Friday, April 17, 2015

The Great Villain Blogathon: Batman in The Dark Knight


"You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain"
-Harvey Dent

Everyone loves a great villain. That's why a blogathon where we get to talk about our favorite bad guys is such a great idea. Too bad I didn't think of it. This is the brainchild of Kristina at Speakeasy, along with the good folks at Shadows & Satin and Silver Screenings. They've got a whole slew of folks who have participated so click on the link, when you're finished here, of course, and check out all the wonderful posts that have been turned in. Here, I'll talk about my favorite superhero movie of all time.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Since I like to do things a little differently. Picking any regular old evil-doer was just not enough for me. I'd much rather challenge our notions of what a villain is. I've watched literally thousands of movies over the course of my forty-plus years inhabiting Earth. I'd estimate that ninety-nine percent of them have at least one villain. Even things like romantic comedies and biopics have people we're supposed to root against. That's just how movies work. It's the same with any form of fiction. What is most remarkable is that regardless of the countless names they go by, there really are only two types of villains. We'll call them Type A and Type B. All others are just subsets of these two. Type A are the ones that fully embrace their villainy. They take pleasure in being evil. Type B doesn't believe he or she is a villain at all. With fervent conviction they believe they are on the side of right. This conviction allows them to use go-for-broke methods to achieve what they think is the greater good. Their end goal may be an admirable one, but getting there means people, perhaps lots of them, will be hurt or worse.

Villains at war

2008's The Dark Knight is renowned for giving us a classic Type A villain. Not only is The Joker thoroughly accepting of his own evil, he's also intent on proving to the good people of Gotham that they are, in fact, no different from himself. To do this, he incessantly seeks to create mayhem and derives undeniable pleasure from seeing the ethics of others crumble beneath the chaos. The corruption of others is what he lives for. The more on the side of what is generally accepted as good, the bigger the challenge he takes it as and the bigger his satisfaction in turning them. This is why taking down the city's organized crime ring is so easy. Despite being known bad guys, they are still governed by certain rules and pretend to honor many more. Such a group is ripe for The Joker's manipulation. Fish in a barrel have no chance against a skilled marksman. Right from the start, The Joker sets his sights on the most heroic symbol in town, Batman. What more satisfaction could such a man get than tearing down the one entity everyone on both sides of the law believe in? Perhaps he could double his fun. He attempts to do so by also targeting the next biggest sign of hope, District Attorney Harvey Dent. However, the lawyer will always remain ancillary to The Joker's aim. After all, Dent is just a man. Batman is something more.

Dent indeed proves to be the easier target despite being well-protected. The Joker always knows where Dent is. Dent is the face of Gotham law and eager to be seen publicly stomping on the neck of crime. He lives to be shown getting his hands dirty while cleaning up the city. He loves putting criminals in their place. He loves it more when it makes the front page. The Joker understands this and knows a good deal about Dent, like most of Gotham's citizens. The more elusive target and, therefore, the bigger prize is Batman. No one knows anything about the Bat. He must first be drawn out. When he is, he doesn't stay out long, by design. He appears suddenly and disappears just the same. This is why The Joker's setups become more and more elaborate as the film progresses. He has to find ways to require more of Batman's time. Batman knows his time is precious. He understands what he truly is. The Caped Crusader hits the streets of Gotham night after night, literally fighting for what he knows to be right. In the process, people get hurt, sometimes badly. Though not directly by his hand, some die. A number of those that perish are working on his side, usually without his permission, but on the same side nonetheless. His efforts to rid the city of vermin is a painful and bloody process. Violence continues to beget violence with the stakes escalating daily. He realizes that he is no hero even if his end goal is an admirable one.

Type A vs. Type B

The Dark Knight has no desire to be the bad guy. By the same token, he knows that his reign of terror cannot persist if the desired result is to be achieved. It's undeniable that his intentions are good. Regardless of this, he is a career criminal waging what amounts to a gang war on the streets of Gotham. His very existence has caused battle lines to be drawn. Traditional crooks want him dead and are willing to shoot him on sight. Those who fancy themselves to be helping the cause are confronting those crooks while wearing makeshift Batman costumes, opening themselves to be deliberately shot at. They are usually overarmed and under-prepared. None of the problems Batman's activities supposedly address are being solved. If anything, they were exacerbated by his presence. With the emergence of The Joker, the tenuous grasp Batman had of the situation is slipping. The Joker publicly mocks and taunts Batman, calling for his head. Public officials are murdered and targets are placed on the backs of those who remain. All of this in the name of forcing Batman to show himself. Until now, Gotham's police have looked the other way regarding The Bat's escapades even though his brand of justice, violent vigilantism, is blatantly illegal. They thought he was making their jobs easier. Due to changing and escalating circumstances, they can no longer afford this policy. Batman is now the root of all that ails his beloved city. The overtly maniacal Joker is merely a symptom of the problem. The Joker makes it clear that he is the protagonist, driving all the action and it is Batman who is the antagonist that must be stopped. After all, Batman's crime spree started long before The Joker's. The mere existence of Batman inspires the worst people to show themselves and the worst in people who were already exposed. The Joker was born of this inspiration. One that brings about so much wrong is a menace that needs to be put down, no matter their intentions. This is why the Gotham police eventually have no choice but to turn their full attention upon Batman.

Batman knows the day when the whole of Gotham turns on him is near. His days of operating with impunity are numbered. Before they run out, he efforts at gaining a new ally. He does what The Joker does. He turns his attention to Harvey Dent. Batman makes it clear that he can't be what Gotham needs. The path he started on years ago under the tutelage of Ra's al Ghul is not the correct one. He asserts that Dent can be that solution and works to make that happen. Unfortunately, Batman is in the same position he's been in all along - a step behind The Joker. The corruption of Harvey Dent is well under way. Due to The Joker's actions, the woman Dent loves and the face he loves to show have been taken from him. His thirst for justice has been replaced by one for revenge. Batman's dream of his birthplace becoming clean and wholesome are evaporating.


In a short time, Batman has gone from symbol of hope to all-out pariah. Instead of enveloping all crime within the folds of his wings, he is seen as the progenitor of the wickedness that threatens to overrun the city. His options for helping him achieve the end to justify his illegal means are dwindling. Like it eventually does on the drug kingpin or the serial killer, the law is closing in on him. Luckily, Batman does manage to catch, an be declared incorruptible by, The Joker who desperately tries to get Batman to give in to his basest desires. Yet, The Joker can still claim some measure, a large measure, of victory because the word incorruptible only refers to Batman's intentions, not the image of him. That image is tarnished. The result of his good intentions is a people bound by geography on the verge of cannibalizing themselves. However, the complete erasure of Harvey Dent's code of ethics, subsequently followed by Dent's physical demise, gives Batman a last ditch chance to save Gotham. It's a long shot, but it's one he must take. He can't take it alone, however. He needs the assistance of lifelong friend and newly minted police commissioner Jim Gordon.

The first step toward what Batman hopes will be Gotham's redemption is to turn a murderer into a martyr. Batman pleads with Gordon to exalt the name Harvey Dent, though it's fully deserving of desecration. He does this so the city can have a symbol of hope unequivocally associated with righteousness. The dirty deeds Dent committed are only known to Batman and Gordon. These two also know that someone must take the blame for these atrocities. It cannot be Gordon. Someone on the right side of the law and seemingly above reproach must remain to carry on the good fight. Gordon is the closest thing to a hero with breath still in his lungs. It must be Batman. Our Caped Crusader is already a soiled entity. He's tried to be the ultimate good Samaritan, to restore order to the place he calls home. Despite his best efforts, he's caused the scales to tip in favor of anarchy. His last lunge at victory is an act of desperation. He must add homicide to the laundry list of felonies he's currently wanted for. When he takes his last ride, it's not a triumphant gallop into the sunset. It is the hasty sprint of a fugitive fleeing the scene of a crime. However necessary he may be, Batman is an evil. He has lived long enough to see himself become the villain.

On the Run

24 comments:

  1. That is a great piece. That's one of the reasons why I loved the film as well as how it ended. Batman taking the blame and becoming the villain in the hopes of bringing peace to Gotham only to let bits of the truth emerge for the League of Shadows to arrive.

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    1. Thanks so much. The fact that it has the balls to end without a clear victory for Batman is a big reason I love it.

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  2. Excellent write up! I never tire from reading things about The Dark Knight.

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  3. I never really thought of Batman that way, would definitely be watching the movie in a new light. Awesome post!

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    1. Glad to shed a new light on it. Thanks!

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  4. OMG! This is brilliant. Love your take on this film and on Batman as a character.

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    1. Thanks so much for the compliment. It's not every day I get the b-word dropped on me. Really appreciate that.

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  5. Wow! Great post! Terrific analysis, and very well written.

    I think this is my fave review of "The Dark Knight", period.

    Thanks so much for joining the blogathon!

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    1. Thank you! And thank you for hosting! This is a great blogathon. I'm already looking forward to next year.

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    2. Is this blogathon well on its way? Or can late-comers join in? I didn't come across it but it sounds like something fun to write about!!

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    3. Sorry, today was the last day. I'm guessing they'll have a 2016 version, though.

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  6. Wow man, great, great post. I love how in depth you go. I don't like superhero movies at all but this has me wanting to watch that Batman movie! I love the games though, which made it an even cooler read. Good stuff man!!

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    1. I hope you check it out. Love to hear what a non-superhero movie fan thinks of it.

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  7. Great article Wendell, thanks for stopping by my blog and referring me to this, thoroughly enjoyable read and it gives a new insight to The Dark Knight that I'd previously, albeit, subconciously ignored all this time, Batman has become the villain.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed. Thanks for tqking the time to read and comment on it.

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  8. Excellent. I always associate Batman (especially in this movie) with the gunfighter that was hired in westerns, to come help "clean up" the town--soon he was even more distrusted and hated than the people he got rid of. The lawman who's antisocial and has no choice but to adopt the tactics of his enemy is always close to crossing that line, and you hit all that here. Great take, thanks for bringing it to the event, was fun to have you aboard.

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    1. Thanks for having me. You're so right abput the correlation to Westerns, too. Great observation. Let's do it again next year!

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  9. Great analysis! The Caped Crusader has always been more an anti-hero than a hero to me, that's why he's so fascinating. I think Nolan showed very well Batman's inner struggle and contradictions, craftily building up this slow transformation into a "villain" with the first two films of the trilogy.

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    1. That's precisely why he's so fascinating. And Nolan did an amazing job showing us why. Thanks for reading!

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  10. What an excellent post. I would also like to invite you to participate in my upcoming blogathon in August. The link is below with more details

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/in-the-good-old-days-of-classic-hollywood-presents-the-barrymore-trilogy-blogathon/

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  11. Really great piece of writing. I don't think I've ever really thought of Batman being the villain but this post definitely has changed my perception of him. I think Gordon says in best in The Dark Knight Rises: "there's a point, far out there, where the structures fail you and the rules aren't weapons anymore - they're shackles letting the bad guy get ahead. One day you may face such a moment of crisis and in that moment I hope you have a friend - like I did - to plunge their hands into the filth so you can keep yours clean.". Batman (at least Nolan's Batman) isn't this perfect hero looking to save the world and be praised. He's a soldier in a war against crime, and like all soldiers, he has to commit heinous acts in the name of the greater good. This is the beauty of Batman, to quote Alfred: "he can be the outlaw, he can make the choice that no one else can make - the right one".

    I think in many ways you can see Batman as the villain, in the same way that you can see freedom-fighters as terrorists. In the end, it's the result rather than the method that matters. I read a post a few months ago about how The Joker was actually the hero of the movie because the majority of his violence is against The Mob. He robs a mob bank, kills members of the mob and, in the end, takes away half their fortune. It's an interesting idea.

    Once again, an excellent post. This is a topic that could inspire countless hours of debate.

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    1. Glad you checked it out. The kind words are much appreciated. And yes to both quotes plus the analogy you use because it is often said that every terrorist is someone's freedom fighter. I've been hearing a lot about that Joker as the hero thing over the last week or two. I'm going to have to find it.

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