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The Dark Knight (2008) – “Madness Is Like Gravity” – Cinematography

“I don’t, I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You… you… complete me.”

– The Joker, speaking to Batman, The Dark Knight

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

Directed by Christopher Nolan (Insomnia; Batman Begins; Inception; Memento). Starring Christian Bale (American Psycho; The Fighter), Michael Caine (Hannah and Her Sisters; The Cider House Rules; etc.), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), Morgan Freeman (Shawshank Redemption; Million Dollar Baby; Seven), Gary Oldman (Léon: The Professional; ), Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking; Rabbit Hole; The Rum Diary), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko; Crazy Heart; Secretary).

When expressing a theme, there is no tool like inventive cinematography. First, below, watch this scene from the last section of The Dark Knight. I have included the transcript of the conversation at the bottom of the post.

This is an exhilarating scene that brings the two main characters face to face. At 1:21, Batman throws the Joker off of the building. The Joker cackles. Batman seemingly has the upper hand. The Joker’s experiment has just failed: the two ships full of civilians and prisoners did not choose to kill each other, proving Batman’s statement that “this city… [is] full of people ready to believe in good.” Batman holds the Joker in a perilous position, with the Joker hanging upside down off of a building by a tether.

However, what makes this scene fascinating is what occurs during the shot which begins around 1:45, as the Joker speaks the lines “This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren’t you? Huh?”

The camera on the Joker rotates 180 degrees. The Joker is still hanging upside down off of the building, but now the camera is positioned so that he appears right-side-up in the frame.

Before the camera rotation:


After the camera rotation:



The Joker continues, saying, “You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”

Thinking about the language here. “Destined to do this forever.” Referring to a jail cell, the Joker says, “Maybe we could share one.” These lines convey equality. An even fight. An “unstoppable force” and an “immovable object.” Even though Batman physically has leverage over the Joker, they are portrayed as equals via the framing (they are both right-side-up). There is no doubt that this was a deliberate choice on the part of Christopher Nolan and his DP, Wally Pfister.

Then, we hear from the Joker himself that he has corrupted Harvey Dent, the hero that was holding Gotham together. He says, “I took Gotham’s white knight and I brought him down to our level. It wasn’t hard. See, madness, as you know is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.”

Batman works so hard to uphold some sort of justice, but the Joker proves with his lines that it is so easy for chaos to ensue, for corruption to spread. This scene pins the ideals of Batman vs. the cynicism and madness of the Joker. With the hanging Joker portrayed right-side-up in the frame, we are subtly forced to question how crazy he really is, and if his absurd principles indeed have some validity and accuracy in modern society.

At another point in the film, the Joker says the following:

“You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”

In a way, Batman and the hanging Joker represent two polar components of human nature, eternally tethered and intertwined, inseparable, fighting constantly for control within each of us.

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Transcript:

Joker: Oh, you. You just couldn’t let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren’t you? Huh? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.

Batman: You’ll be in a padded cell forever.

Joker: Maybe we could share one. You know, they’ll be doubling up the rate this city’s inhabitants are losing their minds.

Batman: This city just showed you that it’s full of people ready to believe in good.

Joker: Until their spirit breaks completely. Until they get a good look at the real Harvey Dent and all the heroic things he’s done. You didn’t think I’d risk losing the battle for Gotham’s soul in a fistfight with you? No. You need an ace in the hole. Mine’s Harvey.

Batman: What did you do?

Joker: I took Gotham’s white knight and I brought him down to our level. It wasn’t hard. See, madness, as you know is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.

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