We have Christopher Nolan (and to an increasing extent, his younger brother Jonathan) to thank for a few ass-kickingly sublime cinematic stories of the last decade. Reverse storytelling placing the audience into the same frame of mind as a truth-seeking amnesiac (Memento). Pursuit of greatness in a dog-eat-dog world, not to mention David Bowie in the best cameo in recent memory (The Prestige). An anti-hero learning the nuances of justice in an age of terrible enemies (Batman Begins). And now, with THE DARK KNIGHT, an absolute coup d’etat of a superhero movie, forcing us to take a cold hard look at the gray areas of the current world around us.

The common thread? Decision making in extraordinary times.

(More after the Bat-Jump)

And as you leave this juggernaut of a movie this weekend (and you will see it, all records will be smashed, and Oscar is assured at least for Heath if not for Best Picture), do yourself a favor and recognize the genius of a comic book movie Trojan-horsing the heaviest political and social themes of human history right up your fat, ignorant, Monday morning quarter-back ass wedged into the theater seat. The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.

And at the center of it all, Heroism.

These concepts have turned a bit murky recently, haven’t they? Somewhere in the ashes of every beloved institution that has fallen prey to corruption: baseball, the church, government, Olympics, the military, big science, the NYT bestseller list, take your pick. An old quote comes to mind: Nice guys finish last. Reminds me of all those holier-than-thous crying foul over Gitmo torture or presidential blowjobs or Rampart cops. Now, I have as many bones to pick with abuse-of-power and its golden child George W. as the next person, but, honestly, whatchu know about that? What the fuck do we know about what it takes to get anything good done anymore? Guess what, black-and-white the world is not, and we’ve all had infinitely more time and infinitely less consequence to consider what’s right and what’s wrong than the person who did the best he could with what he had. Try it in pole position, big boy, in real-time.

Surprised a summer tentpole elicited this response from me? It’s a testament to why I say without an iota of reserve that the Nolans delivered the most accurate and tonally-perfect comic-to-film that will ever be made. Ever. Sure, TDK delivers action like an 18-year-old callgirl, and you’ll be praying to the House of Ledger like being witness to legend, but this movie’s cantaloupe-sized nuts lies in the mindfuck theme captured succinctly by Commissioner Gordon:

“He’s not the hero you deserve, he’s the hero you need.”

And once you delve into that double-meaning, this movie’s heart-shattering beauty is found in its questioning of the line between good and evil and the measures by which we judge our heroes…even as it wonders aloud whether maybe a little bit of darkness at the right time is necessary, not only to wake our fat asses up, but more importantly because maybe, just maybe, we sometimes need a little villain in our heroes. And while we’re backseat-driving and asking for a review of the play, remember that the greatest heroes stepped up to face Goliath while you were asleep off a beer buzz, and they won’t stop doing it because you never thought to say, “Thank you.”

More importantly, they won’t stop when you cry foul, because you probably don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Villains have had “big picture” master plans for ages — now, finally, we’re brave enough to admit that our heroes do too.

Posted by Houndstooth

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