I don’t do reviews.
Well, to be strictly accurate, I don’t often do reviews. So let’s make this clear, this isn’t a review. OK. It is a review. But it isn’t a review of the Dark Knight. It’s a review of the review of the Dark Knight that appeared on the Telegraph website. Suckered by a false promise of no plot spoilers I read it before I’d seen the movie. I don’t want to talk about the wealth of plot spoilers – or at least scene spoilers – that it contains: why add to the problem?
I’d like instead to examine the root premise of the article which is that the film contains scenes of extreme violence and that it should not have been given a 12a certificate. The question divides into two parts. Does the film in fact contain extreme violence? Regardless of what it contains, does the film fall within the BBFC guidelines for a 12a?
The trouble with conflating the two questions is that by doing so you are confusing your own personal moral stance with an objectively defined standard of morality. You are deciding on what constitutes unacceptable violence for you and then using that as a standard that others should apply.
So let’s separate them. Let’s tackle the easier one first. Does it fall within the guidelines? The classification decision can be seen here. The film contains no sex at all so we only need to discuss violence. As the decision says in a 12a film “violence must not dwell on detail”. The decision of the BBFC was that the film does not dwell on detail and therefore falls within the guidelines. Whether you agree with the assertion that it does not dwell on detail or not, if the board decided that it doesn’t then their decision to give it a 12a was the correct one.
So, what about the harder question? Does the film contain extreme violence? It’s impossible to discuss this without mentioning some scenes from the film but –unlike that review – I will restrict myself to the opening scene. Let me quote what the Telegraph said about it.
“…the film begins with a heist carried out by men in sinister clown masks. As each clown completes a task, another shoots him point-blank in the head. The scene ends with a clown – The Joker - stuffing a bomb into a wounded bank employee’s mouth...”
True enough in its way. Men in clown masks do carry out a robbery. As they do so each of them, in turn shoots one of the others. The Joker does end the scene by putting a bomb in the mouth of an employee. I read that and thought – well, they have a point don’t they? That’s a totally unacceptable level of violence for a film that any child, however young, could see with a parent.
The trouble is that I’ve seen the film now and the statement is disingenuous at best and positively misleading at worst. Let’s consider exactly what we see – and more importantly don’t see - on screen. In each of the clown executions we see some discussion of the act about to take place, followed by a scene of the gun being pointed. Then we hear the shot. We do not SEE as much as a single drop of blood. The violence level is no worse than – in fact considerably less than – most westerns. But what about the bomb? What we see is the employee who was previously wounded, lying on the floor. We see the Joker push something into his mouth, presumably a bomb. We see the Joker leave in a bus that is pulling a string tied to the bomb. We see an exterior shot of the building which blows up. Is this violent? Yes, of course it is. But do we actually see any violence? No, we see the preparation for violence and the result of violence but NOT the violence itself and that’s the crucial point.
All the other examples given in the review, which I don’t intend to repeat here, are just as disingenuous and just as wrong. As presented in the review the scenes would certainly merit the criticism levelled at them, but they aren’t presented on screen as they are in the review. In every case what we see is a build up to the act and the aftermath of the act but NOT the act itself.
It’s true that psychological violence can be just as disturbing and inappropriate as actual physical violence and had the article made that the heart of its case then it would be harder to disagree, but it doesn’t. By giving the misleading impression that the physical violence is far more severe than it actually is, the review not only lies to us but severely undermines its own point.
There is a good case to be made for re-examining our classification system. Later the article discusses a brutal torture scene in Casino Royale, also a 12a, and having seen that movie too I would be more inclined to agree that a different classification was deserved. But it’s chalk and cheese. You cannot compare the two movies in style or content or in any way other than their common classification.
I wish someone would write a serious piece discussing all of the issues surrounding film classification but this wasn’t it and no amount of misleading rhetoric will alter that.
Oh yes, one last thing. The movie? It's good. Go see it.