Sunday, October 5, 2008

Batman - The Dark Knight - Lessons for us

The latest Batman movie – The Dark Knight is a heavy roller coaster ride, a pretty heavy movie I would think. It has a number of characters playing their distinctive roles. But the two principle roles are played by the Joker – an agent of Chaos, an ideal bad; and Batman – an agent of Good , a proposed ideal of good.

Joker is evil because he thinks it is fun. There is no other rationale to it other then to keep himself from getting bored. He thus not only murders people in the most ruthless ways but steals the money of all the mafia bosses from the city of Gotham and sets them on fire, simply because having outsmarted everybody and gotten all the money he couldn’t enjoy anything more then to set it all on fire. Sounds a bit like the concept of fun some teenagers have and I am sure some adults too.

But this is not Joker’s achievement. In order to win the game with Batman in the battle between good and evil he does two other things:

1) He does a social experiment in which he loads two ferries with bombs. One ferry has all the criminals of the city (except joker) and their guards and the second has civilians. The trigger to each of these bombs is in the hands of the opposite ferry. So the experiment is that Joker will blow up both ferries unless one of them blows the other up and saves itself. This experiment fails as both the civilians and the criminals decide not to blow the other up, no one man on the ship can take all the responsibility for pulling the trigger. In this battle the joker losses and Batman wins. Batman also manages to disarm the Joker of the master trigger he has and so all three triggers are not detonated.

2)The other attempt of Joker is to turn Gotham’s hero into a villain. It is to take the district attorney of the city who manages to pull off all the criminals off the street with a little stunt, push him to the point of paranoia and turn him into a villain. In this the Joker wins and Harvey Dent the DA turns into two-face a criminal who is another agent of chaos and decides to kill people based on a flip of a coin, a decision based on pure chance.

The first experiment shows that people can choose good over evil while the second lesson shows that even a hero pushed to the limit can choose evil over good.

A little confusing if I do say so myself!

The final lesson of the movie to which I disagree is this: The people killed by Harvey Dent when he becomes two-face are associated with Batman so that Gotham can continue to believe in their hero while Batman who “can run” and therefore “can afford to take the blame” does so. (Harvey Dent after becoming two-face and going on a mission to kill the people in order to get revenge is finally killed by Batman).

This I think is the most misplaced lesson of all! People don’t need heroes they need to understand and believe in good so that they themselves can become heroes! And if anybody was to be made into heroes it should have been the civilians and the criminals on their ferries who did not decide to blow each other up.

It is said that Muslims of old used to believe in Allah while the Muslims of new believe in Islam. This sounds so similar to the lesson being taught above. We believe not in what is ‘good in itself’ but in ‘ideals of good that we make up’, at least some of us do.


  1. Salaamz,
    What you write is interesting as always... but I must say I found this piece to be not up to your usual level of reasoning. It felt to me like there were too many assumptions and not enough analysis.
    But maybe that's a direction you're looking to take deliberately?
    I won't argue at length here, it would be pointless, because I don't wholly agree with your basic premises. While the Joker is a self-stated agent of Chaos, and I agree with the "ideal bad" part, Batman, while being an agent of Good, is never proposed as an ideal of good. He is simply proposed as "what can be done at the moment", a temporary cure that is always waiting for the "ideal good" to step forward so that Batman is no longer needed.

    Also, I disagree with "Joker is evil because he thinks it is fun."
    Actually, he's much more nuanced than that. His motives are purely perversity, it is true, but he is evil for evil's sake. That's what makes him the ideal evil. The facade of fun that he puts on his actions is only there because he believes it will scare/disturb people even more than a serious mood would.

    Kya khayal he?

  2. The joker is presented as an ideal of evil. This ideal you propose is one whose sole foundation is perversity. While i think such an ideal is possible, i think it is only possible for beings such as satan himself. For humans, who are rational, i think they would not be able to sustain any of their activities long enough if it did not have a rationale behind it.
    The most basic of rationale, just a level above perversity i think is "fun".

    Now while fun is something the good guys also propose, a mis-understood version of it is sufficient for evil. And i do think that fun is the sole foundation one needs for evil of any kind.

    Batman i would try to give it to him, must have been trying to do the best he could given his 'circumstances', which would mean that because he is not a public servant, and can only do so much, he is making the best of it. Therefore i say he is a proposed ideal of good - given the context he is in.

    I furthur say that the mistake he made of choosing 'hero' over 'good' is so fundamental that no good guy, of any kind should make that mistake.