the fair price is to pay for the ‘greater good’. Films like these cannot be set out to be made, they make themselves. As some of the best directors will tell you, the practical effects fall into place, the music goes with the visual, a magical performance is recorded, and a coherent film is stitched together.
And after that, the film takes a life of its own, affecting the audience in dark theatres. Where some of us come out and feeling an indescribable giddiness. Some films change the course of lives, and The Dark Knight was THAT film in my case. The ones that make you deliberate over them, and *demand* repeat viewings until you know it backwards. And even after a decade, The Dark Knight remains timeless.