What makes The Dark Knight such a universally acclaimed masterpiece? Is it The Joker? The Batman? Or is it the relationship between the two iconic characters that just does well in shaking the core of the superhero universe. This isn’t much a review than it is an analysis of one of my favourite movies of ALL TIME. It’s been 12 years since it was released, and to date, no movie has been so special to me in every way than The Dark Knight. Let’s begin by talking about the best thing in the movie: The Joker.
The Joker is truly an essentially special character within the Batman universe. There have been many psycopathic antagonists before, but what makes The Joker such a compelling character and the most popular villain among Batman’s rogues gallery? The story of Batman and Joker is one that stretches decades, and The Dark Knight is exceptionally good at conveying the psychological appeal of their relationship. The Joker has always been particular good at nullifying Batman’s strength, and turning it into a weakness or an irrelevant weapon in their fight for “Gotham’s soul”. The Joker and The Batman are two sides of the same tragic coin, wherein the former recognizes the meaningless of life and embraces the madness, abandoning conventional morality altogether. The latter seeks to uphold justice and combat the forces of evil that plague his city. This puts the Joker and Batman in an existential crisis, as both characters are aware of the fragile conventional morality, as Joker tries to destroy the moral structures of convention, whereas Batman tries to uphold them. The Joker, as an antagonist, is an extremely powerful adversary in the context of the Batman universe. The Dark Knight depicts a Joker that is an elemental manifestation of chaos itself, with a supernatural talent for remaining ten steps ahead of “The Detective”. He’s characterised as a radical antithetic version of Batman’s response to the liberation of law and order. This interpretation of The Joker is intellectually fascinating, and makes the character terrifying in his fixation on the hypocrisy of people’s moral standards.
The Batman’s strength is an irrelevant weapon in his fight against the Joker, as the Joker delights in putting Batman in increasingly difficult choices, thereby creating situations where his strength is nullified. For example, when Joker kidnaps both Harvey and Rachel, he is forced to choose between them. Watching and analysing this scene, I realise that whoever Batman chose to save would have inevitably died. If he chose Harvey over Rachel, he would have gotten there first, found and saved Rachel, but Harvey would have died. Throughout the film, the Batman’s true nature is challenged, by pressuring him with a series of conundrums that test and reveal his character. His and the Joker’s conflict is absolutely compelling, as the stakes in the film are personal, which ultimately, makes them high. In another powerful scene, the Joker puts the lives of a few citizens on two ships on the line by challenging their moral codes. He pressures them with a choice to blow up the other boat, or come midnight, he’ll blow up both boats. This is extremely powerful because although the stakes are high, it is not up to the protagonist to save them, but their own lives are entirely on their hands. The forces of antagonism are internal, and as midnight draws near, the more the nature of Gotham’s people is revealed.
In Robert Mckee‘s Story, he speaks of character and choice by saying:
“True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.”
Another aspect of the film that I feel The Dark Knight really put the icing on an already spectacularly filling cake, is on the term that filmmakers are generally aware of at this point and that is: CATHARSIS. Catharsis, in simple terminology, is the eventual relief of repressed and pent up emotion. Throughout the course of the film, the Joker has killed quite a number of people, and put, not just Batman, but the people of Gotham, into increasingly difficult situations. He has repeatedly wounded and one-upped Batman and his city, and this mysterious and dark force of nature that is the Clown Prince Of Crime, does not seem to possess any kind of weakness for the good guys to exploit. Every single choice that Batman makes is one that Joker has countered in brilliant detail, and with him, there doesn’t seem to be any logic order to the choices he makes and the plans he puts in motion. With every failure made by the protagonist, there more people die, and with all his might, Batman is practically powerless. But by the end of the story, when Joker threatens to blow up the two boats, as the audience, judging by everything that has happened, feel like this is something that could actually happen. When the passengers on either boats refuse to play along to the Joker’s game, it is a moment that had such a profound effect on a vast number of audiences.
The accumulative effect of the Joker in The Dark Knight is in his upsetting of the malleable ethical concept and his profound effect on the story and on Batman. He’s an exceptionally relevant villain, especially when it comes to exploiting Batman’s greatest weaknesses. His plans put Batman in increasingly compromising positions that threaten his moral concepts. The Dark Knight transcends the superhero genre, and is a realistic depiction of a struggle between conflicting moral ideals. One, fighting to uphold those ideals by sacrificing himself for the greater good. The other, abandoning said morals, and refusing to label the liberation of human tendencies of chaos and sin. Now, this film is a timeless masterpiece, as the story of my favourite superhero by my favourite writer and director. I actually believe that this is a film that will echo through the depths of time, and it will act as a testament to the greatest depiction of conflicting morals and minds of all time.
The Geek Writer