The Dark Knight

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Morgan Freeman. Directed by Christopher Nolan
Running Time: 152 mins
Rated: Rated M (frequent action violence)

Decades ago, comic-book super-heroes were an uncomplicated assortment of fantasy role models for combating evil, with absolute supremacy given to the good they represented over the evil to which they were opposed. Gone are those days. Fantasy figures such as Batman have grown darker. Arguably one of the year's most anticipated films, this movie is not about Batman versus the Joker, representing good versus evil; here, two people pit their psyches against each other. Heath Ledger is brilliant in the role of the Joker and from his first appearance he is unforgettable, and the brilliance of his portrayal is nightmare material. Acting out a role that is inspired in part by Stanley Kubrick's "Clockwork Orange,' Ledger totally lives out his own description of the Joker as a "psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy.'

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne (alias Batman) exists to protect Gotham City, but he doesn't want to be a white knight and he is doing battle with a crazed psychopath. Batman himself, however, is a vulnerable human being at war with his own self and he is fighting someone who shares something of what lies inside him. Both the Joker and Batman have no difficulty at all in killing other people. In this film, which contains a great deal of violence, the lines between hero and villain and between good and evil blur. The Director, Christopher Nolan, who was responsible for "Memento' guides both Batman and the Joker into the dark realm of the psyche, even more than in his preceding (2005) movie, "Batman Begins.' The Joker says to Batman in this film: "You complete me.' Only when you understand the true meaning of that aside can you understand why Batman and the Joker cannot kill each other.

The film takes up where "Batman Begins' ends, Heath Ledger's portrayal being accentuated by his tragic death in January, 2008. Others also play a significant part in the story's unfolding. The district attorney, Harvey Dent (played by Aaron Eckhart) loves Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal); but so does Batman. Eckhart's transformation into Harvey Two-Face is scary though his disfigurement is over the top. Michael Caine plays the role of Batman's gentle, knowing butler, who could damage Batman even further, but protects him; Morgan Freeman is Lucius Fox, the brains behind Batman's gadgets; and Gary Oldman is the virtuous Jim Gordon, who has a level of goodness and honesty that leads the crazed Joker to want to target him.

This is a movie which has boundless energy and it haunts. The film uses state-of-the-art technology; its special effects are stunning; there is the reliable presence of a brooding Batman wearing his high-tech Batsuit; and the Batpod creates some great action sequences.

The film is classified for mature audiences, and just about everybody will want to see it - which may explain why the four people sitting next to me in the cinema looked to be aged between 5 and 10 yrs. Parents must consider whether to let their children go to this one. Many times throughout the movie, the good choice turns out to be the morally bad one, and the evil choice turns out to be the good one, and the climax of the film is where Batman has to become the villain in order to be a genuine hero. The film's concepts are very adult and the way they are projected can create moral confusion. So impactful is Heath Ledger's performance, and so blurry is the line in this film between good and evil, parents would be well-advised to talk through their childrens' reaction to the film. Laying aside its violence and the absolute scariness of Ledger's performance, the most surprising thing about the film is that it also offers a stimulating, deeply introspective and provocative analysis of the dark side of life.

Warner Brothers Out July 17

Peter W. Sheehan, Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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