Why does the Dark Knight work so well? Every time this question is presented, it seems to fallback to one answer, The Joker. Heath Ledger’s performance swept the floor with this film. While the movie slightly lacks in certain areas of logic, it recovers with a fantastic plot and character development. This adaptation of the Joker provides a chilling and convoluted plot to what started as a simple superhero movie. This article will provide an in depth analysis of his methodical actions and how he uses them to turn Gotham from order to chaos.
To thoroughly analyze the Joker, we must first understand what he is. By no means is he a psychopath as he is repeatedly called on screen. A psychopath is described by professionals as, “someone with a lack of moral emotions derived from empathy, unable to distinguish moral from merely conventional rules.” (Greenspan 226). The Joker is fully aware of his actions, he believes that what he is doing is morally right. By creating chaos through Gotham he is creating his ultimate city. One that is not perfect and has criminals to afraid to actually be criminals, as shown in the opening scene, but one that brings Gotham to its knees and reminds it what fear is.
But what makes the Joker so intriguing? “ Usually the viewer is not drawn to the antagonist as much as the protagonist. “Character evaluations are strongly based on personal moral values that shape moral judgments of others within the individual viewers’s conceptualization of what is right or wrong” (Eden, Oliver, Et al. 2014) If this is the case then why is it when people think of the Dark Knight series the first thing that comes to mind for many casual viewers is the Joker? Heath Ledger’s performance has such an impact on the film as a whole. His style and method acting bring the film to a whole new level. People do not relate to the Joker because they support his chaos and destruction, nor do they support his actions throughout the movie. Heath Ledger’s Joker has created an effect to which every time the character is on screen the movie does not feel like a superhero movie. His presence alone creates so much suspense and tension with his ability to improvise in a way that leaves the viewer clueless for what is going to happen next.
Throughout the film, the joker is portrayed on a surface level as a psychopath. Providing that intense and out of ordinary character a common viewer would be looking for. What is fascinating about this joker is that he is not just a crazy criminal with an end goal in mind. This is an agent of chaos. A controlled, while granted unique, methodical character that always ends up one step ahead of his opponent. Before anything happens it is thought through by the joker. This is revealed at the beginning of the movie in the bank heist scene where the Joker has his men kill off each other when their task is completed. He knew precisely what was going to happen and when.
But what makes a good Antagonist? Sydney Smith believes, “An antagonist is a character who pursues a certain goal in the story, which usually opposes that of the protagonist.” (Smith, Scouller, et. all) For the most part, that is an antagonist in a whole. What makes the Joker such a unique villain, is that he and Batman both have the same goal. They are both after the soul gotham. The difference between these two is the way they approach gaining this. Batman, feeling as though he already has the city under his control, fights throughout the movie to maintain that order. Where as the Joker is attempting to seize control of that order and turn it into what in his eyes, gotham should be.
This clown has the ability to create doubt in his opponents. This is shown specifically in the interrogation scene. It begins with the darkness behind the joker turning on revealing Batman. Batman proceeds to interrogate and intimidate the joker which shows what he really is, a vigilante with a moral code. The joker not even phased by the pain tells Batman that he is responsible for the murderers he has committed. Which plants the seed of inner conflict for Wayne’s morality. Which he later is shown conflicted, pondering if he actually could have prevented the murders. The Joker pushing the idea that Batman is not as much as a hero as he thinks. When the joker captured Rachel and Harvey, he essentially renders Batman useless. Because he relies so much on strength and intimidation, once the joker took it away by having leverage, he knew there was nothing Batman could do to him.
Going through the film every time the Joker came on screen the only word that came to mind was chaos. The Joker compliments the Batman so well as a villain because he wants the opposite of him. Batman wants order and control within his city. Where as the Joker wants to disrupt the order and create chaos. He succeeds in doing so by showing the city the darkness that has always lurked within it. He shows that even the great Batman has weaknesses and can be cracked. Every step taken is one that layers fear into the citizens of gotham.
The Joker is constantly pressuring Batman into making choices. This is first shown when he demands that Batman unmasks and turns himself in. Otherwise people will continue to die. We know that Bruce Wayne has a lot of raw strength and intelligence, and how he is able to handle himself in a fight and under pressure. But the Joker is always one step ahead of him. This situation places a lot of pressure under Wayne and seeing no other out he prepares to actually give in to the Jokers demands. It is only when Harvey claims to be Batman that saves his skin. We also see this later on in the film during the interrogation scene when Joker forces him to choose between Harvey and Rachel, which ultimately reveals Batman’s true character. That he is not able to endure the pressure the Joker has placed on him.
Batman is not the same as he was at the beginning of this film. He learns that not every criminal has order and an ending goal, to get money, kill someone, etc. He learns not to underestimate his enemies and what they are capable of. Ultimately, he discovers that he sometimes has to make the hard decisions that no one else can. Joker made the Batman into a veteran. Into someone who has had to endure for his city. And do things and make decisions no one else wants to.
The Joker works so well because of his connection to batman. As well as his order of chaos that he presents to our protagonist and what he forces him to do and ultimately learn. Batman not only becomes a better hero because of his encounter with the methodical overplanning clown, but becomes wiser and more developed as a vigilante because of the choices he is forced upon to make. The choices he is forced to make teach him that he needs to become a certain type of person to better deal with these situations. This is the reason the Joker compliments the Batman so well. Because in the end, through experiencing a different kind of villain, Bruce Wayne realizes that he does not need to become a better Batman, but become Someone who will do what it takes to protect the city he loves. Which turns the batman into The Dark Knight.
Nolan, Christopher, director. The Dark Knight.
Eden, Allison, et al. “Perceptions of Moral Violations and Personality Traits Among Heroes and Villains.” Mass Communication and Society, 13 June 2014, web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=15c859f5-0250-45b3-850f-bd143de398e5.
Smith, Sydney, et al. “Three Writers Discuss What Makes a Good Antagonist.” Threekookaburras, threekookaburras.com/blogs/news/12839265-three-writers-discuss-what-makes-a-good-antagonist.
Greenspan, Patricia. “Responsible Psychopaths Revisited.” The Journal of Ethics, 7 June 2016, web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=de1cdf1a-c36a-4461-9b28-151cca8fc996=.