Note: This post originally appeared August 1, 2012 on my other blog.
Four years ago, when they were promoting The Dark Knight, I decided that I probably didn’t want to see it because I didn’t want to see the Joker.
The Joker is one of the best Batman villains, and my favorite Joker of all time is the one from the Batman/Superman Adventures voiced by Mark Hamil (you might remember him better as Luke Skywalker). Having seen Tim Burton’s Joker, I knew that the mad clown wasn’t nearly as fun when translated to the live action world–he was probably one of the scariest villians possible, and the Joker of Nolan’s gritty Gotham was undoubtedly the most terrifying villain ever. The Joker of the animated series was after two things; money, and besting “Bats”–the Joker of TDK was after one thing; pushing Batman over the edge. After the untimely death of Heath Ledger I was even less interested in plumbing the depths of evil with the Dark Knight.
|in line for the Dark Knight Rises|
Every now and then Zorro would tell me that TDK was one of the best done films he had ever seen, but it was a hard film to watch. I would agree with him (having known all the major plot points and twists since it was released) and that was that. As everything built up to the release of The Dark Knight Rises my curiousity got the better of me and on TDKR’s opening day I finally watched The Dark Knight. I’m glad I did. I’m also glad that it was 4 years before my morbid curiousity got the better of me! At least I could watch TDKR shortly after seeing TDK.
Why? Because I didn’t like the end of TDK.
It’s a rough film that explores themes of good, evil, and how far good should go to stop evil. Batman is faced with a villain with no backstory, no identity, and no motivation except to destroy Batman from the inside. Why? Sounded like fun. That’s all. Just wants to see the world burn. The Joker is not mad–not at all–he’s just evil. The Joker believes that deep down, each person is just like him. The frightening thing is that he’s right. The Christianese for it is “sin nature”–the translation is “nobody’s perfect.” Harvey Dent, the White Knight, Gotham’s hope–Bruce Wayne’s hope–proved Joker’s point with resounding consequences. Dent–representing “the best of us”–gave in to the temptation of the power of evil, the power of no checks and no rules. He hung onto his two headed coin as a sort of blankie, a way to say it was’t not his fault–life is all pure chance so why shouldn’t he do what he likes? He set out to punish the world for what he lost–but only if the coin dictated their death. He sought to relieve his own pain by inflicting it on others. He gave himself to the evil inside him and became Two-Face.
Joker won the battle for Harvey Dent, however, the people of Gotham and Batman prove that even if evil is tempting, we do have a choice. We can choose not to be like the Joker or like Two-Face. Joker tries to goad Batman into breaking his rules and killing him, he tries to goad the refugees and inmates on two ferries into blowing each other up to save themselves. But they don’t. They almost do. They want to. But when it comes down to doing the deed they don’t.
After the people of Gotham prove themselves, and Batman finally succeeds in capturing the Joker, there is still the problem of Two-Face Dent on his revenge-driven killing spree. Batman and Commissioner Gordon have been struggling to keep Harvey Dent’s nose clean since Joker upped the anti in Gotham (a fact that probably should have tipped them off that maybe he’s not the White Knight they thought). They desperately want him to be what they believe they can’t–a shining example of good for the people of Gotham to aspire to. Consequently, they do everything possible to save Harvey Dent’s image from the mire he plunged it into. Batman heroically takes the blame for Harvey’s sins. A lot of people really loved the symbolism of Batman’s sacrifice–but I didn’t. Yes, taking Harvey’s place was noble, but it required a pretty dang huge lie. Noble lies have a way of going wrong. The effects of this noble lie nearly cost Bruce Wayne his life.