Thursday, July 29, 2010

“The Dark Knight” Plot Analysis: Act III & Beyond

This blog is about entropy in all its forms. Entropy is the unraveling or order into chaos and by looking at the world through Entropy Law we can better see the extremes we go to slow the conversion of the world around us to chaos, and sometimes how we speed up the process. The Dark Knight is an allegory for this process. In the end, order wins out, temporarily. The question we have to ask about our real world lingers over the comic book world of the film: is the way order is enforced sustainable?

Act III opens with Dent in his hospital bed, revealed to us as Two-Face. At this point in the film, he has not crossed a point of no return. It is conceivable that he could have surgeries and return to his job and clean up Gotham. He is enraged about Rachael’s death, but he does not become a monster until the Joker meets with him. Once that meeting happens, the underlying theme of the film (and Nolan franchise to date) can now be dramatized in action.

Batman sees himself as a model of good that the rest of the city can emulate. The Joker sees himself as a symbol of chaos always winning out over order. At first, Joker wanted to prove the power of chaos simply by killing Batman and letting the mod run free again. But once he realizes that having Batman around is a chaotic disruption in itself, he decides to ensure Batman stays alive and is not outed. The second part of his plot is to show the people of Gotham that there can never be order in their city because people are not fundamentally good. He will prove this by having one group of citizens blow up the ferry boat, and by bringing Dent down to the level of the criminal scum.

The first part of his plan fails because the people on both boats were fundamentally good. He had more success with Dent, who killed five people.

Batman’s solution is to take the rap for those five deaths, and keep Dent’s transformation secret. Gordon probably had body planted in the rubble of the hospital so he could later claim Dent died a hero.

The effect on the public was not shown in the film but can be implied. The people of Gotham believe that Dent came so close to cleaning up the city, and gave his life to protect it. The people on the boats showed everyone that Gothamites were worthy of Dent’s sacrifice. This reaffirms their faith in themselves. The police have captured the Joker, proving that order can triumph over chaos. And Batman has replaced the Joker as the symbol of chaos that needs to be stamped out. Opposing Batman shows that the people are embracing civil order and civic goodness.

This premise sets up the third and final Nolan Batman film. The question for me is not which villains he will use. The suspenseful question I will be waiting for until the final scene of that movie is whether or not Wayne decides to retire Batman. If Gotham is free of its decades-long epidemic of crime and corruption, with good people running the city and setting the example, then he can retire—this would be a break form the comic books because it’s never happened in any of them as far as I know.

Or Nolan could end with the sentiment of Neil Gaiman’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader” that concluded one Batman comic series with Batman saying: “I keep this city safe. Even if it’s safer by just one person. And I do not ever give in or give up…. The end of the story of Batman is, He’s Dead. Because in the end, the Batman dies. What else am I going to do? Retire and play golf? It doesn’t work that way. I can’t. I fight until I drop. And one day, I will drop.”

Which of these Nolan decides will be a huge part of Batman lore for a long time. I can’t wait.

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