Joker is Bruce's Best Friend: The Dark Knight part 2 (3400 words)
You made it to the second part ! Too bad it should be such a difficult one to read. I must admit I ramble a bit about Rachel and Bruce's relationship, but this part also contains one of the element that intrigued me most and from the start: the "let her go" line. I develop something I believe to be interesting about the attempted assassination of the Mayor and the stupid reconstructed bullet. And there's the story of the Joker's smile too. Also, you really shouldn't feel compelled to believe every single thing I say in this article, the whole thing is too complex for me to be right or "spot on" about everything; what matters is that at some point you won't be able to come back to the idea that The Joker and Bruce Wayne are real enemies.
8. The Party
And so the killer clown has the commissioner and the judge murdered and shows up at Bruce’s party to find Harvey Dent.
(Edit: these murders might incarnate the fact that Batman appointed himself, judge, jury and executioner).
Dent comes across Alfred and asks him if he should be aware of any psychotic ex-boyfriend Rachel might have had. Alfred enigmatically answers: “Oh, you have no idea.” And Bruce's helicopter lands. Of course it’s a joke about Bruce having a secret identity. But why should we take this lightly?
"I'm delighted to tell you that you're going to die soon my friend. Ah ah ah so funny." "uuh... what ?"
Rachel and Harvey are both going to die because of Bruce’s secret identity. On which level is Alfred’s joke funny ? Harvey is asking the question because he is worried and suspicious. He knows there’s something fishy going on. It shouldn’t amuse us, it should trigger our compassion and empathy.
Bruce is manipulating him. He gives a nice insulting/complimenting speech for Harvey and then throws his champaign off the balcony. He knows that Harvey cannot succeed and that the more support the man gets, the quicker he’ll meet his downfall. There is no redeeming aspect to what Bruce is attempting to do here and it is important to state this fact. The only thing he wants is to be able to get rid of Batman or to prove that the vigilante is necessary for Gotham, both goals stemming straight from his desire to keep Rachel’s love (and to make it still believable that he loves her).
It is important because it explains how he can be the Joker. The Joker is Bruce psychologically tortured inner self, his real self, his deeper self, the one that (healthily) wants things for itself, not for others, not for daddy, not for Gotham, not for Rachel.
When Rachel joins him on the balcony he tackles the million dollar topic:
- You know that day that you once told me about… when Gotham would no longer need Batman ? It’s coming.
- Bruce… you can’t ask me to wait for that.
- It’s happening now. Harvey is that hero. He locked up half of the city’s criminals, and he did it without wearing a mask. Gotham needs a hero with a face.
This conversation was one of those who made me go “How can he be so self-effaced !?!” because I didn’t understand what was truly going on.
Bruce doesn’t believe in Harvey but what matters is not whether he believes in him or not but whether Rachel believes in the guy and realises that yes, Bruce Wayne will soon no-longer need to be a vigilante.
"You know Rachel the day I no longer need to be the Batman is coming... you know... you told me we'd be together." "Bruce, you'd just need to fuck me and everything would be fine you idiot. Women trust love making.”
Everything has been converging to this suspended moment since the reconstruction of the Wayne Manor: this little alone time with Rachel on the balcony at the very moment when it is believable that Harvey Dent might be Batman’s official successor.
Bruce naively hopes that Rachel is going to say “Yes Bruce ! Finally you’re giving up on your vigilante stuff, I’m yours forever !” But she goes: “You can’t ask me to wait for that,” which means that she still is waiting for him, that he is still the one she loves more but that he is not going to get her anyway.
A misunderstanding again, Rachel thinks Bruce would love to acknowledge publicly that he is the Batman, that he would love to embrace a life in which he is the hero of the city and she is his wife, but that because he is traumatized by his parents’ death, he won’t put himself in a similar situation. Rachel believes that Bruce is depriving himself of something because he is worried she might get hurt, and she is trying to prove him the contrary with Harvey. Whether I’m right or wrong here is not very important, what’s important is to understand that witnessing Bruce give his mantle to Harvey can represent the same rejection from him as remaining a mysterious vigilante. She thinks Bruce should accept to be a public hero and to have Rachel stand by him !
But Bruce doesn’t understand her position and her rejection puts him in an impossible spot AGAIN. Worse, Harvey Dent proposes to her. I’d like to underline that these elements are unexpected and heavy in consequences. The evening at Bruce’s penthouse represents things taking a turn for the worst.
Bruce is existentially dependant on Rachel’s love and after he’s met the torturing requirements of his “contract” with her, she suddenly withdraws herself. Let’s put ourselves in his mind for one second:
It’s just as if a guy was desperately in love with a girl, asked her out and she told him “I’ll be yours once you’ve built a castle.” The guy builds a giant beautiful castle on his own, and when he is nearly finished, the girl grows impatient and falls in love with the guy who added a beautiful garden in front of the castle and whom everybody is admiring right now because of the pretty garden. Our loser goes to the girl and says: ”See, once Harvey achieves his wonderful garden, he’ll put an end to my building this damn castle as well ! Will you be mine at that moment ?” And she answers: “No ! You can’t ask me to wait for that ! I want the gardener, he is already here for me ! His achievement might be inferior to yours, he never put me aside.”
How is our little castle builder going to react then? Well, aren’t we in a case of a guy who would just want to see the world burn? The garden? The castle? The people who admire the gardener and forget about the fact that someone built a castle and allowed him to make the garden? The girl who promised to be his once everything would be finished and suddenly rejects him for the more popular guy whose achievement a lot inferior ?
And thus Bruce’s best friend crashes at his party, at the party made in Harvey Dent’s honour… in honour of his achievements… which are becoming more meaningless by the minute as all the people involved are getting killed... by the Joker... thank you Joker.
Bruce chokes Harvey and hides him in a closet presumably in order to protect him from the Joker. => He puts Harvey Dent back in the closet where he should have remained. This is a comment on their public persona. It isn’t because Bruce keeps secret the fact that he is Batman and always pretends to be a rich and arrogant asshole that he is not perfectly aware of how the public opinion works and can be manipulated.
When the Joker enters the room, Dent is finished. The commissioner is dead, the judge is dead too, the super lawyer disappeared from the party like a coward and… his official girlfriend should be dead in a second… the day after this, there wouldn’t be one person to “believe in Harvey Dent.” (His slogan is “I believe in Harvey Dent,” the fact that it puts him in the position of a god isn’t a coincidence, another similarity between him and Thomas Wayne).
"Don't worry Rachel, I'm only doing this to protect him, it's not personal, I'm not taking any pleasure in it."
And so, the Joker was supposed to come and kill Harvey and Rachel but as she doesn't answer the lawyer's mariage proposition and he understands that it is her love for Bruce that retains her, there's still hope for our beloved psychopath.
(I find it very strange that Bruce’s intervention happens exactly when Harvey is going to say that Bruce is a “fucking something.” Also, how believable is it that the Joker shouldn’t find a guy hidden in a closet? With a huge metal bar blocking the doors? It’s only because Harvey is not Bruce's target anymore that Joker fails. And I realise Harvey asks Rachel in mariage because he's realised she fancies Bruce)
9. Warning Rachel.
But Rachel, for sure, should know death is around and should at least hear about the torture she is inflincting to Bruce.
Joker => “You look nervous, is it the scars ? You wanna know how I got ‘em ? […] So, I had a wife… beautiful, like you. Who tells me I worry too much, who tells me I ought to smile more, who gambles and gets in deep with the sharks. One day they carve her face. And we have no money for surgeries. She can’t take it. I just wanna see her smile again. Hmm ? I just want her to know that I don’t care about the scars. So… I stick a razor in my mouth and do this… to myself. And you know what ? She can’t stand the sight of me. She leaves.”
Joker starts his story by associating Rachel to his wife (“beautiful like you”) and we know he is lying as he’s already told a different story to Gambol earlier, before killing him. So, the stories he tells are chosen amongst some kind of list or invented as he goes along. What matters here is that if he chooses his stories, he most certainly chooses them in order to make them relevant to the situation.
When he kills Gambol, it is hard not to spot that it is meant as some kind of metaphorical/psychological murder: No cry, no blood, and actually no physiological reason for the guy to die, you don’t die from a little cut in the cheek sorry. As if the story of a little boy who witnesses his mother being abused by his dad and who is forced to smile awakened lethal memories in Gambol’s mind. Joker vanquishes his enemies psychologically before giving them the death blow.
So when he tells Rachel his story of a disfigured wife who rejects him when he cuts himself as a way of showing her that he doesn’t care about her scars, he is turning a mirror to Rachel.
God this is so hard to explain ! I need a rest.
Bruce scarred Rachel by pretending he had a dissolute life instead of telling her his secret (But he never meant to do that, it was just bad timing... I suppose), as a revenge, she refuses to go out with him until the secret is destroyed (= Bruce admits publicly that he is batman) or the reason why there’s a secret disappears (= Gotham no longer needs Batman). The problem is that Rachel is mistaken when she thinks that Bruce’s behaviour somewhat hinted at the fact that he doesn’t truly love her. She thinks Batman and Gotham are more important to him than she is, but they’re not and she is tragically waiting for a specific proof of love that Bruce cannot provide because he’s always behaved according to his love for her. And so, he scars himself by carrying on being the Batman only to get Rachel back when he doesn’t need (or want) to be the cape crusader anymore.
The Joker’s little story can easily be read as a metaphor of this. Bruce does exactly what Rachel wants him to do and his reward is to be rejected for this exact reason. He kept on being the Batman for her and is now rejected for it, and Rachel goes to another man. “She leaves.”
Again, everything would be solved if Bruce f***ed Rachel like a beast. That's all she wants and needs to trust him (and she is right). But as often with women, she'll let the world collapse before she admits it and the naive guy loses the fight to whom ? to the guys who does it.
One thing that I find intensely interesting in this connection is that, if Joker’s stories truly talk about Bruce, the story he gives Gambol before killing him might suggests that Thomas Wayne abused Martha Wayne and that Bruce is a traumatized kid who witnessed his father beat his mother and was forced to “smile.” To me, it fits impeccably the character of Thomas Wayne, the godlike public figure who, in private, abuses his close relations with his fascist inflexible view on things.
By the way, “smiling” in a metaphorical sense can mean “going on with one’s life as if something horrible hadn’t happened,” smiling is destroying yourself by pretending that something important and harmful isn’t there. The Joker’s forced smile is Bruce’s life.
I have the feeling that when Joker tells Rachel this story, he truly is about to kill her and that she is saved only by her reaction. Gambol doesn’t react because Joker’s story is also his and he is vanquished by it. If Rachel rebels, it’s because she disagrees with what she is hearing. It could be, for example, that she simply doesn’t consider that she has left Bruce (she didn't accept Harvey's proposal).
If truly she loved Harvey more than Bruce, she would have acquiesced silently to Joker's story and died. But she hits the Joker because she disagrees with his version and it makes Bruce/Joker happy (“You got a little fight in you, I like that”) because it brings him hope that things are not as unbearably ironical as they seem to be.
Shazam ! Batman appears and kicks the Joker’s ass. And when I say “appears” I mean it literally. It is physically impossible for Batman to attack the Joker the way he does without having anyone react to his arrival beforehand. That's the kind of appearance that hints at a metaphorical link with what was going on => it is triggered by Rachel’s behaviour, if she had behaved differently Batman would have arrived one second too late for her. +the Joker's henchmen are only an extension of himself and they cannot see what he cannot see.
Batman and Joker fights together and the movie reaches one of the first element that made me think there was a subtext to unearth: Batman’s Freudian slip when Joker threatens to let Rachel fall from the building.
B: Drop the gun
J: Oh, sure. You just take off your little mask and show us all who you really are. Um ?
B: Let her go.
J: Very poor choice of words.
Rachel waves her head "no" when Joker asks him to remove his mask. She doesn't want him to do it to save her life, she wants it as a proof of romantic love for her. She is ready to die in order to know whether Bruce loves her or not.
At this point, Bruce is totally disoriented. Rachel rejects him but won’t acknowledge the idea that it’s over between them: she didn’t say “Bruce… I’m with Harvey now” but “Bruce… you can’t ask me to wait for that.“ She doesn’t deny the fact that she wishes she could be with him.
There seem to only be one path left: admitting publicly that he is Batman. The idea used to be the unacceptable alternative to cleaning the streets of Gotham, but because Rachel came back on what she had said, to dare ask for more from Bruce has become insulting.
Hence: “take off your mask” = “let her go !” this exchange between Joker and Batman, Bruce and Bruce, is uttered for Rachel to hear it.
Bruce unconsciously wants to see Rachel fall so that he can save her, not in order to put her in a situation in which she is indebted to him, but to make a point about how much Batman’s true identity needs to remain a secret (otherwise people will try to kill her more often) and also about how much being the Batman represents an effort and a sacrifice (even more than the already dangerous job of DA of Gotham).
But when they land on a car after a terrifying fall, Rachel just states “let’s not do that again” and immediately asks “Is Harvey ok ?” thanking Bruce only after he’s reassured her about the lawyer’s safety.
The problem between Rachel and Bruce replicates itself indefinitely. She cannot express gratitude for what he does for her under the guise of Batman because the Batman is what made their relationship impossible in the first place. She takes the fact that he’s wearing his costume as a proof that she isn’t that important for him. And thus, she takes everything he does for granted, like jumping from a skyscraper to save her from a certain death. This doesn’t count, it’s just Bruce doing his thing, it’s his job as a superhero, he only did the job he appointed himself. She thinks that if he did this because he loved her, he wouldn't be wearing the costume in the first place.
Also, he is stabbed by the Joker one second before he jumps from a building to save her but she’s blind to that too, no “Are you ok ?”, no “Does it hurt ?” Naaa, it’s just part of being a vigilante, no worries.
10.The never-ending repetition of repetitivity.
Bruce didn’t want to be swallowed by his father’s reputation but, that’s exactly what’s happened with Rachel. She has become blind to everything he does, she takes everything for granted. He has no merit whatsoever.
She is miles away from imagining that he would stop the minute she asks him to do so, as long as she doesn’t ask him to reveal Batman’s true identity as well.
Really, at this point Bruce has become a slave to his role. He is only trying to get rid of Gotham’s serious criminals in order to reach the day when Rachel will believe that the real Bruce has come back.
So, she falls from a building and Bruce just dives to save her, they nearly die –Batman’s cape doesn’t open and a car is destroyed by their landing– it is actually totally unrealistic that they should survive this, but it makes Rachel’s blindness stands out even more. Bruce has just put his life on the line for hers and she still doesn’t realise that he might not have done that for someone else, that being Batman is not a game for him.
11.Bruce is guilty, not the Joker.
Soon after the tragic evening Alfred and Bruce discuss the situation and, how surprising, for some reason Alfred considers everything is Bruce’s fault.
Bruce: Targeting me won’t get their money back. I knew the mob wouldn’t go down without a fight but this is different. They’ve crossed a line.
Alfred: You crossed the line first. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned towards a man they didn’t fully understand.
"Everything that happens is always your fault Bruce because if you want to be worthy of your father's reputation you need to believe that you are responsible for every single thing that happens in the city. and that people only behave according to how you behave. You know, a bit as if you were god."
So, according to Alfred, Batman should fight crime, but not too much. He should leave the biggest criminals alone so that they don’t get angry. What ?
I understand his point, and I understand that the desire to eradicate criminality, to get rid of its essence, is naïve and hypocritical. But the fact that it should be Alfred who tells this to Bruce Wayne feels a bit strange. If Batman isn’t the guy who goes a little too far in his fight against criminality, what is he ?
Then comes the attempted assassination of the mayor. There Nolan uses a “common” narrative trick to point a finger at his hero, that is making him closer and closer to the murderer. Bruce and Lucius recover a fingerprint on a virtually reconstructed bullet shot by the Joker. Many people criticized this part of the story as it is plain impossible and ridiculous. But I think that’s the point. If Bruce could read an alien language, Joker would have written in this alien language.
Using the fingerprint, Alfred and Bruce find a name and an address. At this address, Bruce finds a trap laid there specifically for him. The unlikeliness of the discovery of the fingerprint and of the address bears the same meaning as Joker whispering in Bruce’s ear, it’s their essential intimacy that allows the whole plan to unfold. And the idea behind this convoluted plan is just to have Bruce at a window and be mistaken for an assassin just before the mayor is shot at, in order to create a diversion.
The whole thing is ridiculous and useless. Everything happens the way it should when actually there is absolutely no guaranty that anything should happen the way it does. Bruce is given precise tip by Gordon. He thinks about reconstructing the bullet. He manages to reconstruct it virtually and does it without knowing there’s a fingerprint on it. He goes to one flat amongst several possible names, but that’s the good one. He discovers all this in time to get there before the celebration. He enters the flat just at the moment of the mayor’s discourse. He takes a look through the spyglass just when the guards are shooting.
The alarm clock rings and the blinds open just when he is at the window. Everything is plain ridiculous (and that’s an aspect of the film I didn’t like either, how the Joker seems to be omniscient). But if all of this works, it’s because the Joker is a part of Bruce Wayne and he knows him “by heart.” The blinds could have opened because Bruce went through a laser that triggers them instead of a clock but a clock underlines the unity there is between both minds, it requires an impossibly precise prediction to be set. Also, if Joker knew Bruce/Batman would be there at this precise moment why not triggering a bomb and get rid of him ? After all, didn’t the criminal say that he was after Batman ?