Batman: The Dark Knight

Posted by Roberto Macedo Alves on Aug 27, 2008 in Comics, Rants |

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There are these preconceived notions about “Commercial movies”. About the emptiness of “popcorn films”. I think the new Batman film shatters those notions. Until now, superhero movies were supposed to be empty fights of “good super-heroes against bad super-villains”.

Not anymore.

I remember reading somewhere someone saying that this superhero movie had the same tragic pathos of “The Godfather” (and it has, indeed!) and was directed by a guy with the same fondness to sink and shit over his characters as Lars von Trier does. This is a powerful drama in an Epic scale,performed by actors in state of grace and deep meditations about good and evil,about power, and chaos and ANARCHY, and what could be necessary to shatter a good man. To shatter a White Knight.

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It could have been a mafia/detective/police movie, whose protagonist is just a man dressed in a black bat-like costume. Actually, it is.

But this movie goes way beyond a fight between Batman and the Joker. There is never a boring moment. Everything is very tense, very intense. Continuous punch to the guts and not a moment to rest.

I already saw this movie 4 times (and a half) – even the dark, powerful soundtrack is excellent, with reminiscences of the score from the first Christopher Nolan Batman film.

I won’t even talk about Heath Ledger’s Joker –a posthumous interpretation that is doubtless one of the big, most impressive, astounding, scary villains of the history of Cinema. But there is something even more fascinating about this Joker.

Bob Kane (creator of Batman and the Joker) admitted that the inspiration of the Joker was Gwynplaine, the protagonist of the Victor Hugo Novel “The Man Who Laughs” (“L’homme qui rit“). That’s interesting trivia, right?

VictorHugo_TheManWhoLaughs

But there is much more to this matter. Bob Kane was inspired on the 1926 silent movie, adapting the book, not the original “L’Homme qui rit” book. And that’s plainly evident when we see Conrad Veidt, the actor who played Gwynplaine on the silent movie and the first appearance of the joker:

ManWhoLaughs-726961 Joker-03

No, there’s more than that. Apparently Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger must have read the book, because Gwynplain, was a child, originally named Fermain, heir to Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie, Marquis of Corleone and a Baron in the House of Lords. With the Approval of James II, young Fermain was given to a band of wanderers called ‘the Comprachicos‘ – that make their living by mutilating and disfiguring children, who are then forced to beggary or exhibited as carnival freaks.

What was young Fermain disfigurement? His face has been mutilated into a clown’s mask, his mouth carved into a perpetual grin.

Yes. Carved. Into a perpetual grin. Right. Does this remind you of something?

Nolan knows his classics. And it was brilliant.

So, when I was looking at the mysterious joker, asking “do you know how I got my scars?” and the story kept changing, in my mind the sordid tale of Gwynplaine was running, imagining the young future-joker, as heir to some nobility title, sold and disfigured.

Look at Gwynplaine here, in the picture below. Looks Familiar?

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Brilliant.

But there is more.

We see the joker telling us he was an agent of chaos, fighting against power structures and well laid plans. What happened to good old Gwynplaine in Victor Hugo’s novel? He ended up formally instated as Lord Fermain Clancharlie, Marquis of Corleone, dressed in the elaborate robes and cerimonial wig of investiture from the House of Lords, but when he talks to his peers, the other lords start laughing at his grin and deformed clown-like features!

So, Gwynplaine renounces his peerage (so much for power structures!) and goes back to the people who cared for him when he was a child.

A similar disfigurement is talked about in Herbert George Wells novel, Tono-Bungay, when George, the protagonist has an airplane accident, a branch drives right through his cheek, damaging cheek and teeth and gums – and he compares himself to ‘L’Homme qui Rit!

I was remembering all that while watching the film for the first time. To me Heath/Joker was just another unavenged Gwynplaine, being punished for some reason beyond his control and snapping against the power structures that made him what he was.

Wow. Absolutely genious, and suddenly, this became one of my favourite films EVER.

And if you only watch one film this year. This should be it!.

Period.

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Batman: The Dark Knight by Roberto Macedo Alves, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Portugal License.

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