The Dark Knight at the Maxi-Saver | Program Notes
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Friday, December 12, 2008

The Dark Knight at the Maxi-Saver

Posted By on Fri, Dec 12, 2008 at 1:44 PM

I always feel like I'm getting away with something when I see a movie at the Maxi-Saver 12, out at Century Square Plaza. Weekday tickets are just 99 cents for movies that debuted as recently as a few months ago. This West Mifflin multiplex is the only real second-run bargain place around, and frankly I wonder how they can make any money, especially with DVDs seeming to hit stores just weeks after the films ends their first runs. But the Maxi-Saver (part of the Carmike Cinema chain) has been doing it for years.

The Dark Knight (itself DVD'd this week) is the second of British director Christopher Nolan's contributions to the Batman series. I first became aware of Nolan a decade ago, with his intelligent, provocative little psychological thriller called Following. These days, he's surely one of the few directors making big-budget superhero movies with high artistic purpose. His first Batman effort, Batman Begins, was broadly about the difference between justice and vengeance; Dark Knight is even more complex, with Batman's battle against the Joker the morally fraught vortex of a society consumed by its own fear and violence.

That society, clearly, is ours -- the futuristic Batmobile aside, the film's sets are unstylized -- and it's portrayed as an armed madhouse: Batman's vigilante crime-fighting has inspired useless imitators, while the real thing's effectiveness merely causes Gotham's gangs to escalate by hiring a pure psychopath, disguised in evil-clown makeup. Rather than targeting Batman (Christian Bale) directly, the Joker (the electrifying Heath Ledger) simply goes terrorist, and vows to keep killing until Batman reveals his true identity. Batman, meanwhile, resorts to torture; an upright DA is driven criminally insane; anarchic terrorists masquerade as cops; and cops are put in harm's way when they're forcibly disguised as terrorists.

Throw in some high-tech surveillance and the post-9/11, War on Terror, Iraq War echoes are everywhere. (Batman even stands on the smoking ruins of a bombed building.) Eventually, less-bad things happen -- Batman again refuses to kill for vengeance, for instance -- but the film, far from the usual upbeat hero walk-off, wraps on dark, unresolved notes. (It's much more Seven Samurai, in that way, than Superman.) Interestingly, the most hopeful plot line in the film revolves around a sort of prisoners'-dilemma scenario devised by the Joker, which ends with two boatloads of civilians -- one of commuters, one of orange-jumpsuited convicts -- refusing to blow up the other to save themselves.

One criticism of the Maxi-Saver: due to either a poor sound system or someone's overenthusiasm with the volume knob, the film's dialogue was often was often as murky as its maze-like narrative. But what do you want for 99 cents?

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