So I realized that the cure for having dreams about Heath Ledger playing the Joker was to go and actually watch him play the Joker, but now I wonder if maybe the cure is not worse than the disease, because now I'm having dreams about just the Joker, which has the potential to be even more upsetting since the Joker is, like, evil personified; I believe the MST3k cast refers to such characters and images as "nightmare fuel." As it turns out, though the Joker (just the character) did appear in my dreams last night, I was surprised and grateful to find on waking that he turned out to be a benign presence (not a benevolent presence, you understand, but temporarily refraining from killing and maiming and otherwise torturing people).
So as to the movie itself, it was very good. In the first place, it was head and shoulder above Batman Begins, which was a very good movie in its own right; its main weakness, if it was indeed a weakness, was that it was an origin story, even the best of which get bogged down by their expository nature (in my opinion). And I think that a strength of The Dark Knight is that it doesn't concern itself with the Joker's origin; the Joker just is. So it was a good movie: suspenseful, compelling, even gripping. But even though a movie is good, that doesn't necessarily mean that it is enjoyable, and I found this to be true of The Dark Knight.
I think--though, unfortunately, there is no way to test this theory--that I would have found it slightly more enjoyable if Heath Ledger were still alive, but probably not much more so. People who know more about it than I do describe the films as Christopher Nolan's attempt to make "realistic" comic book movies, at which he is largely successful, though they still require a suspension of disbelief to accept the given circumstances. But once you accept those circumstances, the film is just so violent (albeit in an elegant way), and so intense that I found myself longing for release and for relief. And since I'm the kind of person who enjoys films mainly as a form of entertainment and escapism, I didn't enjoy the gritty intensity of it, although I was able to appreciate it. I didn't cry during the movie, but I did cry after it, remembering Heath and mourning him anew, which I wouldn't have done were he not dead, but I still don't think I would have enjoyed myself much more were he still alive.
And what can I say about Heath's performance that has not already been said? It was brilliant; it was formidable, it was fascinating and disturbing, simultaneously compelling and repellent. He brought to the character the necessary absurdity without undercutting his menace; in other words, even though the Joker is the personification of evil and it would be a relief--if not a pleasure--to see him die, he does get off some funny one-liners (not the least of which was, "And I thought my jokes were bad!"). There is something perversely fun and refreshing about characters who exuberantly embrace and flaunt their evil because usually, in movies and in life, evil tries to mask itself and pass itself off as virtue, to seduce you into coming over to its side and doing evil in the name of righteousness. And yet, there's something seductive about this blatantly unabashed kind of evil represented by the Joker as well; I think the absolute freedom from any sort of morals or ethics or conscience--the freedom do whatever you want to do without caring about the outcome, the freedom to tell the whole world to go fuck itself--has a certain terrible appeal. Christopher Nolan, in a tribute to Heath after his death, described him as a person with "charisma as natural as gravity." Heath brought that charisma to the character of the Joker, and that's what created the tension to give the character its power and complexity. And his voice work! So amazing, so consistent, so manifestly different from his natural speaking voice. That I think was the main aspect that really sold the character for me, that convinced me that, "this is not Heath; this is the Joker." I want to be able to do that voice; that would be a handy skill to have. Maybe I could, if I practiced; it's in a register that I should be able to hit.
I was somewhat afraid going into it that my affection for Heath would make it difficult for me to dissociate the actor from the role. I wasn't overly concerned about it, but in watching the little snippets of his performance in the trailers and whatnot, I'd been finding it difficult to dissociate. But as it turned out, and deep down I knew all along that this would be the case, the whole performance was far greater than the sum of its parts, and it wasn't difficult to dissociate at all. I was probably more aware of Heath as the actor than I would have been were he still alive, but it wasn't distracting, and it didn't stop me from unbashedly rooting for Batman to blow the sick bastard away. I say that it wasn't distracting, but I should point out that there was one instance in which it was kind of distracting; there's a scene in which the Joker is going to blow up a hospital, and so he sneaks into the hospital by dressing up as a (female) nurse, and I found myself thinking, "Wow, Heath looks really good in drag!" and then I remembered, "oh yeah, 'looked,' in the past tense," and then came a really surreal moment in which I was simultaneously mourning him because he's dead, hating him because he was the Joker, and getting turned on by him because he was in drag and had really nice legs. It was truly bizarre.
Since the Joker doesn't die in the end (which was kind of disappointing, but then it might have been close enough to reality to be distracting) there's no reason why the character couldn't return at some point; Nolan's demonstrated that he's not afraid to re-cast a part if necessary. But who would they cast? Frankly, I have no idea, and I don't want to think about it, because as far as I'm concerned the Joker is Heath. Obviously Heath wasn't the first person to play the Joker, but his is the only "real" Joker as far as I'm concerned, just as his Ennis Del Mar is more "real" than the Ennis Del Mar that appears in Annie Proulx's short story, which is a mere simulacrum, at least as far as I'm concerned.
Oh yeah, and there were some other people in the movie too. Of course the entire cast was excellent, but since most of them were returning from the previous movie, I find I don't have a lot to say about them. I found Christian Bale's deeper Batman voice to be particularly sexy in Batman Begins, but this time it was just a little too raspy for my taste. I enjoyed Maggie Gyllenhaal in the role of Rachel Dawes, and I think I preferred her interpretation to Katie Holmes' from the previous movie, but I'm not exactly sure why. It could just be because I enjoy Maggie Gyllenhaal more as an actor; she is on the short list of people I would like to see play me in a movie version of my life, although that would be kind of weird since I'm in love with her brother. I was also unexpectedly delighted by the woman who played Detective Ramirez; wow, she came out of nowhere with an incredible screen presence. Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent was quite impressive, but I wish that they'd done more to suggest the two-facedness of his character before it became literal, because he was all asking Gordon, "what was that nickname you used to have for me when I was in Internal Affairs," and Gordon was all, "Two-Face," and I was like, "but why?" Also, the burn make-up was insane; wouldn't you get gangrene and die? Not immediately, of course, but how could you even stand to walk around in the open air?
And this is something I never thought I would say, but this movie made me kind of glad that I'd seen the movie Saw, because a lot of the imagery in the movie was Saw-ish in its starkness and its callous disregard for human life, which probably would have been more disturbing had I not been prepared for it by seeing Saw, although it was kind of disturbing that I was put in a situation to make that particular association. Actually, it reminded me of a line from the Saw Rifftrax: "The Joker should sue her for copyright infringement." I think the Joker should sue the whole movie for copyright infringement, especially since, due to the linear nature of the space/time continuum, Saw's earlier release date makes it look like the Joker was ripping it off instead of the other way around. (Incidentally, although I bought the Saw Rifftrax, I've yet to watch the movie with it, and this is not because I'm afraid to watch the movie again but because I refuse to spend money on it and, unsurprisingly, they don't have it at the library.)
That said, how the hell did The Dark Knight get away with just a PG-13 rating? Apparently it's because there was comparatively little blood, and a lot of the actual violence happened off camera, but still...you can plant a bomb in someone's torso and still be PG-13? What the hell, MPAA? Seriously, what is your deal? Aaron Eckhart was talking about how cool it was to have 8-year-olds come up and tell him how much they loved the movie, which I imagine would be gratifying, but on the other hand I think I'd be horrified to find that 8-year-olds had even seen it.
All in all, it was a good movie that had a certain resonance for me, and I'm glad I saw it once, and I'm grateful to Heath for bringing me to it, because I probably would not have seen it but for the fact that he was in it, but I don't know if I ever want to see it again.
Oh yeah, in related news, The Dark Knight is currently number 3 on IMDb's top 250, and The Shawshank Redemption is number 1! Hooray! Sadly, Brokeback Mountain is not currently on the list.