The Philosophy of The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy portrays the best version of the popular comic book hero, who goes by the same name. The Batman has been my favourite character ever since I was a kid. Not just the heroic fantasy, but the dark underlying reality that the Batman could be any one of us! I would discuss only the first two adaptations since the third one would make an entire article, in my view.
The brooding, archetypal male personality of the caped crusader, is who Bruce Wayne actually is. Orphaned at the tender age of eight, Bruce ventured into a path of tragedy and loneliness. For no mistake of his, he was pushed into darkness.
Nolan wonderfully describes the pain of the young boy, in Batman Begins (2005) whose fear of bats-which he sees at the bottom of an abandoned well, creates havoc in his life. Haunted by the image of bats, he forces his parents out of a theatre opera. In the backside alley, they are murdered by a small time gangster, the product of the same system out of which Bruce’s parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne have provided resources for generations henceforth. But what has Bruce done? He has pushed his parents unto death. This guilts him into running away from his billionaire mansion. He comes back during the trial of Joe Chill, his parents’ murderer and wants to gun him down. But the crook is dealt with by another gangster, which put Bruce into sadistic gratification. Knowing this, his childhood friend Rachel confronts him saying his father would be ashamed of Bruce right now. She ends up showing him what the system has made his city into, in crime filled alleys and despondent homes with urchins and muggers on the prowl. He gives up his expensive living and tries to empathise with the less fortunate, steals, lives by their ways, learns their tricks, finally finds himself in the mountains, and his mentor, Ra’s Al Ghul, a martial arts Guru, who teaches him the art of fighting. On his final task, he is asked to execute a prisoner to which he responds by burning the whole place down. It reflects deeply on the virtue of the Batman. He never plays the jury. He could never differentiate right or wrong. Inside, he is always the angry young boy who lost his parents for nothing. He uses his family’s wealth into fighting crime by being a vigilante. Mindlessly thrashing public property in pursuit of justice, he becomes a huge sensation overnight. These events are only a build up to the major plot which lies in the second part of the trilogy. 8 months after the Batman shows up on the streets of Gotham city, a terrorist known as The Joker, threatens to kill innocents if Batman wouldn’t reveal his true identity.
Undoubtedly, most of the greatest rivalries ever known in Art and Literature, have been two sides of the same coin, born out of the same system. It is always between these two sides, good and evil, right and wrong, Art resides. It lies within all of us. No wonder we always tune into the conflict of our minds which plays out on the big screen of The Mind. And Batman vs The Joker, is a perfect example of how deep you can go with the concept of dualism.
The Dark Knight (2008), was a cult classic trendsetter of sorts. It portrayed serious cinema about a not-so-serious character. (Why so serious?) The origins of the Joker remain obscured. He could be anybody too! He wears make up and keeps robbing mob money to catch the underworlds attention. He is ridiculed at first. But he gives a simple proposition- to kill the Batman. He starts by luring Batman in by killing law officials one by one, spreading like a virus, into the corrupt crevices of the government. It is interesting that Mr. Nolan has introduced a mind-boggling character arc with the entry of Harvey Dent. He is what salvation looks like, at least in the eyes of Bruce. He sees the end of Batman in Harvey. With his loyal scheme of things within the system, he is Gotham’s White Knight. The scene where Harvey takes the fall for Batman, though he never knows who he really is, talks so deeply about the power of the formless. Batman is not a person, he is a symbol. As Alfred says, they believe that Batman stands for something more. A terrorist can never rat out the Batman. Bad can never win over the good inside of us, though it may test and tempt us. With illusions high at play, The Joker gets the better out of the whole system and makes a mockery out of Batman, Harvey and the law. It is at the midpoint of this movie as well as the trilogy, where the Joker lets his hair loose and flees in a patrol car, breaking out of prison. The poetic scene deserves special mention. It is the ultimate victory of anarchy. It is the absolute victory of evil over man made constructs of social order. When a man who serves his Higher Self, uses all his might to repair the system, he becomes Batman. When a man who serves unto his demonic nature, he becomes the Joker. One can never judge which is right and wrong, since it is the balance that creates It.
“..when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object..”
Heath Ledger becomes an immortal piece of art in this silent scene where the background noises are muted, so you can become one with the moment. The moment where the Joker realises his true power. As he calls himself, the agent of chaos, he unleashes pure terror, which described the helpless situation of people, post the great war and 9/11. Circa 2019 CE, we are still under the threat of anarchists, extremists, terrorists who want to justify their purpose by killing commoners. Art reaches an audience when it portrays human emotions unbound by time and space. This part of the movie will always stand as the greatest allegory to the modern day system.
Joker tries to prove to the world that “..when the chips are down, (these) civilised people..they’ll eat each other”.. It is at this point where the essence of Truth, is being tested. The Joker, builds up on lies and survives through it. Batman, believes that people, however good or bad, would never succumb to evil. In the climax of the movie, Joker pushes the bourgeois and the convicts onto two ships and asks them to annihilate one another as earlier as possible, since the people on the other boat wouldn’t be so noble. Failing to do so within midnight, he would annihilate both. Batman fights his way and stops Joker’s detonator, and proves, along with his people “..that deep down, they would never be as ugly as him..” The dialogues exchanged between the two characters would stand as the best in commercial blockbuster movies. The Joker explains how Batman would never kill him out of a “misplaced sense of self-righteousness” and Joker would never kill him “because he’s too much fun”. Out of free will, how many of us go through conflicts such as this inside our heads everyday? How many times do we want to have that affair, eat that cake or steal that post and still restrain ourselves to do what is right? If justification is what we are after when we find purpose in our life, to what do we justify ourselves to? This is where Nolan plays with his canvas, by bringing Joker’s “ace in the hole” – Harvey ‘two-face’ Dent. He is the gray between Batman’s white and Joker’s black. Shown as a person with dissociative identities, Harvey becomes a two faced murderer who believes the only morality in a cruel world, is chance. Driven by the angst and depression of the loss of his loved one, Rachel, he is instigated by the Joker, who gives his insanity “a little push”. How many of us are on the verge of breaking down into two-face? How many of us already are?
It is out of supreme character and valour, that Bruce Wayne/Batman shows complete empathy for Harvey, though they have both lost Rachel. He understands how he has lost his world, though he was the best among everyone. He saves the police commissioners son while pushing Harvey from the ledge. When he explains how sometimes the truth is not good enough, and people need their faith fulfilled, you end up questioning yourself about the ‘grey’ lies that you have told yourself and others. He takes the blame for the murders Harvey commits. He draws the cops on himself and fades into the light, being a “watchful protector”, a “silent guardian” and a “Dark Knight”. Moments like these make us close to the source. Or that is how I feel. At home. There is always the balance inside each of us. To be, a Knight who we deserve.
To be continued