This will likely be a short entry because my thoughts on the subject are “shower thoughts.” That is, they popped into my head whilst taking a shower this morning and then got set aside by the rest of my day.
It occurred to me that the three main characters of The Dark Knight can represent three archetypes. You’ve got the Caped Crusader as the Christ figure, Harvey Dent as Everyman, and The Joker as Satan.
The Joker is the key to this. Sure he creates plenty of mayhem, kills lots of innocent and not-so-innocent people, but these are red herrings. What the Joker really wishes to do is corrupt. He is the devil on your shoulder telling you that everything is nothing and nothing is everything, that the only truth that matters is what you want. He seeks to bring you down to his level, to prove that you (Man) are worthless, no better than He (Satan) is. He tempts and triumphs when people succumb to his temptation.
He tempts the Batman to kill him, and fails. He tempts a guard to beat him to a pulp and, when the guard succumbs to the temptation, The Joker escapes. He tempts the passengers of two ferrys to kill, and is horrified when the passengers listen to their better angels and do not kill their counterparts. In Jokerworld, the hostages are dressed as criminals, the criminals as doctors and nurses. Innocence is corrupted, evil hidden. Alfred’s line about the Joker wanting to see the world burn is telling. What the Joker wants to see is our world become his world…hellfire, it is.
Enter Harvey Dent as the Good Man. Here is the guy next door. He’s handsome, has a beautiful girlfriend, a great job, and he’s a moral crusader. He is the daytime’s version of Batman. In many ways, he’s a comic book character. Good, pure Harvey Dent.
But Harvey is Everyman, and Everyman has both goodness and evil inside of him. Harvey’s evil is deeply suppressed, but not so hidden that the nickname “Two-Face” doesn’t precede his transformation. Then through a terrible tragedy to his heart and soul (the death of his girlfriend) and an equally terrible tragedy to his physical presence (the searing of his face), he is pushed to the edge of the abyss. Now when he looks in the mirror he sees the two faces of Everyman. He sees his unscarred goodness, and a twisted, rotten visage that is way beyond the reach of plastic surgery. As Everyman would do, he agonizes.
Despite the rage coming from Harvey after his disfigurement, one can’t help but think that some intensive therapy and some reconstructive surgery would give him at least part of his life back. An angel on his shoulder, in the form of Lieutenant Gordon comes to see him and console him, to tell him that his life is not yet over, but Dent’s rage prevents him from hearing the message. Anger is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and can prevent you from seeing goodness or God. Anger, lust, pride, gluttony, etc…they are spiritual blinders, and when we are spiritually blinded we are confused and weak.
Satan preys on confusion and weakness. Enter The Joker. When the Devil appears to Harvey Dent he does so as an Angel…a nurse. And in direct contrast to the rest of the movie, the Joker’s seduction of Harvey Dent is just that: a seduction, with just a hint of the madness lurking underneath. He doesn’t scream Harvey Dent into submission. He convinces Harvey Dent to embrace evil, to make the spiritual blindness permanent by becoming one with the anger. The Fall of Harvey Dent from a man of grace to Two-Face requires a savior.
Harvey Dent (Man) commits great evil. It is Batman who tells soon-to-be Commissioner Gordon that he (Batman) will accept the blame. Batman takes Two-Face’s sins onto himself and sacrifices his public image in order to give hope to Gotham (mankind).
Regardless (and this may just be an old English major’s rantings), The Dark Knight aspires to be so much more than a comic book movie. It largely succeeds.