Everyone agrees that Mr. Ledger’s Joker steals the show, but really, what’s there to steal? The film was the Joker’s to begin with. Scene after scene presents a sensual essay in taking good-guy torture and a crumbling social and economic infrastructure equally for granted. No one in this Gotham can remember a time before the town’s ruin, and the movie declines to hint at a way out, only noting that our hero’s bitterness was predetermined by his failure — or was it the reverse?
Like the fogey I’ve become, I felt brutalized as I watched, but after the tide of contradictions had receded behind me I wasn’t stirred to any feeling richer than an exhausted shrug, as when confronted by headlines reminding me that we no longer have a crane collapse or a bank failure, we have the latest crane collapse, the latest bank failure.
In its narrative gaps, its false depths leading nowhere in particular, its bogus grief over stakeless destruction and faked death, “The Dark Knight” echoes a civil discourse strained to helplessness by panic, overreaction and cultivated grievance. I began to feel this Batman wears his mask because he fears he’s a fake — and the story of his inauthenticity, the possibility of his unmasking, counts for more than any hope he offers of deliverance from evil. The Joker, on the other hand, exhibits his real face, his only face, and his origins are irrelevant, his presence as much a given as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or Fear Itself.
[Excerpts from "Art of Darkness" by Jonathan Lethem, a NY Times column on The Dark Knight (2), published 7/21/2008]