Every once in a while, a great storyteller comes up with a fresh approach to a character. As I think back to some of the most refreshing and unique characters I’ve read about or watched onscreen, one character really sticks out in my mind: while my wife and some friends found Christopher Nollan’s version of the Joker deeply disturbing, I found him deeply inspiring. Full of iconic, memorable, and philosophically engaging lines, Nollan’s Joker made a previously silly and often unbelievable character both fresh and believable.
I found two lines particularly memorable and inspiring about his character:
“I’m like a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one, you know, I’d just doooo … things.”
This almost makes criminals easier to understand doesn’t it? To those not criminally minded, criminal acts are often hard to relate to – hard to understand. But if we dismiss the acts as random, it somehow seems less cognitively dissonant. The Joker wasn’t so non-understandable – he just allowed himself to be ruled by his emotions. Everyone has done that sometime during their lifetime – we just cast aside reason and careful thought in favor of something a little easier: autopilot. For some people, that autopilot is silly; for others, it is artistic; for others, it is indisputably violent. Somehow, that just makes sense and it made the Joker much more believable.
A similar line had a similar insight:
“Madness, as you know, is like gravity: all it takes is a little push.”
First of all, I love how he “taints the well” as philosophers love to label these statements. “As you know” suggests that the point is not up for debate. He’s taunting his enemy with the implication that they both know the truth – but only the Joker is reconciled to the truth. Batman cannot accept the truth. At least, that is the implication. But the actual statement itself is interesting as well. Many of us have had moments where life’s challenges were so difficult that we lost ourselves for a moment (or perhaps longer). Again, some lose composure and cry – if you don’t remember being that way, hang out with a toddler for a few days. Some of us become withdrawn and depressed. Others become criminally insane – like Harvey Dent. In the movie, Batman seemed dangerously close to that line himself and the Joker sees that inclination up close and personal – which makes his taunting comment all the more effective.
I found Nollan’s Joker inspiring precisely because he was very far from the arch-type antagonist. He wasn’t power hungry. He wasn’t looking for wealth. Nollan went to great lengths to make this point. The Joker wasn’t really trying to accomplish much of anything other than to become understood by others – and he was desperate to prove his point all the way to the end – everyone is on the verge of madness. Whether or not he was ultimately wrong is irrelevant to the intrigue of his character. His goal, no matter how oddly pursued, is very understandable for any human hardwired to desire acceptance and understanding from others.
The cropped image comes from Photobucket