Months after seeing The Dark Knight I’m still trying to figure out some of its philosophical nuances, still trying to tease out the ways with which Nolan plays with our expectations, making us think he’s confirming them while all the while turning them inside out, burning them from the within like the firetruck blocking the road, forcing the police truck holding Harvey Dent below to Lower 5th street. It’s a potent symbol of the movie’s goal of reversals. In comic book mythology, Superheros generally represent agents of order while the villains are the agents of chaos, disrupting. But in The Dark Knight, the Joker is the true agent of order. He claims that everyone else is scheming and planning, when he’s the one who really needs things to go according to plan, who needs always to be four or five steps ahead of everyone else. It’s here that we see the brilliance of Ledger’s performance: he so smoothly speaks what we “know” going into the film that we end up adopting a Joker-esque or, if you will, Jaulknerian approach to the movie and fall into his hands like every else. Only on repeat viewings do we see the fissures in what he says, the implausibilities and incongruities of his words and thoughts. Only on repeat viewings do we notice the subtle foreshadowing of performances and mis-en-scene, hints of what’s going to happen buried deep within the film, things that appear one way on first viewing, but really signify something else. There’s some debate about whether or not Nolan is a great action director, and he may not be: the climactic battle is a blur, disorienting, and Batman’s first appearance isn’t anything special. But he’s the true master of the psychology of action, recognizing what it would actually mean, while capturing its beauty in pauses. The sweeping fall through Hong Kong is the year’s most wonderful image, and The Dark Knight the year’s best movie.

It faces some steep competition from The Wrestler. Darren Aronofsky famously developed an adaptation of Batman: Year One for many years before his Batman project was passed over in favor of Nolan’s. The Wrestler is the anti-Fountain, Aronofsky’s bloated, effects laden metaphysical investigation. Entertainment Weekly said that The Wrestler is “like Rocky made by the Scorsese of Mean Streets,” and that’s the most perfect encapsulation of Aronosky’s film that I can find. Like The Dark Knight, The Wrestler is about the tender humanity hiding behind larger than life figures. Rourke’s performance stays with you, the sound of his voice lingering behind, while his face shows the remnants of another more beautiful life. The Wrestler is also a brutal film. What Aronofsky actually shows you is tame by contemporary movie standards, but the tension he builds is almost unbearable. Requiem for a Dream is dominated by trick photography, to the point that a good friend of mine wondered aloud whether or not McG would have done as good a job. But now, with the cinema tricks (largely) pushed away, and the sensationalism of Requiem also rejected in favor of more intimate sufferings, Aronofsky has shown that he is one of the best directors in the world, and I don’t think it’s possible to even mention Aronofsky and McG without saying “lehavdl.”

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