The Joker is a fascinating character. I don’t think I ever truly appreciated him until I read Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. I would dare say Alan Moore was so in love with the Joker character that it inspired his own character, The Comedian from The Watchmen. The Comedian has a similar view of the world only he fights on the good guys’ side. The Joker, being on the side of evil, is free to reach higher potential in the insanity department.
Through Moore’s comic and Nolan’s movie I began to see the philosophy of The Joker, his mind state. The Joker is an anarchist. But not in some deep seeded human liberties logic, not in any logic. He just sees the world and society and especially the people who created it as one big joke. He loves to find what makes people tick and turn it against them to see how they act. He challenges their morals and their way of life. He takes nothing serious. You could even assume that the fact that I am writing so seriously about him right now would inspire him to break out of Arkham, kidnap me, and torture my mind and body until the day I skip, naked, down the streets of Gotham, reviewing movies through a series of limericks.
In Gotham city there is a representation of the typical evil that exists among men. There are the mob bosses like Maroni. These are criminals who lack any true complexity; their nature is transparent. They are lovers of money and lovers of power. But the Joker is a different breed of criminal. Even criminally insane doesn’t seem to fully encompass the Joker’s state. In The Dark Knight Alfred tells Bruce the story of a ruby bandit in Burma. It does more justice to depicting The Joker than I can. In fact the movie itself really diffuses the need for this whole article.
Alfred Pennyworth: A long time ago, I was in Burma, my friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders by bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. So we went looking for the stones. But in six months, we never found anyone who traded with him. One day I saw a child playing with a ruby the size of a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away.
Bruce Wayne: Then why steal them?
Alfred Pennyworth: Because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.
I talked about Bats’ character flaws earlier, so I feel I should quickly highlight The Joker’s. He is a chaos merchant and a scheming genius when it comes to it. But then his plans are so elaborate, so complex and thought-out. It seems counter-logical to his character to need so much planning to mock and egg-face and torture those who live in a structured society. But maybe for a character who follows the logic of no logic, countering his own logic once in a while seems to be the only logical approach. Hmmm I think I accidently crossed over into a Riddler review.
There is no exact origins story given for The Joker in The Dark Knight. Other Batman tales show how he became what he was but Nolan keeps it vague. The Joker himself offers various accounts (“You wanna know how I got these scars?”). But the Joker exists for the same reason that I couldn’t simply write an article on Batman alone: The Joker needs Batman. Without Batman, The Joker wouldn’t be able to derive enough joy from the world. Bats is like his toy, a force of good that strives to heal the world while Joker thrives on the bottled chaos that flows in the subconscious of the civilised human. It could even be argued that Batman needs The Joker. Not Bruce Wayne, but whenever The Joker is around Batman cannot retire. I even had the idea of a little yin and yang picture with one half purple with a little bat symbol inside it and the other black with a green J. But then that would be a little lame?
Anyways it is this chemistry between the two that makes their tales so compelling. I mentioned Batman’s uncompromising moral code, but it seems that is the very thing that continues to feed The Joker’s motivation. In The Dark Knight he forces Bats into torturing him, enjoying every minute of it – at least as much as you can while being pummelled. He baits Batman to kill him, to break his purity. He obviously fails. Bats isn’t Gotham’s Dark Knight for nothing. But if he can’t defeat the Bat then maybe he can defeat the people. The ones Bats is fighting for.
The mass exodus of Gotham, after threats from the Joker, leaves two ferries broken down in Gotham River. One with criminals and one with citizens. Both rigged handsomely with explosives and the triggers in the hands of the other boat (chaos is a complex game to play sometimes). But the people of Gotham, though quick to panic when provoked by Joker, still have a conscience. The one that inspired civilisation and law and order in the first place. The one that Batman hopes to inspire. The one that Batman will always believe in.
As they say, you may have won the battle but you haven’t won the war. And while the river wasn’t littered with the scattered remains of Gotham citizens, Gotham’s White Knight Harvey Dent, was a whole new battle with a whole different outcome.
Check out the other characters in the series:
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