In 2008, director Christopher Nolan’s second installment of the renowned Batman trilogy titled The Dark Knight, quickly surpassed the title of “fan-favorite” as it elevated itself to an award-winning blockbuster. Generating over $1 billion in the box office, the film’s influence extended well past the central target audience of DC Comics’ fan base. The Dark Knight proudly featured a premiere cast of leading and supporting roles, most notably the likes of Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, and the late Heath Ledger. The trilogy initially began drawing in support with the promise of action, explosions, good guys beating bad guys to a pulp, and the hero’s victory against all odds, but it ingrained itself into cinematic prominence once it unveiled a more sophisticated side. Unlike most superhero films, the Batman trilogy didn’t rely on one-liners and puns (much like it’s older, Adam-Westian predecessor) to sustain the audience’s attention. It engraved powerful abstract quotes into the screenplay that culminated into concrete reality as the plot played on. The Dark Knight epitomizes this fact, carrying not only introspective philosophical questions but characters that function as symbols to fuel the debate partaking in the story unto the watchers, as well. To list the questions of morality and human nature the film arouses would inadvertently span out into an ever-growing web of curiosity better consulted within the works of Nietzsche, Camus, Kant, Hobbes, and Rousseau among several others. However, one can decipher the general, yet undeniably thought-provoking, dilemmas The Dark Knight presents. Is the world bound to corrupt those who dare to live it? Can someone ever be fully good or fully evil? Is humanity inherently good or evil? Is morality in and of itself a human construct, entirely relative to each individual or is it innately instilled within all of us? Do you want to know how I got these scars?
The Joker, Heath Ledger’s final and fatal role, is no doubt among the most famous fictional villains in history. With a blatant disregard for human life, the rampaging psychopath proves to be the ultimate manifestation of evil, the devil incarnate. Undoubtedly, he is a symbol of chaos, someone who has accepted that life is inherently random and spontaneously meaningless. This is why every time he attempts to explain his scars he changes his story. His origins are irrelevant. The Joker is a man who has given in to the uncontrollability and cruelty of life. At least that’s what the world sees him as.
“Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just… do things.”
Surely, a man who dresses up as a criminal clown for a profession is dangling off the spectrum of reason if he hasn’t already slipped. But perhaps the Joker isn’t what an initial glance will tell you. Perhaps he isn’t merely a monster, a boogeyman of the imagination. The Joker, in his twisted mind, knows exactly what he is. He is no demon that crawled out of the pits of hell, he is the spawn of our own repressed subconscious. The Joker is us. He is the personification of every evil thought that dwells in our minds. Every time you see the horrors of violence and crime on the news, the twisted reasoning that leads to the slaughter of innocent souls, every dark fate you wish upon whoever cut you off in traffic, that is what the Joker has come to accept as the baseline for human nature. The Joker isn’t just evil, he’s the evil of humanity. As he attempted to prove at the end of the film by offering a boat full of innocents and a boat full of criminals the chance to blow the other to smithereens in order to avoid their own fiery doom, the clown prince of crime ardently believes that humanity is, at its core, evil. He sees himself as a messenger, an eye opener of this very fact, to the people of Gotham.
The figure of the Batman, with his evidently unhealthy excessive use of a raspy voice aside, serves as the antithesis to the Joker. After he’s finished dishing out a heavy dose of justice in the form of uppercuts, roundhouse kicks, and knock-out elbows, the Batman is a character who has also experienced the darkness that resides in humanity but refuses to accept it as an innate absolute. Bruce Wayne, despite his ominous, intimidating alter ego, wants nothing more than to prove good survives in a world (or in his case a city) riddled with crime, corruption, and injustice. This is the source of the Joker’s obsession with Batman. If he can convince him to abandon his “ridiculous” belief in the morality of man, then he proves to the world that evil reigns supreme over humanity. Evidently, he succeeds in converting Harvey Dent from ‘Gotham’s White Knight” to the grotesque Two-Face. However, he fails to evangelize the Caped Crusader to the side of insanity. In doing so, the writers show their opinion on the matter in the ending; the bad guys are defeated and everything has been made right at the cost of great heroic sacrifice. However, that is just a few opinions imposed onto a fictional story. The questions that were proposed in The Dark Knight should not be answered by the mere resolution of conflict in the film. Each viewer is intended to reflect upon what they truly believe. So, what do you think? Are we all just bad people? Is there any shred of goodness within us? Do good and evil even exist? How does Batman manage to run around all night in that costume without getting any rashes?