The Dark Knight: What do the Joker, Batman, and Two-Face say about us?

Anthony Perkins once said “We all go a little mad sometimes”. Isn’t this the truth? And nobody captures the idea of madness like DC’s super-villain the Joker. However, it would do no good to talk about the Joker without also talking about the flip side of that coin- Gotham’s own Dark Knight- the Batman. Understanding both of these characters will help us to understand (and maybe sympathize with) Harvey Dent and the vital role that each of them play in defining our own humanity.

First off, we must understand that, in a bizarre sense, the Joker and Batman complement each other. They do this by being extreme opposites; together they fully complete what the other one stands for: Batman standing for extreme stability, sacrifice, and the capacity inside all of us to do good, while the Joker represents humanity’s extreme inner madness and opposition to change. Neither side willing to cave; thus, both represent total commitment to cause as well as the social sacrifices that go along with such extreme commitment. As the Joker once told Batman “You complete me”.

The Dark Knight

If you have ever seen the movie The Dark Knight, then you can see, perfectly outlined, the idea of these two extremes and the role of Gotham’s White Knight. It may be easier to think about it as a straight line. On one end, you have the extreme of the Joker and everything he represents. On the other end, there is Batman and all the extremes that he represents. In between, there is Harvey Dent, also known as Two-Face, who represents the individual (and society) being pulled between the two extremes.

Two-Face is the perfect representation of the individual in the sense that nobody is purely good or purely evil. Sure an individual can be mostly good or mostly bad, but it is not so black and white, such as the distinction between Batman and the Joker (hence they are the two extremes). “…Madness is like gravity. All’s it needs is a little push” cackles the Joker, who believes that even if a person is mostly good, things can happen to that person to change their views and that person may be “pushed” towards their inner madness, or visa-versa. We humans struggle between good and bad (to put it generally) for a majority of our life. As we age, our views are affected by the experiences we have and we are, ultimately, pushed towards one extreme or the other.

Two-Face is also a good representation of society as a whole. Society is comfortable with the status quo; it generally does not like change, much like Harvey Dent enjoyed the comfort of the status quo, which was an increasingly safe Gotham City. However, along came a spider that challenged Gotham’s status quo; the Joker is different from other people, therefore he holds different views. The Joker believes that it will take an extreme example to change society’s own views, much like Batman believes that society needs extreme symbols to shake them out of apathy, out of not caring about how pitiful the status quo has actually become (if you recall Batman Begins).

And exactly what are the views that the Joker holds that make him so different? The Joker believes that the only “sensible” way to live is “without rules”. In other words: complete chaos. The Joker finds that these rules stop us from being who we truly are underneath the suits, dresses, and artificial smiles. He believes that underneath, we are all immoral savages and that our established “order” and “morals” are, well, “… a bad joke”. The Joker chooses to emulate this with his “smile” and by calling himself the Joker. However, society is reluctant to give into these different views because they fear what might happen if they do.

However, society’s reluctance is not the only obstacle for the Joker. Batman holds his own views on individuals and society. Batman believes that people are inherently good and that they will prove it when given the chance- which is his whole mission: giving people the chance. Batman believes society can be stable on its own and tries to be that extreme example of stability and in-corruption for people to look up to and model themselves after.

In reality, however, morality is not so black and white. People are flawed and need extreme examples to compare themselves with in order to see where they are at. Batman is the extreme example of people’s capacity for good while, on the flip side of the coin, the Joker represents people’s capacity for madness. Both are prevalent in ourselves, as well as society, and both teach us about what it truly means to be human.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Born and raised in the Great Lakes State of Michigan. I work as a projectionist at the local movie theater and study film/ video at Grand Valley State University.

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  1. AnnaLar

    The Dark Knight is a fantastic example of superb artistic integration. The philosophical context is excellently executed. Can’t watch it enough.

  2. Taylor Ramsey

    I have always thought that Bats was just as bat-crap crazy as most of his rouges gallery. Nice post.

  3. Interesting seeing this in light of Joachim Phoenix in The Joker.

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