Batman w/gun, 1939:
Dept. of “I think you and I are destined to do this forever”:
To be honest I’m not quite sure I have the right answer to this question as I don’t believe it to be as straight forward as it seems. The Dark Knight also attempts to answer this question or rather present possible threads of thought on this idea. I’ve never been one to believe in black and white morality as society is filled with supposedly good people who do bad things for good intentions. Enter The Batman, the main protagonist, the enforcer of Justice and the protector of Gotham whose ideology and morality are tested to unexpected extremes within the two and half hour runtime of this film. I love how this movie reframes the things we think to be threats to our well being. Terrorism is not just about radicals armed with bombs because terrorism can also wreak havoc on a psychological level. We are presented with threats to our worldview, morality and ethical compass. It highlights the fragility of the values by which we build our lives and leads us to ask how can we defend against a threat such as this and questions the effectiveness of our modern day heroes who are sworn to protect the land.
This movie does an amazing job of subverting the genre of a superhero movie. Where the threats are of a dramatic scale but still comprehendible. However, in this movie, the Joker is something different. In most movies the role of the Villain is to steal or control or destroy or a combination of any of those things. Joker’s role is to challenge the status quo in order to reveal it’s flaws and inherently throw the world into chaos.
Our “fearless” hero is in fact completely driven by fear. Fear of the darkness of human nature implanted in him from an early trauma. The Joker understands this fact and exploits this to torture Batman and attempt to break down his morality. Where Joker posits that humans are inherently bad and will succumb to their primal and darker natures when given the chance, Batman counters that humans are good and capable of rising above their darker natures. Which is why Batman upholds Harvey as the true savior of Gotham, the quintessential example of human’s capacity for goodness and decency. A misplaced hope as it turned out but Harvey’s fall and Batman’s sacrifice to preserve the untarnished idea of him did give me an idea for what truly makes hero.
Perhaps a true hero isn’t an idea of an omnipotent, omniscient force far removed from the common man. A true hero is the common man whom despite his/her intrinsic human flaws, fears and unfortunate circumstances remains unwavering in the face of their darker nature and rises above it to preserve and protect the good that remains in the world.
The above links are for a couple of YouTube videos off film channels that I highly recommend. The first video is from a channel called Wisecrack which is a channel dedicated to braking down film and television primarily for their social a philosophical meaning often like in this video with a humorous lens. I thought this particularly relevant because we have been discussing film with regard to genre and as we discussed in class genre is a fluid idea that leans heavily on the contemporary social and political climate. The second video is from a channel called FilmJoy, this video offer an interesting perspective on the film and goes in depth in breaking down the motives and goals of the major characters the video focuses on the joker and ultimately makes the argument that Heath Legder’s performance of the joker is the best performance in all of cinema which I think is quite a bold statement and can’t totally get behind but Mike makes some very convincing points, what do you think about these videos and do you think that Heath Legder’s performance of the joker is the best?
Like most modern superhero movies, The Dark Knight takes on the challenge of conforming to the stereotypes of its genre while being unique and allowing the audience to feel like they’re not watching just another Batman movie. An interesting way Christopher Nolan attempts to do this is by changing the motivation that drives the villain and its effect on our beloved hero. In several superhero films in the past like Superman and Wonder Woman – it’s easy for the audience to see the disparity between good and evil. However, in Batman, we see that the hero is constantly struggling. At the core of the film, the Joker’s main intention was to prove to Batman that he is not all that different from the Joker. The following quote from Batman: The Killing Joke explains his purpose really well:
“I’ve proved my point. I’ve demonstrated there’s no difference between me and everyone else! All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. You had a bad day once, am I right? I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad day and everything changed. Why else would you dress up as a flying rat? You had a bad day, and it drove you as crazy as everybody else… Only you won’t admit it! You have to keep pretending that life makes sense, that there’s some point to all this struggling!” – The Joker, Batman: The Killing Joke
It’s actually quite common to see the hero in an ethical dilemma that might push them to chaos and turmoil. For example, in Captain America: Civil War, several superheroes were fighting against each other and Captain America had to decide to turn against the previously trusted government agency. And in Black Panther, T’Challa had to decide on whether or not to keep Wakanda isolated from the rest of the world. However, the Joker was a bit different. He did more than just present a dilemma to Batman. He told him that people are just one bad day away from madness and tested him several times to prove his point.
Does the fact that Batman persevered joker’s test further emphasize the hero’s iconography in superhero films? Does Nolan do a good job of effectively differentiating the Joker from other lunatic villains?
This post is a source evaluation of a journal article from the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law. It is written by John Ip, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. It can be found for free at the URL: http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/students/groups/osjcl/files/2012/05/Ip.pdf
This post is not meant to be an extensive evaluation on John Ip’s article “The Dark Knight’s War on Terrorism,” but it is meant to discuss a few of his points instead. Aptly named, the article relates strongly with what was discussed in class about Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster movie The Dark Knight (2008). It relates the movie with George Bush’s War on Terror.
First, Ip describes the movie as an “allegorical story about post-9/11 counterterrorism” (Ip, 209). This is an interesting point and partly ties into the discussion about genre. Is The Dark Knight an allegory? I would have to agree with Ip because moral questions that arise in the film also parallel real life. Such as, is it right for an entity separate from the people and the government to arbitrate law or to determine what is morally acceptable? Or the less subtle question, even if it has a high potential to catch terrorists, is it right start a mass surveillance program? These are questions that appear in real life and the movie, making it an allegory. Regarding this week’s topic, I am sure that allegory is part of the “Superhero” genre; however, The Dark Knight uses it in a more pronounced manner.
Ip supports his argument in a more concretely. He points to the United States use of “rendition, coercive interrogation, and surveillance” and those occurrences in the movie (Ip, 214). Rendition is moving a person from one jurisdiction to another using legal extradition (Ip, 215). This occurs in the film when Batman takes the businessman from Hong Kong to the United States to face trial. Coercive interrogation was used in the Bush administration post 9/11 to make alleged terrorists give information to the United States government and involved illegal torture techniques (Ip, 217). This is reminiscent of the movie when Batman tortures the Joker to gain information on his ploy. These three concrete points that the author uses not only help me understand the movie as an allegory better, but also taught me new information about the Bush Administration’s attempt to counter terrorism.
A large portion of this article is Ip countering the idea that the film is conservative and making his point that The Dark Knight ‘s “depiction of controversial counterterrorism measures is better seen as a critique
rather than as an approval of the Bush Administration’s war on terrorism” (Ip, 229). He uses many examples to support this, some of which I pondered while watching the film. Here’s one that Ip touched on, but I thought about the most. Batman uses mass surveillance to outwit the Joker at the end, however, even with the ability to see everything, he was unable to see Harvey Dent had turned into a vengeful menace. That lead to him killing Dent by pushing him off a building. This broke Batman’s moral code. Also, if Dent is a metaphorical prop for American justice and Batman is the United States, the U.S. has become blind to that it is taking its vengeance out on other people for its loss (9/11). And it is using drone strikes (“chance” Dent’s coin) to kill innocent civilians in the Middle East (Dent’s rampage). But I digress.
Ip’s article is incredibly well-written, supported, and thoughtful. I completely agree with his main argument, and I cannot refute any of his points. His article is detailed enough that it taught me simultaneously about The Dark Knight (Nolan 2008) and the United State’s War on Terror. I highly recommend reading it.
Since the Batman comics have had such a long run (starting in 1939 when Batman was introduced in the detective comics), there are many things that are distinctive to the characters, which makes re-creating the world and portraying the iconic cast such an interesting endeavor. The audience presumably knows the history of Batman and who he is, so when portraying the familiar story iconography it must be balanced with new and exciting changes. We expect Batman to be this billionaire detective that has a extreme drive to protect Gotham from a top down stance, but the pattern of his origin story and adventures has been repeated time and time again.
Christopher Nolan, however, plays with the familiar and extrapolates a new viewpoint on Batman. Instead of just having vengeance against criminals because of his parent’s death, which is the original drive of Bruce Wayne in the comics, this version of Batman more notably in The Dark Night tries to have a (decently) altruistic goal of protecting his city. Key word being tries, he has continual moral dilemmas that are plaguing him when protecting people, and Rachel, which makes him become more than just a character who fights crime in tights. In the Dark Knight, he is challenged by the Joker, who has an irrational desire to cause harm, which makes Batman question what it means to protect and be a hero (or later we learn a guardian and not really a hero).
With the same pattern of Batman’s brooding protection we have become familiar with, Nolan now expands on the idea of Bruce fighting with his morality and what is right and wrong. In the classic batman TV shows and comic, he seemed to have a better sense of this. As time as gone on though the audience no longer wants a simple story where the good guy always wins easily so this iconography that was once always paired with Batman has been replaced with the Dark Knight version, hence the name. His moral dilemmas and their evolution are highlighted even more so visually through how his costume has changed. It started as bright and playful (before 1970s) and now it black and made like armor. Even though the pattern has not been consistent through the 70 years, the familiar has changed to something that is still distinctly Batman.
**And yet through the years even with the varying goals, actors, and storylines of Batman the same bat ears have always been there.
Christopher Nolan pushes the traditional iconography of the superhero genre to the limits with his film The Dark Knight (2008). According to the traditional iconography of the superhero genre, the superhero must be ethical in all his actions; however, Nolan challenges this idea by inputting torture into the equation. In the film, Batman, who follows a strict moral code, is pushed to the limit psychologically while facing his new villain, the Joker, who continuously tries to torture Batman indirectly through terrorism. Throughout the film, we, as viewers, are presented social commentary on human nature and ethicality through various scenarios and dialogue. In his film, Nolan presents two arguments. First, we have Joker’s ideology that people will move aside and give in to chaos when faced with enough outside pressure (torture in this case), and secondly, we have Batman’s ideology arguing that for the majority of the time, people will stay true to themselves even when facing that great pressure.
For the majority of the film, Joker’s ideology holds to be true based on several cases. Going from least to most important, we first have the Joker taking over the underground mobs through various methods of force; typically, by getting in close to the leader, making them feel like they have the upper hand, then quickly turning the tables and forcing them into an uncomfortable position. In general, Joker’s methods of control consist of imminent violence, danger, and terrorism. Then, we have the case where the Joker indirectly forces Agent Ramirez to kidnap Rachel Dawes through the mob. Agent Ramirez, who is seen to be Commissioner Gordon’s most trusted cop and right hand woman, is put into a situation where her family would be killed by the mob if she did not carry out the order to kidnap Rachel. In this case, Joker shows that even a loyal cop can succumb to torture when faced with enough of it. Lastly, and most importantly, we have the transformation of Gotham’s white knight, Harvey Dent. Throughout the film, Dent is idolized as a figure who stands for everything that is good and just. In the beginning, we get the feeling that Dent can handle the constant pressure of terrorism put on by the Joker; however, he eventually breaks and becomes an advocate of chaos after his girlfriend, Rachel, was killed and the Joker convinces him that the mob was behind the killing. In each case, there is a point where people’s morality and ethicality change as a result of torture conducted by the Joker.
Nonetheless, Joker’s ideology is taken to extreme circumstances, where eventually Batman’s ideology is proven to be true by the end of the film. In one scene, he questions what happens when an immovable object is presented by an unstoppable force. To stay consistent with the rest of the film, the unstoppable force would be the Joker’s constant terrorism and torture, but the immovable object would be Batman, who has a strict moral code that he follows, and the general population represented by two cruise ships full of people. Throughout the film, Batman has to endure the Joker’s constant torture directed towards him. Specifically, this torture consists of the Joker killing innocent people including Rachel, who he loved, in attempt to get Batman to reveal himself. Although Batman struggles to uphold his moral code, we see that his ethicality and morality stand firmly in his final confrontation with the Joker. In the final confrontation, the Joker sets up a scenario where two cruise boats full of people are forced to choose between blowing up the other boat and living or the Joker blowing up both boats. As Batman confronts the Joker, he expects one of the boats to explode, but the people never give into his game. As he is about to push his detonator, Batman pushes him off the building while also preserving the Joker’s life. Thus, Batman upholds his moral code and proves his ideology to be true simultaneously.
As a whole, Nolan preserves the iconography that superheroes will always be ethical and argues that people in general tend to maintain their ethicality, even when put under torture and extreme pressure. With the release of this film, Nolan influences the iconography of the superhero genre and future superhero films by upholding the concept that heroes must follow a moral code, even when they are pushed to their limits emotionally and psychologically.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) brings the War on Terror to Gotham through the character of the Joker, the embodiment of pure terror and chaos. The parallels between The Dark Knight and the War on Terror are unmistakable, Gotham stands in for New York City, the Joker’s attacks stand in for Islamic terrorists, and the Batman’s mass surveillance stands in for the government’s. Nolan makes ample use of both the imagery of the 9/11 attacks and almost ripped-from-the-headlines terrorist attacks are used to explore both the War on Terror and human nature’s darker aspects.
One notable moment in the film is the scene on the ferry boats as the passengers debate whether to trigger the explosives on the other boat. This is essentially reminiscent of a scenario commonly known as “the prisoner’s dilemma” with the added bonus of there being no least worst option open to both groups. The imagery of this sequence is unmistakable, it plays upon the imagery of the ferries and little ships which attempted to evacuate the victims of the 9/11 attacks in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. For those interested in this topic, I’ve found and attached a documentary about these boats and their crews narrated by Tom Hanks.
I found the Joker’s assassination attempt on the mayor to be most interesting. This is an issue which is considered by major politicians today, as is shown by the fact that Barrack Obama is giving a speech behind bullet proof glass at the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the attached clip. The Dark Knight’s omission of a similar device is interesting given this context.
A final aspect of the War on Terror which has informed The Dark Knight is the targeting of so called “soft targets,” places without large amounts of security and large numbers of people. The Joker’s bombings of hospitals were a clear example of this. This was a fear in the years before the film was released and has recently resurfaced. I’ve linked to an NBC article which explores this concept in greater depth.
Finally, I’ve linked an academic paper on the relations between The Dark Knight and the War on Terror that explores this topic in more detail that I can in this blog.
The Dark Knight (Nolan 2008) follows the never-ending terrorism inflicted upon the citizens of Gotham. At the time of the film’s release the United States was already several years in to the War on Terror. With this in mind it is easy to draw parallels between the relationships of Batman and the Joker to the foreign policies of America’s military. Traditionally, enemies of one country are generally other countries. In this way it is easy for the two sides to understand, or at least approximate, the wants and desires of their counterparts. Likewise, in most superhero movies the audience is able to determine the wants of the villain. They may be evil, but at least there is a rational behind their actions.
When an enemy is an idea like terror, however, this is impossible. This is how Nolan uses the Joker to break away from traditional superhero movies. The Joker is constantly asked “What do you want?” but he is not interested in negotiating for wealth or anything else. He acts with no moral code and only wishes to insight fear into the people of Gotham. Batman on the other hand acts within his defined code, which limits his ability to effectively take down the Joker. The Joker knows this, and he also knows that “terrorism is cheap”. Meanwhile, Bruce spends millions of dollars in his effort to track him and has to rely on top-secret technology. This clearly models the relationship between the might of the US military against the smaller terroristic forces abroad. In Alfred’s story, the only way to capture the bandit was to burn down the entire forest. Fighting an idea takes even more than that. The Joker comments that he and Batman are “destined to do this forever”; terrorism constantly has to be battled.
How else does Nolan use the film to illustrate aspects of the War on Terror? Does The Dark Knight provide any insight to his stance on the war?
As genre is used as a tool to categorize movies based on similarities in the narrative, symbolic, and emotional elements of the film, it is inevitable that movies of a similar genre will be compared to each other, even if they are unique in many aspects of the film. Audiences know what they expect from a movie of a specific genre, and will almost always, even subconsciously, compare it to another film of the same genre. Even the characters in the movies aren’t exempt from this.
Even though Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger and Heath Ledger’s Joker are two completely different characters, with extremely different performances, this article uses the Joker as an example of how good Killmonger is. The Joker in The Dark Knight is commonly recognized as a fantastic performance of a legendary villain, so it must be a good thing to compare this new movie’s villain to it, right?
Although I am guilty of doing the exact same thing myself, I think that it is a bit wrong to compare two different character’s performances, especially if they are not trying to affect the audience in the same way. I think that Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Killmonger was good, but comparing him to another actor kind of takes away from his acting, making his character just another superhero movie villain, instead of being unique.
I also think that it is funny, and a little sad, that the main thing that ties the two characters together (in the article) is that they are both 3-dimensional characters who evoke emotions in the audience. The article even goes to say “One thing which superhero films tend to have in common is that their villains are pretty underdeveloped and two-dimensional.”, trying to show just how special these villains are.