writes: "Will you speak to why [
The Dark Knight] is a melodrama and not a tragedy?"
A melodrama is a drama where "good" and "bad" are easily distinguished (the name comes from how, when the original melodramas were staged, the band played a cue so that the audience would know who was good and who was bad), events are fantastical and emotions are heightened well beyond real life. The Dark Knight
fits all those descriptions quite well -- the good are good, the bad literally walk around with big distinguishing marks on them, the action is unrealistic (although grounded in a well-realized "reality") and the emotions -- both on screen and in the audience -- are greatly heightened. One of the acts even climaxes with a damsel tied to a big friggin' bomb as the hero races to her rescue. In a traditional Victorian melodrama, the damsel is tied to the railroad tracks and the hero is the Mountie who always gets there in time. The Dark Knight
plays this scenario out almost to a T -- except that its hero races to the wrong address and the damsel gets vaporized.
A tragedy is, simply put, a story where the protagonist, trying to do good, causes his own downfall. Hamlet thinks identifying and killing his father's murderer will set everything straight in Denmark, and instead he winds up getting everyone killed and losing the kingdom to an invading horde. And The Dark Knight
certainly contains elements of tragedy, no doubt about it. One could find parallels to Bruce Wayne in Timon of Athens
or Titus Andronicus
, great leaders who boldly step forward to improve the life of their city, only to find in the end they've made everything much, much worse. And, like Oedipus, Bruce Wayne seeks to discover the source of the plague on his city, only to find that it is himself.
But to call The Dark Knight
a tragedy is to overlook all the other things it does so well -- it's a great superhero movie (a genre melodramatic by nature), a great thriller, a great crime drama, and a not-bad detective movie. It is all those things on a very sophisticated level, so much so that it doesn't quite have the time to develop a true air of tragedy. Better to appreciate it for what it is -- an exceptionally intelligent, incredibly dense, impeccably crafted action thriller that smartly addresses its audience in a way its genre never has before, and raises the "comic book movie" to an entirely new level of excellence.(Many thanks to faithful reader The Editor.)