Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #8

Re: The Dark Knight (2008)

Thank you for the insightful and enjoyable movie reviews. I have been reading them in the National Catholic Register for some time now and always look forward to reading them. I was eager to see what you had to say about The Dark Knight, and as usual, it was a pleasure to read.

As much as I enjoyed the movie, for many of the qualities that you point out in your review, there seemed to be something off when I thought back on the movie as the credits rolled. It would seem that the only character in the movie who really understood himself, and the other major characters in the movie, was the Joker. I think even he knew that he deserved to be killed and that it would have been just and justifiable for him to be killed.

Charity without a sense of justice is only sentiment. Alfred (Michael Cain) points out to Bruce Wayne that some people just want to watch the world burn; you can’t reason with them. The Joker told everyone in that movie that he was that guy! And what did everyone do? They all tried to reason with him, or extended to him charity that was more for the satisfaction of their own egos then for any priciple. By not dealing with the immediate and imminent threat that the Joker clearly represented, they made it possible for the deaths of innocent characters as well as their own in some cases. And all the talk and action for justice by Batman and the good cop and the DA looks like posturing or bluffing. To serve justice would require the use of deadly force, when necessary, to stop or repel an unjustified us of force. I would suggest this would have been one of those cases.

Whether the Joker deserves death is one question; whether it would be morally legitimate for Batman to kill him is another. You mention the danger of charity without justice; I think that Bruce knows that, for him, the practical danger is all in the opposite direction of justice without charity, and ultimately vengeance without justice. Even if you take issue with his decision not to kill the Joker, I don’t think this is due to ego on Bruce’s part.

Bruce is legitimately concerned about what he may become in the course of fighting evil, especially someone like the Joker. Even in the first film it’s clear that the moral legitimacy of his extra-legal crusade depends significantly in his mind on his not becoming a mere vigilante, killing bad guys just because he can. Killing bad guys is a line he will not cross, even if it means sometimes not saving all the lives he could.

It may be helpful to remember that you, the viewer, have access to more information than the characters do. By the time Batman meets the Joker, you know the Joker better than Batman does. For that matter, you already know something about the Joker going into the theater. Batman spends much of The Dark Knight on the steep slope of a cruel learning curve, and he does struggle and make mistakes. He’s human. The Joker is something less than that. Batman doesn’t want to go the same route.

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