Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bales, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
(PG-13, 152 min.)
"He hath a daily beauty in his life / That makes me ugly." Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello
This film certainly lives up to its name, and the fans are lapping up its brooding nihilism in record numbers. Not only is it breaking box office records, but quite a few movie rules as well, taking us on an unpredictable roller coaster of a ride ever threatening to burst over the rails into a dark abyss.
Just when Batman (Christian Bale), incorruptible Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and crusading new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) are on the verge of wresting Gotham from the grip of corruption and crime, there’s a new game in town. And that’s not so funny.
But Heath Ledger’s Joker doesn’t play for laughs like his urbane predecessor Ricardo Montalban of TV fame; nor is his grim reckoning of the Jack Nicholson variety – creepy mayhem never taken too seriously. Ledger’s performance, as well as the way the Nolan brothers penned his part, is much more textured, threatening, and almost Shakespearean in depth. Like Iago, he names but never really nails down the source of his malcontent. He has a story for each occasion to account for his scarred face, but after the second installment, our doubts broaden.
Perhaps the inscrutable butler Alfred (Michael Caine) with that taciturn sagacity of his breed explains it best: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
Agatha Christie featured such a predator in her final Hercule Poirot novel, Curtain, except her villain is, in my estimation, even more reprehensible in that he never dirties his hands with violence himself, but ever so subtly encourages others to act upon their darker angels. Poirot, to the chagrin of many diehard Christie fans, deals with this evil on its own terms, but Batman cannot.
The joker also gets his jollies trying to unleash our baser selves, threatening to blow up several hospitals if a certain smarmy soul is not killed by the public. He is chaos theory come to life, an all too close for comfort rendition of the bleak nihilism behind modern day terrorism, as well as the quandary of decent souls striving to deal with it.
Unlike stock comic book superheroes who offer false security in disquieting times, Batman has no special powers to protect us from evil. Perhaps this is why fans have flocked to theaters this summer to watch him and Iron Man use their brains and technology to battle on. Win or lose, the only strings being pulled are constructed under specific direction in their very own laboratories.
But I am sure much of the draw is based on Heath Ledger’s performance, truly a great one, but all the more poignant because of his death. He combines syrupy victimhood with lethal swiftness, whining self-indulgence with casual cruelty in a strikingly convincing portrait of a sociopath. His personality is as disordered as his faulty pancake clown’s face, his devastating threats all too real to us now.
Bales’ Batman seems strangely subdued here, retiring to the shadows of his scripted secondary role with grace but not much passion, while Aaron Eckhart’s D.A. is filled with the stuff. Maggie Gyllenhaal, as the love interest of both men, is sweet and pleasant, but quite frankly, lacking in any psychic or physical magnetism that would seem to generate such ardor.
Caine, Oldman, and Morgan Freeman are the adults here, watching the carnage and doing what they can to deal with it, even if it only means bringing out goodly portions of tea and sympathy at the right moments.
All that said, I wish the great talents on screen here could find themselves filling theaters with something other than comic book fare, even the new and improved versions thereof currently churning off the shelves in Hollywood.
The Joker is an uninvited guest at Bruce Wayne’s lavish cocktail party. His melodramatic threats with a knife yield no results, so he resorts to larger and larger conflagrations to secure Batman’s attention.
Apropos of the two events is our cocktail party dish, Lobster Fra Diavolo, or literally, the devil’s brother. Not only does that name capture the Joker’s personality aspirations, but the lobster itself is elegant enough to meet Bruce Wayne’s standards as well.
And the final act of preparation for our dish involves a brandy blaze, matching the joker’s pyrotechnics that follow.
Lobster Fra Diavolo
Suitable for the finest guest, lobster is cooked in an herbed and spiced tomato sauce and then flamed with brandy.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
- 2 lobsters (1 to 1-1/2 pounds each)
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 sprigs of parsley
- 1 teaspoon thyme or oregano
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- Pinch of cloves
- Pinch of mace
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups cooked tomatoes
- 1/4 cup brandy
- Hot cooked rice
Split the live lobsters and cook them in hot olive oil until the color has turned. Continue cooking gently for about 10 minutes. Add the parsley, thyme or oregano onion, garlic cloves, mace, salt, pepper, and tomatoes. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often.
Arrange a ring of rice on a serving dish. Put the lobster halves in the center and pour the sauce over them. Add the brandy and blaze just before serving.
Yield: 2 servings (Orit can be cut into smaller servings for appetizers.)
Recipe Source: About.com: Home Cooking