Joker is Bruce's Best Friend: The Dark Knight part 1 (3100 words)
(edit: now that I've finished this overlong article, I have to say it's overlong. But goddammit ! There's so much to say and things are so complex and fascinating that I was overwhelmed).
1.Bruce’s Best Friend
When I started to write these articles about the Joker being Bruce’s best friend, I mainly wanted to talk about The Dark Knight but I knew an introduction was needed and after two long articles I’m relieved to now be able to talk about what I wanted to talk about in the first place.
I’d like to point at the fact that although I’m not making it explicit, I’m somewhat using Carl’s Jung idea of self and the fact that part of our “self” is subconscious, and that knowledge about ourselves and our desires can shift from subconscious to conscious to subconscious again.
Also, I'd like to say that through this analysis, I'm not trying to point at specific clues that would prove that the Joker is an unconscious part of Bruce, I want to show that every single move of the Joker follows the evolution of Bruce's psychological situation perfectly. I'm not as much interested in a perfect proof as I am in the fascinating dynamic there is between the characters.
The Dark Knight starts on the Joker’s (ridiculous) bank robbery which defines him as a metacriminal: Each accomplice kills an accomplice when he’s done with his part of the job only to get killed by yet another accomplice five minutes later etc… until we reach the head of the pyramid: The Joker. The man is a criminal amongst criminals; just like Batman is above the law and forces people to abide by it.
In the 1989 movie, our hero triggers the birth of the Joker by dropping Jack Napier into a barrel of toxic chemicals so it is easier to spot the connexion between the two characters. The Joker even tells Batman “you created me” at the end of the film. In The Dark Knight Joker is there from the start, the link between him and Bruce was made in Begins.
2.Bruce and Thomas
Bruce invented Batman in order to prove people that you could be close to the exact opposite of his father attitudewise and still do good. Thomas Wayne helped Gotham City but also wanted to be perceived as a saint, as an immaculate saviour. Batman is worthlessness doing good. An arrogant ass like Thomas Wayne makes you feel worthless whereas Batman, the nameless evil monster who fights for justice, brings hope: the hope that anyone can be positive.
By being Batman, Bruce could escape his father’s suffocating image, he could do good without being a mere extension of godlike Sir Thomas Wayne.
The problem is that, first, his attempt was far from a complete success and second, Rachel now believes that his true face is the Bat and that Bruce is only being Batman in order to be the worthy successor of his father. So, again, Bruce has no room left to be himself: whether he is Bruce Wayne or Batman, the people whose love matters are still seeing his father in him (Alfred, Rachel).
That’s why he completely loses his mind and The Joker appears.
3.Rachel, Bruce and Harvey.
The diner scene (19min) always intrigued me in The Dark Knight. As I had not seen Begins (and never read a comic) I didn’t know what Rachel’s love for Harvey Dent could represent for Bruce. I only thought it was a strange movie in which the superhero didn’t get the girl and didn’t seem to mind that much. Actually, I thought Bruce was pretty open-minded about it: he supports Dent, he saves his life and Rachel’s when The Joker crashes at his party. I was really surprised that our average alpha male could accept so humbly to lose the woman he so obviously wants and loves.
In the same fashion, I believed that at the end of the diner scene, when Bruce tells Harvey that he is going to support him financially, he is being honestly supportive and thinking of the greater good, that which he is not.
When you’ve just watched Batman Begins, Rachel’s position in The Dark Knight appears to be very contradictory.
She is dating Harvey Dent not Bruce Wayne. Why ? Because she loves Harvey Dent more ? Hum… we witness the lawyer getting as close as getting killed (shot in the heart) as you can get and Rachel’s reaction is to get excited about it… and aroused (Excited because it means the Falcony family considers Harvey a real threat; and aroused… well she is obviously aroused and ask him to take the rest of the day).
“Come on Harvey you’re Gotham’s DA if you’re not getting shot at, you’re not doing your job right.”
Rachel is jealous and sad and cannot believe that Bruce is not with her only because he wants to protect her... which is understandable.
At this point, Bruce is only Batman because of what Rachel told him:
“No this… is your mask (his face), your real face is the one that criminals now fear.”
I would like to strongly underline the violence behind these words. Bruce is being told by the only person whose love matters to him that his real self is not his real self, but the persona he’s created.
At the end of Begins, he was ready to drop everything but with this sentence, Rachel locked him up in his vigilante role.
She only perceives the event as a signifier of Harvey’s capability when the poor guy has just survived an assassination thanks to the malfunction of a gun. If he is in love with her, she’s just condemned him to death because he’ll never back up from a dangerous initiative anymore for fear he might lose her love. And actually, from this moment on, Harvey Dent talks about himself as he would of a dead man with a suspended sentence.
Rachel truly looks like a vain bitch at this point, dating Gotham’s super DA because he is Gotham’s super DA without any real feeling for him. However she can also be looked at as a traumatized little girl who used to love a boy who one day decided to favour the life of a secret vigilante over her love.
Rachel gave herself to Bruce when they were kids but Bruce fled and hid, only to realise he actually wanted to be hers too. =>Batman begins rachel and bruce
The same thing is happening on a broader scale. Bruce hid with the bats because he doesn’t feel loveable, or doesn't think he has the right to love (or another reason as long as it’s not “lack of love for her”). Rachel is humiliated and hurt by this behaviour she misinterprets; as a consequence and to replace Bruce and heal her wound, she finds a superhero who risks his life to fight crime and still finds her worthy of being his partner.
Rachel’s couple with Harvey Dent is a message sent to Bruce: “LOOK, everybody knows he is the number one fighter of criminality in Gotham and still, he is not afraid of dating me! He finds me worthy of the risk ! He loves me more than his job and wouldn’t sacrifice his relationship with me in order to carry on his war against crime !”
The thing that Rachel doesn’t understand is that it’s not a matter of loving enough but of feeling worthy of her love or of feeling that it’s actually him that is loved and not his money, his social status or, more precisely, his father’s everlasting reputation. (to put it in more psychological terms, he wants to be sure she loves his true self).
4.The Desire for a successor.
Coming back to the diner scene, when Harvey states: “whoever the Batman is, he doesn’t wanna do this for the rest of his life, how could he ? Batman is looking for someone to take up his mantle.” Rachel and Bruce look at each other.
Harvey is right, the man behind the mask doesn’t want to do this for the rest of his life. The problem is that Rachel thinks that Bruce, because she is convinced that he wants to be like his dad (I suppose), can only be a righter of wrongs and that Bruce thinks Rachel cannot love him as a normal rich dude who is not a superhero (I’m not too sure of these two explanations but what matters isn’t their validity but the misunderstanding that they presuppose between the two characters).
So when they look at each other as a consequence of Harvey’s remark, Bruce thinks “if only you would let me stop being the Batman” and Rachel thinks “If only you were ready to go public !”
90% of what happens to Harvey is only a sad collateral damage in Rachel and Bruce’s messy love story. Because of his little monologue, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to become the villain,” Bruce spots in him the perfect element to prove Rachel wrong: Batman should not be a public figure.
It has to be reminded here that Bruce doesn’t want to be officially known as the Batman because he would thus become his father. Everything he does and accomplished would suddenly become an extension of Thomas Wayne, Bruce would fall back into the inexistence he is trying to escape and any love (appreciation of his qualities) of him would become meaningless because impossible to discriminate from love turned towards his father. Everything he does is highly influenced by the fact that he wants to remain certain that if Rachel (or anyone) loves him, it truly is him that she loves. That’s why he always treats his official guests like shit, they are interested in Thomas Wayne's son. All his problems would be solved if he could shout “My father was a megalomaniacal asshole !” and be heard.
5.Bruce’s first uncontrollable urge => Getting rid of Gotham’s criminals.
Now that we’ve explored Bruce’s psychological situation at length, we can look at the Joker’s behaviour as the expression of his hidden/unconscious desires more easily.
By telling Bruce : “The man I loved… the man who vanished… he never came back at all. But maybe he’s still out there somewhere. Maybe someday, when Gotham no longer needs Batman… I’ll see him again” by telling this to Bruce, Rachel triggered the birth of a criminal who kills criminals.
The rich orphan has become impatient (Alfred will confirm this several times during the film, for example after Rachel's death), he now wants to get rid of Gotham’s criminality by whatever means at his disposal. The Joker’s bank robbery is the incarnation of this urge. “I wanna put an end to bank robberies… let’s plan a very sophisticated one and kill all the criminals who are ready to partake in it.”
The second scene that involves The Joker, the meeting of the heads of criminality in Gotham, shows the character under a very contradictory light, which is why I used not to like the movie.
The Joker has just stolen something like 60 million dollars to Gotham’s mob. He is rich. But he offers to kill the Batman for money because… ? He’s scared that the criminals are going to kill him to get their money back? Why did he steal it in the first place then, instead of simply offering his services? And later on in the film, when he finally gets the money, I can’t even remember how or why, he burns it down. So, you really need to have your eyes shut tight not to see that the Joker doesn’t do anything for money and despises it. (Just like Bruce who would be freed from his role if suddenly he couldn’t finance it anymore).
So what is he doing all this for ? Why did he take the pain to rob a bank ?
At the beginning of The Dark Knight, things are actually getting better in Gotham. Harvey Dent is the incarnation of that, as the Joker explains… sorry who ? The Joker, he explains that if the bosses of the mob now meet during the day, it’s because they’re scared of the night, of the Batman, and that if a man like Harvey Dent exists it is because the criminals aren’t that scary or powerful anymore. Doesn’t it sound exactly like what Bruce would like someone to tell Rachel ? That Harvey Dent is pretentious and naïve and that he can only act like a hero because Batman cleant the way beforehand and is still around to protect him?
5.The Impossible goal.
So, if Gotham is safer, it means that Bruce is slowly reaching his goal and might eventually be able to come back to Rachel just like she clumsily predicted. The problem is that, as she necessarily will grow impatient because she loves Bruce, however fast things might go Rachel will always feel insulted by the fact that Bruce carries on acting in secret and thus making their relationship impossible instead of revealing Batman’s identity to the public. The safer things get, the more hurtful and humiliating to her the secret gets.
There will always be a Harvey Dent to pressure Bruce into coming out of the closet: Rachel will always find a boyfriend to subtly tell Bruce “look at him, he is not behaving like you because he loves me more ! Act like him and prove that you love me !” She perceives Bruce’s secret life as a rival. The fact that she discovered it when he was pretending to have two sex partners surely has something to do with this.
Gotham is safer because Bruce wants to stop being the Batman. But Gotham needs to be dangerous so that Batman needs to exist because Rachel now believes Bruce to be more Batman than Bruce himself AND also because our hero cannot be a good man publicly otherwise he gets eaten by his father image.
I hope I’m making obvious the fact that Bruce’s psychological position is untenable and is exactly the kind of situation in which a man can go through a decompensation.
6.More of Joker having the same goals as Bruce.
The Joker, while carrying on the eradication of Gotham’s criminals (in his third scene he kills one head of the mafia), also justifies Batman’s existence. He supports both of Bruce’s contradictory penchants and his confessed desire of killing the Batman doesn’t go against this one bit. If the worst criminal of Gotham wants Batman’s head, then Batman is proved to be the worst enemy of criminality. And more, Bruce too wants to kill the Batman (metaphorically) either by finishing the cleansing of Gotham or by going public under Rachel’s pressure: two things that the Joker is working on.
The first scene of the film is the Joker’s bank robbery, the second is Batman’s kicking some “fake” Batmen’s ass. On the one hand, Joker/Bruce is eradicating crime and producing it at the same time, on the other hand he is fighting crime and fighting the crime-fighters like him.
Both scenes show that Bruce/Joker/Batman is maintaining a near status quo and with much efforts. When fighting Scarecrow, he is wounded several times and we can observe him stitching a dog bite later on. He tells the fake batmen that he doesn’t “need help,” Scarecrow mocks him: “not my diagnosis.” Bruce obviously needs help on several levels.
And, oh surprise, what weapon does the Joker use in the final scene ? Dogs.
And, oh surprise, whom does the Joker start killing when the mob’s accountant is captured by Batman in Hong-Kong ? The fake batmen, the guys who dare incarnate the idea that Bruce’s vigilante is replaceable, that Gotham could actually do without him.
Everything that the Joker does helps Bruce Wayne or simply expresses Bruce’s psychological tension.
7.The Killing of the fake Batman
Thanks to Batman, Harvey Dent has 549 criminals arrested but during a conversation with the mayor about his exploits the corpse of a hung batman falls against the window. Take it from Bruce’s point of view, to him, Dent and the Mayor are just some more competitors, two more fake batmen. The thing is, it’s the Joker who killed this guy and is sending the message, not Bruce.
The police finds the DNA of three persons on a Joker card that was pinned on the victim: the judge, the commissioner and the lawyer who all are responsible for the arrests.
Usually when the police checks some DNA samples that are related to a murder, it is in order to find the murderer. And actually, Dent the lawyer, Loeb the commissioner and Surrillo the judge are killing Batman by making him useless. They are the metaphorical murderers.
But also, the guy who was killed and was not Batman, was killed by three men: The Joker, Batman and Bruce Wayne.
I’m not going to hammer this argument much longer but it is no coincidence that this DNA story should be brought about. There is no reason why the Joker should have indicated his next victims through their DNA. It is quite likely to be in order to associate them with the culprit and to associate the real culprit with the number three that the screenplay was written this way.
I’d like to emphasize how random the movie becomes when you abandon the idea of a secret link between The Joker and Bruce Wayne. What makes the villain take action in the first place?
He said it was for money but we’ve proven that this idea doesn’t work.
Then, he convinces the heads of the criminal world of Gotham to have Batman killed because he is bringing discredit on them. But they all get arrested. They’ve shown their incompetence and powerlessness. Why would the Joker help and support them when he actually is better off on his own ? Is he a charity for criminals? It would be a little more believable if he was trying to accomplish something that required their help, but he is not. It would also be a little more believable if he seemed to share their view of the world, their motivations but he just shares no affinity with them and killing them seems to be one of his favourite hobbies. (He cuts Gambol, forces his men to fight to death, burns Lau alive and have a Russian guy eaten by his dogs… and Maroni is scared shitless of him, to the point that he prefers to have his ass kicked by Batman).
The only thing that makes all these incoherencies stand out a little less is that he simply seems to be obeying a serious grudge against Batman. We accept his absence of any confessed goal because we subconsciously accept the idea that if there is a guy in Gotham city who has appointed himself a freelance defender of order, he cannot but trigger the apparition of a freelance defender of chaos. It’s not a stupid idea but it doesn’t precisely (scene by scene) explain why the Joker behaves the way he does, it only gives a vague reason why he exists.
I know… if he is only here to bring chaos, his acts shouldn’t be explained. But no human being is the incarnation of chaos. Whatever metaphorical meaning his character could bear, his behaviours need to be explainable on a more “concrete” level. He can incarnate chaos, but we need to know why an individual would want to bring chaos around him. At some point, Alfred states about the Joker “Some people just want to see the world burn,” well, we need to know why Joker would just want to see the world burn.