Morality and Chaos: The Dark Knight

Note: This was written after The Dark Knight released in theaters (and I saw it 3 times to take it all in). Mornin’ folks! I’m so excited to see The Dark Knight Rises (Friday at 10.30pm!!) that I wanted to share a post from my old blog. I did a review of the movie during its release and it was easily my most popular entry. I’m celebrating this superhero movie and thought the nerds would appreciate a flashback of the Dark Knight before we all went to see the new movie. I’ve also included the great comments I received from people, too, because they made some great points! I’ve officially gone to see “The Dark Knight” 3 times; once in a regular theatre, twice in IMAX. It’s unbelievable. Beautiful. Brilliant. Easily on my newly updated list of top 10 favorite movies. Perhaps even the top 5. For many people, they talk about the theatrics; the adrenaline rush of car chases and fight scenes.

There’s talk of Heath Ledger receiving an Oscar; I hope that he does. He was amazing. And obviously made that movie. I’d go see it again right now if someone wanted to. And I’d still gasp at the heights, jumps, violence, and clarity. However, despite the climactic, hold your breath don’t look now scenes, the part I’m most interested in becomes clearer towards the end of the show. The first time I saw this movie, I reveled in the action. The second time got my brain humming about the deeper meaning, while this last viewing really got me started on how I think on the world today. (And PS, I’m about to reveal some spoilers, so stop reading if you don’t want any ideas of how the movie goes.)

This world is not pretty. It is not beautiful, it is not perfect, and it is not the movies. There are wars, hunger, crime, poverty. Those on the top of the cultural totem pole pretend not to notice or care. The Joker is the bad guy. You’re not supposed to like him, understand him, or relate to him. Yet Christopher Nolan has taken a loathed character, made him far darker than ever before, and yet still manages to make me honestly understand how he thinks about the world and why he’s so insistent on destroying it.

In perhaps what is one of the best speeches in movie history in regards to morality and chaos, the Joker hunts down Two-Face to have a chat. Two-Face, previously the shining White Knight of Gotham, is finally brought down to the level the Joker plays. And we see that the Joker, while an evil, psychopathic villain, is actually quite brilliant; he understands the human mind and loves to pit people against one another to show a person’s true colors when it really matters. He is someone who blows up buildings just for the fun of it (okay, it’s fun for him. But it’s not his point); he endangers lives and messes with people because he’s proving a point that when it comes down to it, people are only in it for themselves and cannot handle that which does not make sense.

To prove my point, I want you to read his speech to Two-Face in the hospital. He is defending himself to show that he himself is not the problem; he is merely “an agent of chaos” proving just how people will react in a difficult situation:

“Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just do things. The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon’s got plans. You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I’m not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are. So, when I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know that I’m telling the truth. “It’s the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer, you had plans, and uh, look where that got you. I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that like a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all, part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds! “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fear.” -The Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008).

In another part of the film, he also says “You’ll see, I’ll show you, that when the chips are down, these uh… civilized people, they’ll eat each other.”

You understand this, don’t you? You read this and whether you agree with it, you know that in a way, he is correct in stating how we react to something that isn’t supposed to happen. People go about their everyday lives even while our families and soldiers are getting killed overseas. We regret their deaths and mourn their lives, but we go on, because it is what we expect. However, when a terrorist flies a plane into our buildings one September morning, we panic. It is not on our list of things to do that day.

Now I know that perhaps you want to argue Batman’s side of things and recall how the nation came together to donate money, time, and items to families and strangers alike. I truly commend them. However, my argument here is that what happened to that? It’s been 7 years and I don’t see much of a resurgence in this generosity. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen everyday; I’m merely stating that it appears to me as though for something huge like that to happen again, we must have another terrible tragedy to remind people why we do generous things. People run out of money; they get lazy or forgetful; they don’t have the time to go help out.

There are always excuses for why we start out strong, then later simmer off to close to nothing. This doesn’t mean we will tear one another apart in the face of darkness; but it seems to go along with the Joker’s theme of why the world works the way it does. I do not sympathize with the Joker. I do not plan on going out to create anarchy in order to prove his point. I merely understand his point of view and can see why he thinks about the world the way he does. I don’t think he’s wrong.

I think there are people out there willing to prove him wrong, as we see at the end of the film. But I do believe that he’s correct in saying that we panic when it’s not scheduled; we attempt everyday to scheme and plan and I’m not the only one who gets frustrated or freaks out when things don’t go the way I expect them to. My sister and her husband decided not to have children because she simply did not want to bring a child into this chaotic world; my brother, ever the optimist, wanted to bring children in to raise into a good person, to try and change the world into what we wish it to be. The Joker gets to Two-Face. The purest of them all has fallen to the Joker’s level.

Two-Face tells Batman and Commissioner Gordon “You thought we could be decent men in an indecent time. But you were wrong. The world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance. [holds up his coin] Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair.”

The optimists of the world are screaming at him not to believe this. They’re now telling the world he’s wrong; to uphold Batman, Commissioner Gordon, Rachel, and their belief in the good of people. How Gotham’s citizens couldn’t take a life, no matter how vile or disgusting they believe it to be. I won’t say they’re wrong. I simply think the Joker has a very, very good point. Sure, he’s crazy and belongs in Arkham Asylum. He believes he’s not a monster. He’s merely “just ahead of the curve.”

Of course we need rules, structure, laws; otherwise, chaos would reign and no one would have a real chance of actually living. But I see the Joker’s point. I’m just sayin’.

I want to go back to school so badly just to write this paper. It’s fascinating. Sorry for the lecture; I’m merely an English major with an insatiable need to explore people and places in a literate way. All I know is, “The Dark Knight” is effin’ sweet. “Never start with the head–the victim gets all fuzzy.”

 
  1. What about the part where the joker had the boat of regular people and the boat of criminals and tells them that if one doesn’t blow up the other, he’ll blow both up? You remember that part? In the end, neither group could blow the other up. What does that say about people? That in general, people are good?

    As far as the stuff about people going on with their everyday lives while there is war, hunger, crime and poverty… many or most people probably do care or at least notice, but maybe no one knows what to do. That’s what I think anyway. When thinking about various tradgedies like 9/11, it’s easy to say that people of forgotten. I don’t think anyone has really forgotten, but what do we do now? A quote for you, Ms. English Major: “In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life: It goes on.” – Robert Frost Good blog. More thought provoking that most we’ve written lately. We’re typically too stuck in our own worlds to think about things like this.

  2. Upon leaving the theatre after seeing this movie, I thought about it and realized I did not remember all that happened in the last 45 minutes. My brain just didn’t soak it in. C wants to go see it again to get the ‘full effect’ but I don’t usually enjoy movies twice. We’ll see on this one because you’ve got some great points. I had written about this too in the fact that it made me feel like I was in a criminal world, and being that it was filmed in my city now, I no longer wanted to be here. I guess I’m part of the naive society that hates to think about it all, cause when I do I become overwhelmed and feel the pressures to do something, and yet have neither the courage or understanding to start. But I really enjoyed your ‘lecture’ and know it makes me think about seeing the movie again. But I’m still pissed about Rachel!

  3. Nice blog! I just watched The Dark Knight last night-for the third or fourth time. The Joker character and his dialogues about chaos and morality really get my head spinning every time I watch it, and these are some of my favorite subjects. I actually googled “films chaos morality” to see if I could find a similar film to The Dark Knight, but I came across your blog first. Well, I think you hit the nail on the head. I also wanted to share a video that I made with you or anyone else that finds your blog interesting:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytGpkTOmn8g I think it’s pretty relevant. It’s a collection of quotes on various topics, but there is an underlying theme of chaos and ethics, I think. That’s my perception anyway. Thanks for the blog, let me know what you think about the video. Oh, and don’t shy away from facing the truth about the world we live in. Seek the truth and make sense of it to make the world, or at least your life, better. I would also recommend “Ethics for the New Millenium” by the Dalai Lama. Big inspiration for the video I made, and very important book for anyone in modern society. I can sympathize with your sister for not wanting to have children. I feel the same way she does, but I hope someone or something comes along to change my mind. Take it easy!

  4. Oh yeah, and he says chaos is “fair” not “fear,” which is actually much more frightening when you think about it.

  5. You know, I have never been on this site nor do I know who you are, but I have been researching the theory: Morality of Chaos. The Dark Knight is a shining example of this theory. Everything the Joker does is his way of proving that their is no such thing as order. That order is always temporary and will always degrade over time. The Joker shows that Order, like all things, is subject to entropy. Nature is, by its very nature, chaotic. To enforce order over nature, one must never become complacent. This is why the Joker does what he does. He does not want to “watch the world burn” nor is he a “mad dog”. The Joker is the Truth. Batman is the lie. Harvey Dent paid the price for believing in Order over chaos and Rachel died. But the hardest hitting grit behind everything in the movie is the fact that had Batman never pressured the mob, the mob never would have hired the Joker, Harvey Dent would remain noble and just, Rachel would still be alive, and Gotham would have continued the way it was. And so at the end of the film, Batman realizes that the Joker was right in the respect that every action has an opposite and equal reaction. That to do something honorable, someting devious must first take place. That when you bring a gun to knife fight, the enemy will then bring a nuke to a gun fight. Harmony requires chaos. Otherwise harmony could not exist. This is why the Joker is the true hero. He was the reaction that will always occur when you threaten too much and understand too little.

5 thoughts on “Morality and Chaos: The Dark Knight

  1. The Lit Bitch says:

    I love your thoughts on this! I can’t wait to read your write up on The Dark Knight Rises 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this with all of us….I love how Nolan takes the characters and makes them so much darker and complex….he is such a talented director.

    • LizLong says:

      Thank you!!! Thank you for reblogging it, too. It’s an oldie, but still one of my favorites – I would totally turn this in to a teacher haha! I totally agree about Nolan – he knows just how to develop unbelievable characters into a realistic role.

  2. The Lit Bitch says:

    Reblogged this on The Lit Bitch and commented:
    A fellow English major friend of mine and I were talking about the complexity of the Batman movies directed by Christopher Nolan and she was kind enough to share her write up on The Dark Knight with me. Check it out here. I love many of her thoughts on the film and characters! Totally worth a read through!

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