Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Why The Joker Is Not Featured In "The Dark Knight Rises"
As the Joker hung upside-down at the end of The Dark Knight, he told Batman "I think we're destined to do this forever". The implication was that the writers expected to bring him back for the next Batman movie. After all, he is the ultimate villain for Batman. How could they not bring him front and center for the climax of this trilogy? And yet, Bane and Catwoman take his slot in The Dark Knight Rises instead. Why?
I should say, first off, that what follows is an attempt to read Christopher Nolan's mind. Mental telepathy is not a spiritual gift, and so my attempts at deducing Nolan's thoughts are just that. So give all of this as little or as much weight as you like.
That said, I'm going to tell you why I think Christopher Nolan is leaving (to the best of my knowledge before seeing the movie) Batman's ultimate nemesis, the Joker, out of the climax of this Batman trilogy. (And while I'm at it, why don't I try to read the minds of The Academy and determine in part why it was that Heath Ledger won the Oscar after he died.)
It may seem obvious why the Joker isn't the featured villain in The Dark Knight Rises. Heath Ledger passed away shortly after filming The Dark Knight. His performance in the film won the Oscar that year. The common sentiment seemed to be that any Joker performance by any actor in the universe would fall short of Ledger's performance, or that not re-casting was in some way "respectful" to Heath Ledger and his passing.
Hold that thought and rewind a bit to Batman Begins.
In Batman Begins Rachael Dawes tells Bruce Wayne, "It's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you." Bruce later returns these words to her before jumping from a roof to engage in some major Batman awesomeness. These words become something of a philosophical slogan for the first movie.
But this idea, as presented in the movie, is about more than just differentiating one person from another. It has a moral context. A value-laden context. Rachael first says these words to Bruce after he tries to explain that he is more than the shallow playboy he appears to be. He doesn't want Rachael to think he is lacking in virtue. He wants to be valuable to her, and this is why he tries to defend his character.
"I am more", he says to her. The implication being that she thinks he is "less". Bruce is not trying to convince Rachael that he is an apple instead of an orange. He wants her to think he is better than she thinks he is. Why? For the same reason we all want to be thought well of. We want our lives to be significant in some way and to be recognized for their significance. More than that, we attach great value to significance. We fall into the trap of believing that greater significance equals greater worth.
This is why Rachael's response could be argued to express a philosophy that breeds hopelessness when applied to our lives. She essentially says, "You have to behave better if you want to have greater significance. You have to accomplish more if you want to have more value."
But are we defined by what we do? Is it our actions that give us worth? If this is true, than those with healthy minds but completely paralyzed bodies are of no worth and no significance, since they are unable to "do" anything. Infants, the unborn and the mentally disabled or insane are likewise "worthless" in this view.
Maybe it would be more accurate to say that "what we do is one indicator of who we are", rather than being the creator of who we are.
What does this have to do with Heath Ledger and the absence of the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises?
Given that Christopher Nolan helped write the script for Batman Begins, I wouldn't be surprised if he agreed with the statement "It's what we do that defines us". And this belief on his part would explain why the Joker was not re-cast for the third Nolan Batman movie.
When people die, we feel a strong desire to acknowledge their worth. If Heath Ledger's worth was based on his accomplishments, it's possible some of his worth would be diminished or made relatively smaller if another actor played the part of the Joker in the next movie and did just as well or better.
You may disagree with me, and I can't prove this, but I believe we want to assign worth to people who die so that we can comfort ourselves with the belief that "whoever is in charge of judging us after we die, they will surely judge so-and-so well because of what they accomplished in life". And since the deceased no longer have any way of performing actions that will establish their worth, we magnify and draw attention to the things they accomplished before they died. This is why eulogies highlight the good and leave out the bad. This is also what, I believe, tipped the scales in Heath Ledger's favor as the academy determined who would win the Oscar that year.
I believe that Christopher Nolan and others want to honor and assign significance to Heath Ledger, but they try to do so the wrong way. It is not Heath Ledger's wonderful performance as The Joker that makes his life significant. It's not the sum of all of his creative work that gives his life meaning or worth. It's not even the love he had for those closest to him that affirms his value in the cosmic economy.
Heath Ledger is immensely valuable because he was created to bear the image of the infinite and perfect God of the universe. He was made, not to serve his own small purposes, but to serve the purposes of God, which are higher and better and of more significance than any other epic quests we can invent to occupy our time. Heath Ledger was made to live forever, joined to the unfathomable creator of everything that ever was, is or will be. He is loved by the most incomprehensibly wonderful being in existence, and countless millenia from now I believe that will still be what he is most known and recognized for.
It is not what we DO that defines us. It is not our EFFORTS that give us value. We are valuable because, for reasons we may never understand, God values us. The most profound, mysterious and wonderful truth can be summed up in childish song. "Jesus loves me. This I know. (How? Why? Truth be told I have no idea. But I believe it...) For the Bible tells me so."