Monday, May 2, 2011

The Joker

Last night I finally saw The Dark Knight for the first time. I guess I'm a little bit (way) behind on that. If it so happens that I'm not actually the last person alive to see it, anyone who hasn't should stop reading because there may be some spoilers ahead.

As someone mentioned today in discussing The Dark Knight, the movie really wasn't about Batman but about the Joker. He was the star of the show. And that got me thinking, what makes the Joker work in this movie? And there were two pieces that immediately came to mind:

The Acting. The one thing I'd heard over and over before watching the movie was how stellar Heath Ledger's acting was, and everyone was right about that. The way he moved, the way he talked, his presence... all spot on. The portrayal of the Joker was the biggest part of what made him such a spectacular villain.

But without good writing the acting could have only gone so far...

Consistency vs. Inconsistency. For me this is the heart of character. The Joker remained consistent in ways that mattered. His outlook on life never wavered. He worked through complex plans in order to create chaos. He was unhinged but logical. He was always perfectly balanced between methodical and spontaneous. Those character traits never changed.

And yet he was also inconsistent in the right ways. Specifically: he lied. He told different stories about his past. He manipulated people by telling them whatever was necessary to make them do as he wished. The inconsistency between what he said and what was real drove many of the scenes in the movie.

So I think the writers did a fantastic job showing so many complex sides to this one character.

One thing I did wish... There was one part of the movie that I would have liked to have seen happen differently. All the way through the majority of the movie the plot had never hesitated to “go there” into dark, dangerous conflict. Important characters died. The Joker manipulated Batman into saving one character instead of another. So I was expecting even more grit right at the end.

In this particular scene, the Joker has placed explosives on two ferries, one containing a group of prisoners, the other a group of ordinary civilians (including children). Each group has the trigger for the explosives on the other ferry. If neither group pulls the trigger on the other by a certain time, both will go off. Both groups end up waiting, neither killing the other, and Batman stops the Joker before he can detonate the explosives.

I found that outcome a little unbelievable. I kept expecting the civilian group to pull the trigger on the others. (Surely one of the parents would do that to save his or her child.) And I thought that, in keeping with the Joker's nature, he had lied and actually given each group the trigger for their own boat. I was almost sure the civilian ferry would pull the trigger and unintentionally kill themselves.

That's not how the story turned out, and probably for several good reasons. I still thought the Joker was very well-crafted and the highlight of the movie.

What stands out about the Joker for you?


  1. I totally had the same thought about the ferries, Audrey. Who knows? Maybe he really did lie and each held the trigger to their own boat. We don't know since they didn't pull it.

  2. Audrey, I remember thinking the same thing. It was too far fetched that neither "ferry" blew the other up. Otherwise, though, it was an awesome movie. I can't believe you're just now getting around to watching it! ;)

  3. Good! Glad I wasn't the only one. I was starting to wonder if I was maybe just being too morbid.

  4. I thought the fact that neither pulled the trigger on the others showed that deep down there was a core of decency, even in the convicts. It's what made the people worth saving and showed that the Joker was wrong about the world, a flaw in his mind that led his plan to fail. It worked for me.

  5. That's what it was trying to show, yes. But for all the parents on that ferry the decision would probably come down to this question: do you make yourself into a mass murderer in order to save the life of your child? And for some parents, the answer would be no. But for others I really think it would be yes, *especially* if they believed that those people they were going to kill would die anyway once the time limit passed.

    So for me it's not about a core of decency. If there are two possible outcomes, one in which everyone dies and one in which only half the people die but your child lives, I don't think I could blame a parent for choosing the second option.