The Joker’s Wild – Valuable wisdom from The Dark Knight’s Agent of Chaos

Written by Philip Walter on Aug 21 at 5:57 pm in weMINDculture

photo credit: CraigGrocott

Well, I’m back. It’s been a couple weeks since the last post. Went on vacay, been working hard on the book as well. I shall continue that work, but I managed to see Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight finally, and the following commentary came out. Hope y’all enjoy!

I must say first that it really was a nice piece of work. Fast-paced, well-written, masterfully edited, and nicely acted. The highlight for me, as for many others, was Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. I expected it to be a bit eerie and stinging given Ledger’s tragic demise, but beyond that, something about the character of the Joker captivated me more in this rendition than, say, in Tim Burton’s version.

It’s nothing against Jack Nicholson’s performance, which I still think holds up at least as well as Ledger’s. The difference is in the way the character is written in each script. There is a marked difference between the way Burton’s writers present the Joker and the way the Nolan brothers write the character in The Dark Knight. There’s something more mysterious, and more meaningful, about the character in this more recent incantation. I try not to be a moralizer, finding deep meaning in every line of dialogue where there clearly is none. However, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the Joker was really trying to tell us something important, that his apparently senseless acts of violence somehow made sense.

Could the Joker’s mission somehow be helpful to those of us in the audience? Is there something right about this maniac’s demented point of view? He’s sick, to be sure. Certainly violent … even malevolent, but what is the impetus of his behavior? Without a detailed family history, or the ability to sit this fictional character on a head-shrinker’s couch and listen in, it’s all conjecture. However, regardless of what trauma made him who he is, he gives us at least one clue as to what drives him in the following line of dialogue:

“Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just, do things. The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon’s got plans. You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I’m not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how, pathetic, their attempts to control things really are.”

I definitely fall into the category of schemer. I do have a plan. I like having a plan. I’m writing a book, maintaining a website, training in the hopes of refining certain skills. However, all the time I am acutely aware of the fact, in reality I have no control over any of it. This is the lesson to be learned from the Joker as written in the Nolan brothers’ script.

In truth, we’re all schemers to one degree or another. The great scheme of the human animal of course is to outrun Death, and Death is always there, despite our most exhaustive efforts, to play the role of the Joker, to turn our pathetic scheme on its delicate little head. I suppose I should be saddened by this; I should probably kick and scream and RAGE against the dying of the proverbial light. But for some reason that doesn’t seem like the thing to do. I feel unimpressed, even if mildly amused, when my own plans come out the way I’d like. Accordingly, I’m not too affected when they go to shit. Too much time reading guys like Maharaj, I guess:

“Once you know that death happens to the body and not to you, you just watch your body falling off like a discarded garment … the body will survive as long as it is needed. It is not important that it should live long.” – from I Am That

And he’s not just talking about the death of the body. He’s talking about the loss of a favorite trinket, the failure to reach a goal in an allotted time, and the general collapse of any of our “pathetic schemes.” Sure, the Joker lacks any kind of common moral compass, and that makes him scary as hell; but he may be the only sane one in the whole movie thanks to his apparent lack of attachment to outcomes. His very recklessness alludes to a certain amount of freedom to act that most of us completely lack.

The majority of us are often stunned in moments of crisis while our minds run round and round the problem trying to assuage the incessant fear that we’re not going to succeed at our scheme of outrunning Death, that we won’t be able to avoid pain and loss. The reality is of course that we can’t do either, and the Nolan brothers’ Joker reminds us that if we could accept that reality, we would gain a certain fearlessness that few have experienced.

I realize it can be debated how genuine the Joker’s lack of attachment is. It appears at certain times that he is actually a schemer himself, as much as he’d hate to admit it, and it disappoints him to find that people don’t necessarily respond to his elaborately staged threats with the hysteria he would hope. Even so, he carries on, apparently unperturbed. And here’s where we could learn still more from the character. I’ve always loved the old Buddhist simile that each moment is like a drop of dew rolling off the leaf of a lotus plant. Like the line from the Rolling Stones song, No Expectations, “Love is like the music, it’s here, it’s there, it’s gone.” The trouble is, many of us have a hard time letting it go.

This is perfectly natural, of course. It’s been ingrained in us from the start, and it’s truly astounding we can sit here and discuss any other possibility. The forces that reinforce the scheme are enormous, so no one should feel bad when he or she gets caught up in it.

In his ability to rudely awaken us from the dream, the Joker reminds me of the character Biff in Back to the Future. Besides the fact he’s a total asshole and a bully, he’s always hitting Michael J. Fox’s dad in the forehead, exclaiming, “Hello! McFly! Is there anybody in there?!” And after you get over the impulse to just smack the guy square in the jaw (which, by the way, McFly does get to do at the end of the flick), you stop and think, you shake your head a bit and clear the cobwebs. This is what the Joker does. He rips you out of your comfort zone and slaps you in the face with the truth that life is not about tying up loose ends and making your bed so perfectly you can bounce a quarter off it. No, life is a dirty mess, and dreaming up ways to make it clean is a futile effort.

I don’t mean to paint a hopeless picture here. If you’ll think a bit back to your childhood, you might remember how much fun it can be to play in the mud. Again, this is the message I got from the Joker’s character. Just think about how many times you’ve not done something for fear that the whole scheme might blow up in your face or make you a little uncomfortable. Now think about the times you took the leap anyway and it worked out. How many missed opportunities can you count?

The Joker says a little later in the same scene quoted off the top of this article, “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh and you know the thing about chaos, it’s fair.” I’m really not wanting to broach the whole chaos vs. order debate here, but I think we all try to impose far too much order on things in an effort to scheme our way into being what we think we’re supposed to be that we forget the exhilaration and pleasure of chaos and improvisation.

Revel in it!

As always, if you have any thoughts, please comment below and subscribe to the feed via rss reader or e-mail if you like what you see. Peace!



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