Friday, August 01, 2008

The Dark Knight

I watched The Dark Knight yesterday afternoon and had to do some thinking about it. Say what you will, it was probably the most thought-out superhero movie I have seen in some time. It was almost eerie to watch the villain and listen to him. Some of the gossip sites suggest that the Joker "got into Mr Ledger's head" and may have been somehow or other responsible for his death but most of his co-stars dismiss it out of hand. Be that as it may, the character of the Joker was disturbing.

All of the Joker's from the 1960's TV Batman onward were crazed but this one was frightening in a more philosophical way. He was a source of pure destructive chaos and nothing more. As one character put it "His only desire is to see the world burn." Not only did he not care for the lives of others, but he little regard for his own life which made him utterly unpredictable and dangerous. This,along with his intelligence and a dark understanding of human nature, combined to create an almost perfect bad guy. Most villains have some redeeming features but the Joker has none, except that he at least appears to be totally consistent with his mad philosophy.

His philosophy, such as it was, said that goodness was an illusion and when forced to make a choice, all humans would revert to mere animals fighting to survive. His belief in this idea was total and if he had a goal at all, it was to prove his belief true, no matter how many lives were destroyed in the process.

The movie gave no background for the Joker. He was simply there.

It came down to this. Batman was not only fighting the Joker, he was fighting the insane philosophy that motivated him, not only in himself but in those around him as he struggled to capture the human(?) fiend.

Much can be read into this but he reminds me of another force of pure chaos from the seventy to ninety year old writings of a slightly deranged science fiction writer named Howard Phillips Lovecraft. He created a god of sorts whose name was Nyarlathotep who appeared in several of his stories and whose nickname was The Crawling Chaos. He was a personification of the cold, uncaring, impersonal universe who lived for no reason but to build and destroy for no purpose whatsoever, except for that is was he did.

In a bizarre way, the dilemma offered by the Joker is really another question. Is there a God Who sets the standards of right and wrong? The question is never actually asked but is intrinsic to the Joker's actual question. Can there be a true morality without God? If so what is its foundation? Or do we go to the logical conclusion of the villain of another work, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov who decides that its OK to murder because if there is no God then all is permitted. How do you prove moral authority to one who does not believe in any form of authority. To those who believe in God it is not a question, but to Atheists and Agnostics it is a serious dilemma. That is what makes the Joker so scary. He personifies the logical conclusion of there being no final moral authority in the universe.


Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

That's a great movie review.

Add to this, the story of "Two-Face" Harry Dent, who had a two-sided coin to make his own luck and decide his own fate. What happens when "the best of them" loses his moral anchor, symbolized by the tarnish of one side of his two-sided coin, after which every decision he makes is left up to 50/50 chance? In a way, the Joker won; yet, like in Heart of Darkness, the truth is too evil. So Batman and Gordon keep the truth of Harry Dent's fall into madness and loss of moral purity from the citizens of Gotham, for a greater good...just as Wayne's butler decides to burn the letter, as the truth would serve only harm.

Truly, a great movie that operates on levels that elevates a medium still dismissed by some as "superhero stories for kiddies".

11:38 PM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

In a way, the Joker won

And of course, he was confronted by the realization that perhaps man wasn't as selfish and corruptible as his chaos philosophy entails, when the passengers of the ferry boats fail to detonate the other. Batman tells him, "You're alone."

From the get-go, Joker gave people choices. Reminded me of moral puzzles we were given in an upper division moral and ethics class, such as a terrorist telling you to kill 1 hostage for him, or if you don't, he'll kill 10 others. If you refuse, what if one of those 10 is your pregnant wife? In that scenario, if you decide to kill the one...what if that one is a world-famous researcher said to be weeks away from discovering the cure for cancer? What if the ante is upped to 50 hostages killed for failure to kill the one? And on and on....

11:44 PM  
Blogger shoprat said...

I wasn't going to talk about the ferry scene to avoid a spoiler but that scene destroyed the Joker's whole philosophy.

What happened to Harvey Dent is what happens to many who are not as strong as they appear and too much went wrong at once so he snapped. Two-Face was not truly evil, but insane. On the surface some forms of insanity cannot be told apart from evil which is why only God can judge a soul.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

I'm waiting for the DVD. Last night we watched Batman: the Beginning which was directed by the same guy as Dark Knight. I really enjoyed it so I'm looking forward to DK.

1:55 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

pjc-Go see it ast the theatre, it's too big and sweeping for a TV set.
"I use lies to tell the truth" that was from V for vendetta. It applies here, as well. Althought the Joker's real motive was to take down Harvey Dent, the fact that he could not make the passengers of the two ferry boats blow each other up robbed him of the satisfation of destroying Gotham's "White Knight". The Joker would never want to destroy Batman because that would take away his only worthy opponent. Blaming the killings of Two-Face (Dent) on the Batman at the end of the film denies the Joker his other victory because the public martyrs Dent in the end.
I liked the use of Chicago as Gotham City, which is assumed to be NYC in the comics. Chicago is a grittier city with alleys, which are nearly non-existant in NYC. The rampant corruption of the police force and city govt. gave it the feel of Detroit, which desperately needs a Harvey Dent and (dare we even hope?) a Dark Knight.

11:46 AM  
Blogger shoprat said...

I have long assumed that since Superman and Batman are friends, Gotham City and Metropolis must both exist in that world. I always figured that Metropolis was NYC and that Gotham was either Chicago or Philadelphia, or they're just Archtypical big cities that draw hodge podge from real ones. Odd that they both have an equivalent of the Statue of Liberty though.

I agree with you that Chicago works better for Gotham City than NYC, Philadelphia or Boston. Chicago's reputation, fairly or not, fits Gotham City very well.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

The Dark Night was in fact a very dark, but excellent movie.


7:30 PM  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Oops. SP.


7:30 PM  

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