Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Joker Athwart

Here again is Christopher Orr in The New Republic, commenting on the many gaps in the story of The Dark Knight:

[I]t's not clear that this untidiness is entirely unintentional. In the end, The Dark Knight is less a film about good versus evil than about order versus chaos, a morality play into which a wild card, the Joker, has been inserted to devastating effect. As the demented harlequin lectures Dent at a moment of existential crisis, "The mob has plans. The cops have plans. Gordon has plans. They're schemers, all trying to control their little parts of the world. ... I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are." Indeed the whole film occasionally feels like an experiment in entropy, a universe in which even the best laid plans--Nolan's perhaps included--are quickly laid to rest.
In the LA Times, Kenneth Turan similarly addresses the theme of order and chaos as embodied in the Joker character:
Ledger threw himself into a role he clearly relished, giving a transfixing performance as a whiny-voiced god of chaos whose hard-core nihilism is bone-chilling.

For it's what he represents, not what he looks like, that is finally the horror of the Joker. He has no scruples, no morals, no goal except anarchy, no plan except the end of planning. As Alfred patiently explains, "Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."
All of this talk of plans and their subversion, order and chaos, nihilism and disorder, anarchy and entropy -- much of it coming from the Joker himself -- strikes me as more than a little ironic since my experience of watching the film was in the difficulty of suspending disbelief enough to let pass the intricacy of the Joker's schemes, let alone the success with which they played out.

The Joker condemned schemers and planners, but nearly the entire plot of the film was his careful orchestration and the responses to it -- responses that he predicted with great precision and accuracy, and used as the basis for further scheming. Only one last element of his grand scheme didn't get exactly the human reaction he predicted, and that failure became the subject of much rumination and dialogue in the film's closing scenes.

Chaos? Chaos would have been one of the Joker's thugs getting drunk and putting a bullet in him when he turned his back. Or having a bomb go off too early -- clearly the man handles a lot of explosives. Or falling down and stabbing himself with one of his many knives. Or coming down with a severe case of the flu just when he's supposed to be breaking out of jail. Or having a critical cell phone battery die at an inconvenient moment.

Maybe the Joker really does hate schemers and planners, but if so, it's the hatred of self-recognition, because he's nothing if not a masterful schemer. He declares -- half bemoaning, half celebrating -- the inevitability of subversion and corruption even as he actively subverts and corrupts. Whether he acknowledges it or not, he bears a hatred from expediency, not a hatred from principle: he hates their plans, not planning. He wants to see them flounder as he triumphs.

To what end that triumph? The answer I would suggest is a very famous one:
It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.
Sitting back contentedly watching the world burn is not so different from watching a city disappear in a flood.

1 comment:

Aimee Brons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.