This article is part of our In praise of… series. Find the others here.
In Christopher Nolan’s sequel to Batman Begins, we have less over-rationalisation of an irrational set-up and more of a cosmic struggle between the Dark Knight and the Joker. Unaccountable vigilantism against murderous terror. Unlike previous incarnations, Heath Ledger’s joker is convincingly terrifying. He has a Chelsea-smile. A penchant for knives. A devotion to chaos.
What we have here is an effective analogy of the War on Terror. Confronted with an enemy prepared to use indiscriminate and extreme violence to achieve their ends, Batman suffers a paroxysm of self-doubt. He goes into freefall believing his efforts to combat crime have only exacerbated the problem. Eventually, galvanised, bruising for a fight and supposedly committed to fighting a good war, Batman resorts to the extraordinary rendition of a foreign suspect; the covering up of Harvey Dent’s crimes; the telling of a noble lie; the torture and detention of the Joker and the creation of a database to spy on Gotham’s citizens. Not only that, but Batman’s blood-thirst blurs the line between good and bad. The Joker may be evil. But Batman may not be good either.
In the end, with the public turning against Batman, he accepts a necessary self-sacrifice to be loathed and does so because he believes what he is doing is right.
It’s unlikely Christopher Nolan is suggesting those who disapprove of the War on Terror are among its benefactors. But he may have unwittingly made a film that does.