The Dark Knight, Terrorism, and the Joker Virus

The teaser trailer for The Dark Knight is up at WhySoSerious.com. This must be the first ever audio-only teaser, and only Bale and Caine could pull it off. (Actually Clive Owen and Daniel Craig have the most compelling voices alive and I wouldn’t mind if they did radio for the rest of their careers.)

The Joker sounds pretty chilling and his line “I’m a man o’ my word” sounds a bit like Jack Nicholson as well. Ledger seems to be really exaggerating the American accent, with the ‘L’s way back in his throat (in “people will die”) and the hard R in “word”. What’s especially creepy though is his breathing, not only at the end of sentences but in the middle, between “Starting tonight” and “people will die”. He seems very disturbed. 

It sounds like Nolan is continuing the terrorism theme of the last movie, if not making it more explicit, with Caine’s line that “some men aren’t looking for anything logical. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men j ust want to watch the world burn.” But lest anyone think The Dark Knight will offer a simplistic criticism of terrorism, Alfred responds to Wayne’s comment that “this is different, they’ve crossed a line” by suggesting that “you crossed a line first, though. You hammered them. And in their desperation they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.”

If I had to predict the trajectory of Nolan’s trilogy, the focus of this second movie on Batman’s antithesis, the Joker, will be resolved in the third movie by some variety of moral relativism represented by Two-Face who synthesizes the noble desire for justice with its necessarily destructive means. Whether Nolan emphasizes the conflict in Two-Face or favors the image that his alter egos are “two sides of the same coin” remains to be seen, but I think the first movie already told us when Wayne defined “the means to fight injustice” as the ability “to turn fear against those who would prey on the fearful.” Unless Nolan manages to transcend ordinary oppositions as Team America: World Police did, the dualities inherent in the Batman mythos will necessarily keep the films locked into the unhelpful binaries that are usually insufficient to explain the world.

UPDATE: The following links are currently obselete as over the past few minutes every page at WhySoSerious.com has been redirected to Rent-A-Clown.com, which shows only the mugshots of the fans participating in the event described below. Luckily I downloaded the trailer before it disappeared!

Also on the site, the “police report” in the lower-right corner links to coverage of the flash-mob and scavenger hunt held outside the San Diego Convention Center on Friday morning that was incited by the same website when it looked like this last week. Anyway there are several links from this page that will let you piece together what happened.

I usually hate gimmicky websites promoting movies in “unique” ways but I love the way Nolan made up for the lack of visuals in the teaser but creating an event for fans to sort of participate in that is no doubt somewhat related to the plot of the movie. I love the concept, combining those online-originating flash-mobs with the disturbing fact that terrorist recruitment videos are disseminated publicly on the web and there’s nothing that can be done it.

jokermob.jpgI also love the conflation of audience and actor in the Joker’s mob walking around San Diego, their clown faces making them basically unpaid sandwich-board advertisers of the movie. Of course they’re being willingly exploited by Warner Bros. but that doesn’t diminish the fun of running around in Joker paint and pretending you’re part of a criminal gang for an hour. It’s the perfect kind of harmless, wish-fullment fantasy thrill, incorporated ex post facto into the Batman narrative by the website.

I know “viral” is the overused adjective of the moment, and The Dark Knight‘s “viral marketing campaign” is a contradiction in terms insofar as it is corporately generated, but a virus is an evocative metaphor for the self-replicating nature of the Joker meme  — another word o’ the mo — as fan(atic)s paint their faces to become increasingly anonymous but also individual, as the hundreds of variations of the Joker makeup in the online mug shots attest.

If nothing else, it’s much more exciting than the Guy Fawkes mask-wearing mob at the end of V for Vendetta, and it’s much more interesting insofar as its a thinly veiled metaphor for terrorism rather than explicitly terroristic as in Vendetta. Besides, the Guy Fawkes masks were just too slick to catch on, while Nolan has broken down the Joker face to three essential parts which are endlessly variable: white face, black eyesockets, and messy red lipstick.

Now we see that the very first image of the Joker online, fuzzy and closely cropped, was not a hastily prepared shot that was rushed online to appease fan interest, but the beginning of a meme intended to spread over the course of a year. What better way to promote a film than by building it up in the audience’s mind, augmented by an audio clip, rather than gratifying them with visual footage. As much as the Iron Man teaser excited me, it has only served to satisfy its audience rather than increase their anticipation as Nolan is doing for The Dark Knight.

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4 thoughts on “The Dark Knight, Terrorism, and the Joker Virus

  1. Spot 1980 says:

    Wow. Great analysis of this interesting marketing ploy. I’m not sure whether to be horrified or intrigued that marketing has become such an intristic aspect of all our lives. Somewhere Bill Hicks is rolling in his grave I suspect.

  2. Beady eyes Al says:

    Pah! Hicks didn’t have any special powers, therefore I’ll have no truck with him. That’s a really interesting point you make about the new Joker face being a self-replicating icon (or picture, if you will) which does the job of a trailer. Perhaps this signals a move away from narrative-based trailers towards pre-release marketing that deals in static images. There was element of that in the posters for Spiderman 3 in which you had the red-suited Parker looking at his black-suited reflection. But then the trailer came along and told the whole fliping story. Nobheads.

  3. Nobody says:

    There has been some indication that Hollywood is beginning to inch away from plot precis trailers.

    Two of the best trailers of the past year were a teaser for The Devil Wears Prada, which showed a single scene from early in the film, and the Fantastic Four 2 teaser, which had only ten spoken words and was primarily the Human Torch chasing the Silver Surfer.

    However both of those were only teasers and were followed by “full” trailers which conventionally explicated the entire plot.

    Another great thematic rather than narrative trailer was the one for Little Children featuring an ominous train whistle whose warning of imminent doom made the trailer itself a minimasterpiece of suspense.

    It did its job too, getting me to see the movie which turned out to be one of my favorites of the year because it was more lighthearted and not as depressing as the trailer suggested it would be. It was like American Beauty without the smugness (which doesn’t leave much leftover, I know). In fact it could almost qualify as a dark comedy.

  4. […] some kind of martial Batlaw over Gotham — but maybe that is what the Dark (k)Night is?  As I predicted twelve months ago, I assume the creation of Two-Face will represent some kind of synthesis of Batman and the Joker, if […]

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