The Joker is conventionally viewed as the villain of The Dark Knight, but his actual role is far more complex. The entire film is an examination of the nature of duality, but not necessarily polarity. The duality of The Dark Knight is more problematical: while issues such as good versus evil and life versus death are addressed, the usually clear cut divergences are given unexpected dimensions. The centerpiece of this complexity is the Joker who acts more as a force of amorality than immorality.
The version of duality that is explored in the film is the element that elevates it far above typical comic book fair. While the very basis of comic book plot history is good versus evil in the form of hero versus villain, ultimately the villain that is most threatening to Batman is not the Joker, but the man who begins the film as a figure that even Bruce Wayne admits is more heroic than Batman: Harvey Dent. It is Dent’s actions that leave Batman running through the night with the police hot on his heels.
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Of course, it is the Joker’s actions that lead Dent and Batman to this climax. The Joker is the repository of duality and is at the same time the personification of the rejection of the easy route of polarity. Rather than act merely as a villain, the Joker’s role is ultimately as unknown and mysterious as the dual claims he makes about the origin of his cars. The Joker’s duality can even be extended to suggest that he is both good and evil or neither good nor evil. The Joker is chaos and disorder and anarchy.
Those are words that generally have a negative connotation, but out of chaos and disorder and anarchy arrives something different. That something may be worse, but it may also be better. The point is that nobody can predict the outcome. The Joker himself asserts that he has no plan, likening himself to a dog who would not know what to do with a car if he ever actually caught one. Considering the Joker’s affinity for being less than truthful, that claim may be subject to questioning, but even if he does have a plan, it hardly matters.
After all, he is no more in control of the outcome of his plans than anybody else. The most profound scene in The Dark Knight is one that provides insight into the Joker’s role as a force for amorality. When he’s having his conversation with Harvey Dent in the hospital the Joker observes that a convoy of soldiers dying is ignored because it is all part of the plan, but a Mayor being assassinated is a tragedy that creates chaos for an entire city. He’s right, of course, but what he’s really saying is that society has its priorities completely out of whack.
A convoy of soldiers dying should be more important than the death of one person. The Joker’s tossing off Gotham City into chaos is an act of extreme duality. It is both bad and horrific in the here and now, but ultimately it may potentially serve the greater good by revealing to the city and its citizens just how out of whack their priorities really are. The Joker’s amorality is viewed as psychopathic and sociopathic and villainous, but there is little question that he manages at least one very vital positive outcome. His actions reveal the corruptibility of Harvey Dent.
Surely, it is better for Harvey Dent’s own dark side to surface, as a result of the Joker’s actions, before he gains too much power than after. From this perspective, the Joker must be seen not as a villain, but as a positive force for good. He must also, at the very same time, still be viewed as force for evil. He is both and yet neither. He is the very quintessence of the concept of duality, containing both darkness and light and the mystery of each. If Martians were to visit the earth there are certainly many films that could accurately convey human culture.
The first film to show Martians should be a film that reveals the potential for good and evil of our species. This idea should be pursued to give aliens an understanding of the complexity of our genetic makeup. Schindler’s List is the perfect film for this because while it obviously shows the darkest corners of humanity’s capacity for evil in the person of Amon Goeth and the scenes involving the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto and the concentration camps, it also works to reveal the flip side of that coin in the person of Oskar Schindler himself.
Schindler’s List is worthy of being viewed by aliens precisely because it does not try to hide the depths to which humans have sunk; it also works to let them know that one us can change the world. Another film that Martians should view as insight in humanity is Airplane. Humor, of course, may very well be a peculiarly human trait that is not duplicated anywhere else in the universe, but this idea seems unlikely. It is important to show alien life forms how vital laughter and comedy is to society, and how it has been throughout history.
There are funnier movies, of course, but Airplane contains visual gags, verbal humor, and non-stop bits that perhaps more than any other movie show the full range and extent of the type of humor enjoyed by human beings. While it is true that aliens may not “get” it, showing them this kind of movie is a way to introduce alien species to what may be one of the most identifiable characteristics of our race. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film that conveys another important element of humanity; our thirst for knowledge and the quest for an understanding of what is beyond our own limited p of intelligence.
While the special effects may serve to induce laughter among actual space travelers, Stanley Kubrick’s monumental film showcases how humanity has been capable of imaging that which we do not know. The film reveals our own internal logic as far as space travel and how it might be carried out, but it suggests that we understand the connection between ancient events and time and space far into the future and far away.
In addition, 2001: A Space Odyssey might, with its limited dialogue and reliance on music and visual effects, be the best choice for reaching an alien intelligence that cannot understand our language. And for that very reason, D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance is also a film that should be used to greet Martians. The lack of dialogue as a result of it being a silent movie is just one reason for its inclusion, but perhaps even more important is the content.
The film tells four different stories from four different time periods and so represents an adequate attempt to let the Martians get a glimpse of human history. Since religion is such an important aspect of humanity, the story of Jesus Christ as told in Intolerance is quite obviously a significant story to show alien visitors. The modern story’s tale of how a man turns to a life of crime because of societal pressures works in much the same way as Schindler’s List to assert the complexity of our species. Each segment of the Intolerance extols the virtues of love and respect and mutual understanding.
Perhaps nothing would be more apt to show aliens visiting this planet than to show them a story made of four different components that suggest that despite our failings and despite the fact that evil actions are committed on a daily basis, the underlying foundation that has kept humans alive on this planet for thousands of years is the capacity to meet our failings directly and work through them to evolve and become ever more civilized. A civilization that can address the concerns of a species from an alien world can be most perfectly realized through the history of cinema.
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