Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Here’s a thoughtful appreciation of the new BATMAN movie. As I said before, I don’t really think the dialogue does justice to the action. But I completely agree that Ledger’s is the "utterly definitive" Joker--the man with a deep insight into who people really are and who unreservedly embraces madness for what it is. Although, as a whole, not as impressive as NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, this movie does better in capturing the pyschology of big-time evildoing. It also acknowledges the possibility of being incorruptibly good, while making being incorrigibly bad seem a lot more interesting and fun. Compared to the Joker, Batman is boring, although the behavior of neither of them can be reduced to the impersonal necessity that governs the rest of nature.

Discussions - 12 Comments

I always thought one of the darker premises of the comic book (yep read lots of them as a kid) was that being incorruptibly good in a world rife with so much evil takes a certain madness as well...there's a somberness to Batman that diminishes this madness in comparison with the flamboyantly nuts Joker but it was always very clear in the comics, and much more clear in the last two movies, that Batman has no inconsiderable measure of insanity. This madness turns out to be an essential ingredient in his sucess--the most unqualifiedly good and sane person ever presented in the strip or the movie is his father who dies at the hands of a mugger, highlighting his vulnerability and fecklessness. Also, Batman's invulnerability has a lot to do with years he spent wandering about learning the ways of the criminial, closing the gap between his goodness and the malign hearts of those he ultimately dedicates himself to opposing.

Batman isn't really the incorruptably good character in the movie.

I just realized this all after watching Dark Knight, and I am trying to write a sensible essay on it, but the Comic Books are really awesome when viewed politically rather than privately. This isn't the Nichomachean Ethics, its the Politics. Batman is political. We shouldn't focus on who was good in the movie as much as who did the best job of creating a good society. That idea must wait because I'm not blurting it out on a blog.

Nor should one overlook the powerful political appeal of the Joker...

Something to remember to are Batman's mixed motivations: while he does often extol goodness as his object he is surely motivated by vengeance for his father's death...Adam Smith has a discussion about the anti-sociability required to vigorously execute justice---you really have to want to see the perpetrator suffer for his wrongdoings....Batman's great zeal for justice might then require a measure of the the strip and the movie the love he has for the girl is a counterweight to the misanthropic love of justice that sometimes approaches nihilism itself....

Clint, You gotta say more. True enough on the Joker, who couldn't achieve success after success without lots of followers.
To Ivan, Agreed...

I'm not at all sure all that pyscholgical subtlety makes it into the movie, and that's one of my objections to it.


My own thoughts on the film are here:
I think the film is more thoughtful than you give it credit for.

Clint makes a very important point about the failure of the film to register the importance of the joker's plot to force people to blow others up. "Do I have to do everthing myself?" is cute ... but the whole ontology of good/evil is at stake. I need to see the film again; it's long and action scenes become tiresome for me before long. But is there not implicit in it a fairly careful reflection on a kind of dialectic between social utility and what transcends or attempts or tries to transcend mere utility? There is madness on either side (dark or light) of utility, and we all know there's truth in it. Otherwise said: a dialogue with Machiavelli. (I'd love to see Harvey Mansfield's response to this movie.) People wnat the assurance of carnal safety and cosmic norms -- but they'll look the other way if you have to violate the latter to provide the former: to lay hands on a patrimony goes a long way to excusing the killing of a father (or Father). But maybe this film is post-Machiavellian and postmodern because the reality of "madness" (non-instrumental meaning) on both ends of the scale is becoming irrepressible.

Clint, what do you mean "least effective" character in the movie?

I think that the Joker was the least understandable. The natural way to view the Joker is either as a bad chaos creater, or as a "cool" guy. Both are wrong. As I attempted to explain, the Joker is not good or exciting, yet is useful in pointing out the flaws of the ordered political system. Political society "fixes" man to an extent, making communal living possible. The Joker points out that often this "fix" is a mirage, shrouding injustice in plans. His answer is that society is bad, which I think is disproved by his barge experiment. It's hard to see the good and the bad in the Joker, and then come to the right conclusion.

Perhaps I'm making this too hard, but it seemed to me hard to grasp both the Joker's legitimate critique on society and its failing. I think that Batman, and Harvey had good and bad critiques on society that were presented more clearly.

I have to disagree with some of what Clint says about Joker. It should not surprise us that there was no "demise" of Joker. The true nature of evil, in my opinion, its very essence, is to war against reality. Biblically, this is perdition, for which there is no forgiveness. To deny what's right in front of one's eyes. Sociopaths don't stop lying when confronted with reality. They alter the lie and move on. Joker won some and lost some. He couldn't turn the boat passengers to evil at that time, but...

The boat scene didn't take place in a vacuum. Had Joker been able to blow up both boats, wouldn't it have created chaos anyway? Wouldn't Gotham's citizens have begun to doubt God? Wouldn't they have supposed the boat people blew each other up? Wouldn't the conspiracy theories have run amok? What about the economy? Wouldn't attachment to due process have weakened even further? No doubt had the boats blown up, Joker would have furthered his "purposes" to some extent.

Moreover, Joker didn't need to lie to himself if his theory wasn't necessarily disproved to him. He didn't know why the bombs failed to detonate. To him, the passengers were either stupid or naive. Lenin thought the masses too stupid to launch the revolution; they needed his fist. And so it is when devils stumble in potholes of chance, stupidity, naivete. Evil just scoffs and mashes on the gas all the harder. The Grinch's heart was two sizes too small, and Darth Vader's was even smaller. And still they were redeemable. Even Judas suffered shame. But Joker of the Dark Knight would have poured gasoline and lit a match. His only analogue is Lucifer, whose attempted hostile takeover of Heaven met with the ultimate reality check, and yet...

Comment 12: All of what you say is fine. However, is the Devil in the Bible portrayed as someone who is happy. Yes, he exists, but knowing that he is defeated he merely plays out the string. What movie was it where they show the screams of the Devil when Jesus arose? From that point the Devil, while still evil, knows he is defeated.

Is it too much to ask that the Joker have continued doing evil, but end with the fatalistic realization that his evil was not the ultimate end. I just wanted to see defeat in the Joker's eyes when he realized that goodness existed. Is that a problem for either the movie or the Bible?

TheChair explains why the Joker will never die. Of course Batman won't either. It might be a little corny to say that the Joker must be definitively defeated--or die in some sense--when he sees "that goodness existed."

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