Drew and I had talked a few weeks ago about seeing the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight, which has created quite a stir after months of anticipation - largely stemming from Heath Ledger's untimely death. From what I gather, the movie has benefitted nicely from the tragedy.
Anyhow, I had given up on the idea of seeing the movie about a week ago. Anna and I had refigured our budget, which invariably makes me feel like it's time to pinch some pennies. Plus, I had read a review in The New Yorker that was fairly scathing of The Dark Knight. And, on top of that, the other review in that same magazine was for Wall-E, the newest Pixar film that has been released, and that review was glowingly positive.
So, I had determined to see Wall-E if I saw any movie. But, here's the thing, Drew shows up and asks me, "What are you thinking?" He's like this, one of the many reasons I love him. He'll just show up on your doorstep one day, as if you and he had never parted ways. And, he'll pick up a conversation that you started two weeks ago. And, this time, which is not usual, I knew what he was talking about.
"You want to go see Batman?" I asked back.
"Well, I figured we could go," he began. In the next few moments we did the dance of commitment. I realized that he had actually waited this long simply to see it with me. He realized that my promise might not have been complete.
But, Drew, he's a nice guy, and I hate to be the one to bear bad news to a nice guy. And, in fact, I did want to see the movie. So, two hours later we're standing in line at the local cinema that is overwhelmed with families and teens and college students on a busy Friday night.
And not long after that, we're sitting in the theatre, jam packed full of human beings, about to be belligerently assaulted by over two and half hours of what The New Yorker called a celebration of perversity. And, it was.
Yes, the movie was good - riveting and dramatic. No doubt about that. And Heath Ledger's performance? Well, it wasn't really a performance. It seemed real, which was both the draw and the repulsion. He seemed to overwhelm the film and the movie theatre with his unwieldy madness. As one commentator said, Ledger is proof of how staring into the abyss of madness is dangerous.
But that raises the question. How can staring into the abyss can be good for anyone?
What I am really driving at is this: movies in particular, but also our news and television, have become much darker, much more sadistic in recent years. I'm sure some sociologist is taking note of this somewhere and beginning to evaluate when it began, but it seems to me that the turn came almost precisely after September 11, 2001. At least that's how I remember it. In the years that followed that horrific morning, images and stories of torture, of nihilistic destruction, of horror that leads to post-traumatic stress-disorder began to appear: Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, movies like Hostel and Saw, television shows like 24. And the age old debate about culture influencing media or media impacting culture begins anew.
The Dark Knight then is but one in a series of movements that makes this decade one of the harshest, darkest in my personal memory. And it seems like a shame that Drew and I spent $8 a piece to be immersed into that world. Like I said, Drew's a nice guy. And I'm more of a Pixar guy anyway.