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Is the Joker Right? Are We Only as Good as the World Allows Us to Be?

Alem is an entrepreneur and writer with an A.S. in digital filmmaking.

Heath Ledger as "The Joker" in " The Dark Knight"

Heath Ledger as "The Joker" in " The Dark Knight"

Some People Just Want to Watch the World Burn . . .

Above is a scene from Christopher Nolan's brilliant film, The Dark Knight. Some have called it the greatest superhero film ever made, and why not? The critics loved it. The fans loved it.

Even the snotty Oscar people gave the film some awards, one being a posthumous Oscar for the man above who brought life to one of the most intriguing characters the silver screen has ever seen. Now, I could go on forever about this film, this character, and a bunch of other things, and maybe I will in some other articles, but I want to focus your attention on society right now.

In The Dark Knight, the film pits the Joker (an unstoppable force) against Batman (an immovable object). In this article, I am going to be looking at three things;

  1. Was the Joker's philosophy of society correct or incorrect?
  2. Is there an end game between the forces of good and evil?
  3. Are Batman and the Joker as alike as the Joker claims they are?


Only the Strong Survive

Charles Darwin said that evolution was dependent on survival of the fittest. Within his philosophy, he believed that only the strongest species would be able to survive. Now, some may agree or disagree with this theory, but the numbers don't lie and history serves as the greatest teacher.

Look around you, look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the people. All of these things have survived the test of time because of adaptation. Birds can fly in the sky, fish can swim under water, and people, oh human beings are the most adaptable of them all. What do we have, you ask? We have ego.

You may think of ego as a negative trait to have, but it's actually a necessary function of your brain that exists for the insurance of your survival. You see egoism is within all of us. It's always been there, that's how our ancestors outlived the dinosaurs and made it out of the caves.

Well, that's what science says anyway, and I like science because it has FACTS. Egoism is what makes guys stick out their chest when they see a guy more muscular than them, it's what makes a woman look down upon a pretty woman when she walks by on the street. At first thought, you'd think it's jealousy, and for some it is, but even jealousy comes from the natural desire to survive.

You stick your chest out because you might feel threatened. That big muscular guy standing next to you is setting off your survival mode. In the back of your mind you're thinking if he was trying to take my last meal or even worse my life, how can I stop him? Why do you think short guys are always the biggest loudmouths? Napoleon anyone?

Look at the animal kingdom, where certain species adhere to leaders based on their size and power and cast them away as they age and lose their prowess.

What about women?

You may not be the type of woman to hate on that head-turner walking down the street, but may find yourself wondering, "is she really prettier than me?" Again, this is your survival instinct. For some it is, other people are just haters, but that's another story.

Back in the caveman days, a prettier woman would be a reason enough for murder. You needed a man to survive in order to protect you, reproduce, get food. A more appealing mate might stand in your way of securing that. These are not just my thoughts; go look it up. I have spoken to experts in the field of psychology about this. We are biologically programmed to survive. So what does that have to do with The Joker and society?

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“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

— Albert Einsten

Julius Erving? No, Sir, He's the Real Dr. J

The Joker in this film is one of the most interesting villains or character I have ever seen on film. Most bad guys in the movie want money or fame, not this guy. This guy is more like a psychotic philosopher, Plato with a paring knife if you will. As Alfred says, "some people just want to watch the world burn," and while this may be true The Joker only wants to see that happen so he can prove or disprove his theory.

If you watch the above clip from the movie, you will hear the Joker's remarkably logical perspective on society, his is in fact more logical than the good guy or hero, Batman. The Joker tells Batman that "people are only as good as the world allows them to be." He calls society's morals and codes a "bad joke" and suggest that they would drop them at the first sign of trouble.

Now think about what I said earlier. Think about how we are all programmed to survive. Think about a television show like The Walking Dead or think about the Wild West back in the day. Sure our society has shown that they can find order among chaos, but for how long?

If it comes down to the last morsel of food and another person stands between you and making it another day, what would you do? If you could no longer go to the grocery store and swipe your card to buy some steak would you be able to catch your own food or would you steal someone else's? He believes we'd all kill to survive.

You could argue that The Joker is wrong based on the rest of the film and real-life society. He hatches a plan that pits two ships full of people with a bomb on board against one and other, both holding the detonator to the other ship. He then gives a deadline and ensures both boats if one does not pull the trigger he will. The murderous boat would win another day on this green Earth.

Oh, what an experiment. Demented, yes, but interesting as well. This may be what kind of experiments psychologists would do without a code of ethics, eh? But would this happen in real life? Personally, I think we'd have seen one of those boats go up in smoke well before the deadline.

But we did make it this far, and even in the days of the Wild West, we had sheriffs and lawmen who put their lives on the line for others without much reinforcement. So I guess there is hope, but then again, do we all fall in line because we want to or because we have to?

If chaos ensued around the world and riots broke out, would you raid, loot and plunder? Remember the LA Riots? How long would we be able to keep our morals intact? In those circumstances, It seems almost illogical that we could forever. That brings me to my next question; Is there an endgame between good and evil?

Batman interrogates the Joker

Batman interrogates the Joker

A Lesson in Futility

Ok, this is where my film expertise comes in. Look at this photo above for a second. Let it sync in. Explore the whole space. What do you see? This is a great still with perfect blocking and placement. I still believe this film should have got a Best Picture nomination.

Notice how Batman and the Joker are sitting across from each other, face to face. Next, notice the mirror in the background. This frame signifies not only good vs. evil (God vs. Devil), but it also gives you the idea that they could be mirror images of each other.

Think about it. Where would good be without evil? Evil without good? Neither would exist without the other; therefore, one trying to weed out and destroy the other is a great lesson in futility. But this does not mean that good should stop trying to fight evil; in fact, it is impossible to do so, even if we wanted to.

Remember the paragraphs from above when I was talking about our biological survival instincts? These will always kick in, so even if the Joker killed Batman or whenever Batman died, the villains would never take over completely. There will always be someone who stands up and fight, and when he does, others will follow.

That's what makes these two characters so interesting. There is no endgame. There is no solution. This is the way the world balances itself out. In the video above, the Joker used phrases like "you complete me" and said that Batman "changed things forever" when he decided to do what he does.

He turned himself into a symbol, something people could look to for strength, but in turn, the world balanced itself out by creating the Joker. One can not exist without the other. The injection and visual examples of philosophy in this comic book movie is better than a lot of things you will read in many books on the subject. You don't believe my theory? Click on the video to the right to hear Dr. J explain it all.

No one's in control

No one's in control

Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Another great frame here to bring this all to a close. Look at how Batman stands behind the Joker. Anytime someone is shown hovering above someone else, it is a display of authority. The one standing or sitting higher than the other is usually the one in control. Think about how a judge sits higher than everyone in court.

Now look at the Joker. He somehow, and this doesn't happen often, he somehow still looks like he's in control. If you watched the scene above, you will realize he was at that time. But a more in-depth look into the frame suggests something else. It almost looks like they are one and the same. By the positioning of this still, it's almost like the Joker could easily disappear into the body of Batman. The Joker's quotes in this scene only support this theory.

He says things like, "you're just a freak, like me.' "Don't talk like one of them; you're not one of them." He sympathizes with Bats telling him that, "They need you right now, but when they don't, they'll cast you out . . . like a leper." Damn, that's some good dialogue right there.

Did Nolan write that? Damn, he's good. He really understood these characters and though Heath did a phenomenal job it would only be half as good without this grade A writing. Back to business.

Two sides of the same coin? Get it—coin? Two-Face? Never mind.

Yes, Batman and the Joker are very similar. Albert Einstein said, "the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result." Both these men do just that all the time. The Joker keeps trying to prove his theory about all of society having a point where they can all be corrupted, and Batman keeps trying to rid Gotham of all evil, thinking one man can make a difference, and maybe one day things will be all good. But maybe insanity is necessary in this world.

If we had no insanity in the sense of Einstein's interpretation, we wouldn't have good and evil. Yeah, so both these guys are psychotic. One dresses up as a clown and kills people for fun, and the other dresses up like a military bat and kicks people's asses at night. Both men know that the game will probably never end, but the fact that they keep trying is actually an inspiration in a weird way.

By not giving up, the Joker manages to turn Harvey into Two-Face and therefore giving more strength to his theory about society, but then Batman one ups him by taking the blame for all the things Harvey did wrong when he lost it.

The Joker can't even believe it; look what he says to him right after Batman saves his ass from falling to his doom. With glowing appreciation, interest, and awe, the Joker says, "you truly are incorruptible." But as all comic book readers know, the Joker's main purpose becomes trying to corrupt Batman by pushing him to the edge and making him leap over.

He has an endgame. He wants Batman to kill him. Batman is the only person he sees as incorruptible, so if he can do enough stuff to him to piss him off enough to kill him, he will win. if The Joker proves his theory right, then he will become a symbol. Hmmm

You have to remember, although comic books are fantasy and seen as kids' stuff, they are literature. Just like classics such as Huckleberry Finn and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, this stuff right here is thought-provoking.

So is the Joker right? Are we only as good as the world allows us to be? Just like the battle between good and evil, the answer is balanced. You can go no further than the underrated sequel to The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises to get the good half. Sure the script might have been a little lax, but I got the message loud and clear.

They were both right; there were people going ape shit wild when the police were taken out of the equation and "the world allowed it". We saw bellhops beating the crap out of the rich people they had just been serving. But we also saw the police sticking together and helping each other out, and because Bats never gave up, he was able to bring the balance of power back.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Alem Belton (author) from New York on March 31, 2014:

Interesting theory and response to the question Dremer. Thanks for your input.

M. T. Dremer from United States on March 31, 2014:

It's definitely hard to predict what humanity would do in such a situation. As you pointed out, shows like the Walking Dead have tried, but we will never know until we're faced with something like it. Good and evil are arbitrary concepts based on our need to survive. And I would argue that the balance struck between them is more of a literary device than it is a real-world struggle. Every good story needs conflict; we wouldn't have enjoyed the dark knight as much if Batman or the Joker was removed from the equation.

But does this apply to real life? Is there always a counterbalance between 'good' and 'evil'? I would say no, it is imbalanced. Not because life is hopeless, but because survival is so hard and anything that threatens survival is evil. An erupting volcano is a disaster to us, but just the natural order of things for the planet; neither good nor evil. So the push and pull established in narratives like the Dark Knight are representative of the artistry in storytelling and its effect on the human mind, more so than a representation of what would happen in the real world. But it's a great discussion and really speaks to the power of movies like this. Voted up.

Alem Belton (author) from New York on March 29, 2014:

Thank you. Watch all three in order to get the full effect. Believe it or not it's a great trilogy. I think things would have been better for the 3rd film had Ledger still been alive. I agree, wanting or thinking of living in a Utopia is INSANE in itself.

rebekahELLE from Tampa Bay on March 29, 2014:

Curiosity made me click on this while browsing my feed. I'm glad I did. Excellent thought provoking commentary on not only the Joker, but the ubiquitous conflict of good vs. evil, or as you ask the reader, does good=evil. I've never understood how some would want to live in a utopia.

You've made me want to turn on the DVR and watch these movies again.

Happy to find your writing.

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