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Discuss: Eric Roberts Says 'The Dark Knight' Didn't "Educate, Enlighten, Move, Comfort" -- Is He Right?

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by Kevin Jagernauth
March 26, 2012 11:45 AM
42 Comments
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A few of years ago, fanboys got in a hullabaloo when Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" -- the box office smash and critical favorite which wound up on numerous top ten lists of 2008 -- missed out on Best Picture and Best Director nominations at the Oscars. Unofficially, the snub is seen as one of the major reasons the Academy expanded the field in the Best Picture category in 2009. But in hindsight, was "The Dark Knight" really one of the great movies of that year? Or just a supremely above average piece of popcorn entertainment? According to Eric Roberts, it's more than latter.

Talking with the Detroit Free Press, the actor, who played the gangster Maroni in the movie, reflected on what the Batman films are to him. "What do you get out of a Batman movie? You get entertainment, that's true. But what do you get to take home with you in your heart or your mind? It's questionable for me. When a movie costs that much, so many movies don't get made that can educate, enlighten, move, comfort," he explained. "Batman didn't do any of those things that I named, for me, anyway, even though I enjoyed watching it."

Indeed, he has nothing but praise for Nolan saying, "He's a real winner and he knows what he wants every second of every day." But Roberts kind of does have a point.

While "The Dark Knight" will go down as one of the best comic movies of all time, and certainly as high a calibre of popcorn entertainment as it gets, this writer would agree that we'd struggle to call the film "moving" or "enlightening" (one could argue "Inception" has a much richer emotional core). Whether a movie needs to "educate" or "comfort" is a different kind of debate that we'll leave for another time.

But does a movie need to have an emotional center to rank among the greats or can entertainment combined with intelligence and a fresh approach be more than enough? Do you agree with Roberts assessment of Nolan's Batman movies? Can the final chapter of "The Dark Knight Rises" raise the bar yet again and bring the dramatic elements that have been missing thus far? Weigh in below.

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42 Comments

  • dregj | April 7, 2012 3:20 PMReply

    the movie sucked it
    i was certain coming out of the cinema that they must have gotten a different director for this mess
    but no it was still nolan

  • Matt | April 6, 2012 5:43 PMReply

    The idea that the existence of a big budget movie means lots of smaller budget movies won't be made instead is a baffling one. There is no evidence to suggest that Warners, or any other studio for that matter, would have made twenty $10million art movies instead if the money hadn't already been spent... Just seems like snobbery to me. I'm not the biggest fan of these movies - I actually prefer the Tim Burton period - but a brilliantly crafted genre movie is in no way artistically inferior to, say, a low-key drama with an obvious social message. But actors like to show off, and action movies don't generally afford them that opportunity...

  • Rein | March 30, 2012 2:21 AMReply

    TDK start out great, but than it goes on way to long. The whole two face story is rather boring and a big step down from the first 70 minutes. Besides that not of the action scenes are original. I see scenes very much like I had allready seen in point break, Hard-Boiled, Nichtwatch and the first Batman. And Leadger looks just like Brandon Lee in The Crow.

  • C138 | March 27, 2012 4:25 PMReply

    Batman Begins is certainly more even film in terms of its narrative, but The Dark Knight is a lot more ambitious. In fact, it's probably the most ambitious superhero/comic book movie ever made. I think both movies are great, but I do agree that some of the praise it received was a bit over the top (namely those who call it a 'flawless masterpiece' - it's not). Still, even if the movie does cram too much into the last 40 minutes or so of its running time, there are some interesting moral questions raised that are rarely seen in mainstream entertainment these days, let alone movies about a guy in a cape and cowl.

  • Nik Grape | March 27, 2012 1:07 PMReply

    I find The Dark Knight to be a great film, with the best comic book villain portrayed in the best possible way, and completely entertaining. That said, it was elevated to some kind of masterpiece of cinema level by many people and that's simply, not the case. In fact, like others have said here, Batman Begins was a better film as a whole than TDK. I get where Roberts is coming from, and I like how he stresses the "for me" part because many people are enlightened, moved, comforted and educated by a Batman story. I would never use the word enlightened or educated personally, but moved and comforted, sure I was. Comforted by the fact that we have a very capable team of filmmakers re-creating my favorite comic book character and his world on the screen, and moved (in the form of awe, amazement, joy, excitement etc.) at some of the scenes and acting capabilities of the players. But no, it doesn't enlighten or educate. It was never really meant to either. Which Roberts probably understands anyway. He does make a great point about too much money being put into one film, that's worth an article or two I'd say.

  • Ted | March 27, 2012 12:09 PMReply

    To put this in context, The Free Press was interviewing Roberts about his new movie Deadline, which is inspired by a true story of a civil rights murder. Roberts' point was that some movies (like TDK) are designed to entertain and some (like Deadline) seek to "educate, enlighten, move, comfort". See what he means at www.DeadlineFilm.com. Great article at http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/03/07/2678268/the-gift-of-justice.html

  • MIGHTYMAD | March 27, 2012 7:16 AMReply

    I still believe "The Dark Knight" should have been nominated, but I get what Roberts said. Then again, there's plenty of movies who got the nod from the Academy, and you can hardly said that they were moving ... can't think of one right now, but we all have a few of those, don't we?

  • mickey | March 27, 2012 5:16 AMReply

    We are talking about the movie with Heath Ledger as Joker, right? This is dumb.

  • Angela | March 26, 2012 10:14 PMReply

    Though I see his point, I disagree. In the grand scheme of things, I think what's most important for a movie to really be cemented as a great, "important" film is for it to have a significant impact on culture, which The Dark Knight certainly did. Other movies like Inception might've been more emotional, but movies that are massively entertaining, intelligent and fresh/original, and The Dark Knight was all of those things, are rare, so I don't see why that can't be enough.

  • Mike | March 26, 2012 9:59 PMReply

    This is kind of a random thing to bring up, but he's right. It may have been one of the most intelligent things you could imagine coming out of a comic book world, but I'd agree that the worship displayed towards it at the time was over the top. I'd argue that Batman Begins had a lot more to say about human emotion for a comic book film, because it had an emotional/psychological center in fully focusing on Bruce Wayne. The Dark Knight is the bigger, more edgy entertainment, but Wayne becomes just a member of the ensemble and no one gives the audience an anchor. It actually falls into the same problem that all the previous bat-flicks had, the inexplicable villain takes too much of the focus. Also, it's totally Heat in Gotham City, but I do give them a ton of credit for making such a big, intricate plot out of a superhero movie.

  • Harry Angel | March 26, 2012 9:17 PMReply

    Charlie...dey took my tums!!!!!

  • Rob | March 26, 2012 7:39 PMReply

    Wouldn't he have known that from reading the script? He's just mad that no one has been kicking down his door like Eckhart's.

  • Kate at June | March 26, 2012 3:51 PMReply

    "one could argue "Inception" has a much richer emotional core"

    Sure, they could. But they also would be dumb and wrong.

  • Alex Hardy | March 28, 2012 8:27 AM

    It's funny because it's true!
    (your comment)

  • Jonathan Decker | March 26, 2012 3:13 PMReply

    I disagree 100% with the OP and with Roberts. I think The Dark Knight is a morally rich story. I wrote an entire article about this (http://www.ldsmag.com/component/zine/article/1054?ac=1) but the gyst of my argument is that the Joker challenges the very notion of morality, ethics, and integrity, believing that all people are corruptible and rotten at the core. The Joker is proven wrong, however, by the boat passengers, who refuse to kill to save their own lives, by Gordon (who is unwavering) and by Batman, who refuses to make the moral compromise of murder and revenge. In the end, Batman does something completely selfless, offering himself to take the fall for Harvey Dent. Dishonest? Yes, but also noble and courageous, as he restores hope to the city through his sacrifice. No matter the pain or cost, he's committed to "making the choice no one else will make: the right choice," as Alfred says. Enlightening, moving, comforting, and educational.

  • Paul | March 26, 2012 3:06 PMReply

    While I do believe Nolan is overrated, the truth is an "educating & illuminating" movie can come from any genre.
    Anywho, Nolan's best film to date is till "The Prestige". I think TDK is a solid piece of blockbuster entertainmnet elevated by three perfect performances - Heath Ledger's Joker, Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent and Gary Oldman's Gordon.

    I have high hopes for TDKR (though I'm iffy on Catwoman and Tom Hardy is going to have to work REALLY hard to get past that mask). I have higher hopes for PROMETHEUS though.

  • Razor | March 26, 2012 3:35 PM

    "Tom Hardy is going to have to work REALLY hard to get past that mask"
    What non-sense... He already filmed all his scenes.

  • Budd | March 26, 2012 2:26 PMReply

    I whole-heartedly agree with those that say Nolan is over-rated. In fact, over-rated is an understatement. And then some.

    I just happened to notice I am approaching 800 films on Lovefilm. Add to that all of the cinema visits over the last few years. Easily the most boring, dull, weak film I have seen in all these past years, among all these films, is Inception. Prior to viewing, I had read reports of viewers being left baffled by its complexity, of its complicated structure, and so on. I did end up being perplexed… but at these claims!

    Nolan's Batman films do have something, but don't quite make it in the end. His action scenes are the worst, his writing is poor, and the end result is, most importantly, unsatisfying.

  • Noah R. | March 26, 2012 1:40 PMReply

    I can't easily think of a more overrated director than Christopher Nolan. I like him, I think his work is sincere and ambitious, but is he really great? He can't write at all (his dialogue is a mere notch about George Lucas/James Cameron exposition), most of his action scenes are muddied and badly choreographed, and narratively his films are set pieces in search of a structure. That stupid boat scene in The Dark Knight is a perfect example. I think Roberts gets it right. He's a good filmmaker but he's not half as deep as everybody thinks he is. And in the end, Batman Begins is a tighter and more effective film than The Dark Knight.

  • Alex Hardy | March 28, 2012 8:31 AM

    Speaking of people who can't write at all ("a mere notch about"?)....part of the blame goes to his bro' Jonathan Nolan, whose television show Person of Interest demonstrates the poor writing and structuring which comes from being so serious.
    You should also probably say/mean "can't hardly think".

  • Rohan | March 26, 2012 9:45 PM

    Don't be an idiot, Noah. Is your vision getting blurry, because you've been watching Kevin Smith crap?

  • tristan eldritch | March 26, 2012 2:41 PM

    Noah, I agree with you completely. I've never got how people elevate Nolan to some kind of Kubrick-level perfectionist, when he's clearly struggled over the course of the Batman flicks to get a handle on basic action choreography - and "set pieces in search of a structure" is a very good description of one of the major flaws in The Dark Knight - it's just one "The Joker's doing some crazy shit now!" set-piece after another, with virtually no pacing or structure. David Denby, to his credit, was one of the few major critics to call the film out on this: "Yet I can’t rate “The Dark Knight” as an outstanding piece of craftsmanship. “Batman Begins” was grim and methodical, and this movie is grim and jammed together. The narrative isn’t shaped coherently to bring out contrasts and build toward a satisfying climax. “The Dark Knight” is constant climax; it’s always in a frenzy, and it goes on forever."

    That said, I was much keener on Inception, and may be that Nolan is slowly maturing into the great filmmaker so many think he is.

  • Jeff | March 26, 2012 1:32 PMReply

    Roberts only has a point if you believe that the value of cinema is in didacticism and manipulation.

  • Nolan | March 26, 2012 1:21 PMReply

    Somebody is pissed that he wasnt called back for the final installment.

  • Oogle monster | March 26, 2012 3:14 PM

    My thoughts exactly.

  • Dan | March 26, 2012 1:14 PMReply

    I believe he must be referring to Sharktopus.

  • Rohan | March 26, 2012 1:03 PMReply

    This is a weak article, which does not make any sense at all. With all the due respect to Mr. Eric Roberts, when was the last time he worked in a film that educated the audience about life or anything else. I've always found films as an another form of education. Kevin Jagenauth here, agrees with Mr. Eric Robert as he states, "Eric has a point." - Really? - As a contributor to this website, maybe, you should've published an article about 'The Dark Knight" and its storyline and the message that the film sent to the audience. Yes, the film is a summer blockbuster, but it is not a Michael Bay film. Please note that. I am a huge fan of Nolan, but I am not typing this just because I am a fan. I am expressing my opinion, for it is a fact that 'The Dark Knight' message was to rise against wrong deeds. It represents that goodness wins. Yes, Batman runs in the end, JOKER does win in a way. But, as a viewer, who really wins here? Who is the right person here? - It's the character of Christian Bale and Commissioner Gordon. 'The Dark Knight' in a way is the presentment of the contemporary society. Look at all these politicians. They lie in our faces. We vote for them, because we trust in them. In the end, they are the ones who screw us. 'The Dark Knight' is the presentment of a weak society just like today's society. We have a young man shot in Florida. There seems to be no justice. There are rapes, serial killers, terrorist plots, domestic violence, drug, prostitution, robbery, bulgery is all part of our society That's what 'The Dark Knight' represents. And, there is one man, who cannot tolerate it. He is the main character of the film. It doesn't mean we should get a mask and cape, but we can like Harvey Dent, put all these bad people behind bars and not be weak and get used by someone like Joker. That's the message.

  • Mike | March 26, 2012 10:12 PM

    "Also Christian Bale is a real person, I'm pretty sure" absolutely killed me Zack, comment of the day haha.

  • Zack | March 26, 2012 1:20 PM

    "Eric Roberts is wrong because Trayvon Martin" is definitely one I've never heard before.
    Also, Christian Bale is a real person, I'm pretty sure.

  • Andrew | March 26, 2012 1:02 PMReply

    "The Dark Knight" is a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat and never bores you. Mr. Nolan takes things to the next level in all of his movies. He is one of the few directors that don't spit out movies just to make money or just to have something of his out there. He takes his time and creates the best films our generation have ever seen! (All my opinion of course).

    Now we wait for "The Dark Knight Rises" to arrive this summer and blow us all away!!

  • gonad | March 26, 2012 12:43 PMReply

    NO MORE DEAD COPS!!!

  • Zack | March 26, 2012 12:46 PM

    THINGS ARE WORSE THAN EVURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!

  • Zack | March 26, 2012 12:39 PMReply

    "The Dark Knight" is the kind of movie really shallow people think is deep. I love it as a superhero film, but it's an above-average formula movie that mostly owes its mystique to a dead guy stealing the show.

  • Daniel | March 26, 2012 10:30 PM

    It's also awesome.

  • Huffy | March 26, 2012 12:35 PMReply

    "one could argue "Inception" has a much richer emotional core"

    I'd argue the opposite. Inception went through the motions of telling a compelling emotional story but was completely hollow; it was simply too preoccupied in the mechanics of its internal logic to develop Dom (not to mention the supporting cast) to any substantial degree. It doesn't sink the film like some have claimed and I still like it quite a bit but it definitely falls short in certain aspects. As for Roberts, I think the Dark Knight did enough to rise above mere popcorn entertainment. It's messages were messy and extremely on-the-nose but the film worked despite this. Had it been a straight drama trying to make the same statements on our current society it wouldn't have worked, but as a blockbuster (and a superhero film at that) it's clumsiness can be forgiven. That said I do think he's getting at something when he says that 10 films could be made that single film's budget though. Movie costs are simply outrageous. Think about this: Heaven's Gate, which was considered disgustingly expensive in it's day, cost $40,000,000 to make. That's $125 million in today's money, which is how much a mid-range blockbuster costs. I'm not going to go all Roger Corman and say that making a $200 million picture is morally irresponsible but why does EVERY movie have to cost that much? Hollywood is putting all it's chips into a handful of films every year and I don't see how anyone can say they're better off because of it. Maybe financially but they can't maintain this kind of strategy forever; it's practically built around DVD sales and those are already in decline and are shrink exponentially as time goes on and more and more of it's audience consists of people who have never known a world without the internet (shit, have never know a world without high-speed internet).

  • Head Buckaroo | March 26, 2012 12:31 PMReply

    "...now that we have hindsight behind us"?

  • StephenM | March 26, 2012 12:12 PMReply

    I think the Oscars for 2008 kinda sucked all around. They nominated Slumdog Millionaire, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, and The Reader over The Dark Knight, The Wrestler, Wall-E, and Synecdoche, New York. The Changeling got nominations while Grant Torino didn't. And so on. . . . . . But as for the prompt, I would say TDK is a remarkably thematically complex film with an enormous amount to say about the nature of chaos, order, and justice, and the purpose of Batman or any movie hero. It can be read as a parable of the War on Terror--what exactly are we willing to do to preserve civilization in the face of people crazy enough to start blowing things up left and right with no regard for their own safety? Are we willing to do what is necessary, even if it compromises our own ideals? Can the ideals and rules of law come back after the compromise, if we succeed in putting down the chaos? I don't know if I'd describe it as "moving," and I certainly wouldn't say it was "comforting," but it kept me thinking about all sorts of possible implications for months. I say that's what a great movie does, and even if the Oscars don't matter, I think that's the type of movie they ought to interested in honoring.

  • DrDang | March 26, 2012 12:03 PMReply

    Again, every film does not need to enlighten and educate people. Apart from that, one can easily say that TDK comforts a lot of people, especially the "fanboys". And I can also say it moved me. All the events surrounding Rachel's death, Harvey Dent's arc, they moved me.

  • Daniel | March 26, 2012 11:57 AMReply

    He's right in that it did not do those things but it did offer a rather nice little commentary on the war on terror. True, it addressed these matters in a sort of matter of fact way (which I like, I don't go to Batman to see Niebuhr), but the whole idea of whether Batman should simply endure, or reduce himself to the Joker's game, and the potential danger of our surveillance technology...they were nice to see in our current war context. Joker is certainly a terrorist and Batman is trying to keep the peace. I'd say Dent becomes the villain despite starting out with good intentions (who you think this mirrors in the political sphere is your business), and Batman tries to transcend them both (while conceding a little bit that it was necessary to break his own moral code. Hence the last scene with Morgan Freeman.)

    But is the excitement we got from "The Dark Knight," not equal to the "comfort" from a picture like "The Artist"? If anything, a "Dark Knight" is easily more ambitious while "The Artist" simply repeats old and tried movie tropes. Don't get me wrong, I loved that film but to call it any more "educational, enlightening, or moving" is sort of disingenuous.

  • Den | March 26, 2012 11:55 AMReply

    Eric, you remember your other film that can educate, enlighten, move, comfort?

  • Benjamin | March 27, 2012 8:39 AM

    Pope of Greenwich Village?

  • Daniel | March 26, 2012 10:31 PM

    Star 80?

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