The Morality Presented in The Dark Knight
Posted by Jerry on August 7, 2008
To the extent of my knowledge, nobody–not even any Objectivists–have pointed out some of the crucial complications in morality that occur toward the climactic scene in the movie The Dark Knight. I haven’t the time to write all of it down right now in detail, although I have stated these in conversations with my friend soon after we watched the movie for the second time.
Let me say this: The Dark Knight is a fantastic example of superb artistic integration–including music, plot, theme, character, ideas, logic, and conflict. It’s a cinematic achievement that occurs only rarely in a lifetime. However, it’s themes are dark, evil, and at very critical junctures, even ambiguous, which I think becomes its failing. This is not Nolan’s fault, however. I think it’s a matter of the philosophical context he functions in–the one in which we all find ourselves–the predominant one holding sway in this world today.
At the Atlasphere review of this movie, this is the comment I left:
I loved the movie as well; however, this review like all the others I have read by Objectivists, fail to identify some crucial failures in the morals held up as ideals by the director for the characters of Batman, Dent, and the people of Gotham.
For one, Rand would never have approved how the boat scene in the end turned out, nor would she have approved of how Batmand undercuts his own virtue and corrupts the image of good by accepting the mantle of a criminal fugitive. It’s a very Christ-like self-sacrificial attempt to take on the “sins of the world.”
In addition to the above, let me clarify that the boat scene requires a moral context that is ignorant of how the plot eventually plays out; imagine yourself as a citizen of Gotham on one of those boats and not having even an inkling about how your fate’s going to turn out. You do not know that Batman will eventually save the day. Now, given this context, analyze the morality of the actions that people on that boat commit–and the implicit affirmation of a certain course of action as the right and moral one.
UPDATE: Hello, yes, there is the gun-point scenario and the game theory. However, there is more, and unfortunately, I don’t have the time to make a detailed case, so here goes: The choice made by both parties in the two boats–and in particular, the choice made by the convicts–would logically have led to the destruction of the lives of everyone on both boats.
Essentially, between choosing to blow either one of the boats, *some* people made the “executive decision” to end the lives of every single person on both boats (by leaving the decision upto Joker to blow both boats at midnight).
However, this evil choice and its horrendously destructive logical outcome is cloaked under the garb of altruism that the movie affirms as the ideal and self-sacrificial course of action, when in fact there it is more a butchering of others than of the self that is being advocated, and the evil is not just altruism but annihilation, a worship of death.
The essential evil is this: Gotham city affirms the exact same premise of burning death and destruction that motivates Joker’s desire to see “the world burn.”
Moreover, the interference of Batman to save the day distracts the movie-watching audience from fully processing the horrendous and evil nature of what had just transpired–something more evil than the Joker himself, and something the Joker should have been proud of. By saving the day, Batman (and thus, the director) sheilded Gotham and the movie-audience from witnessing the explosive mutilation and barbarity that would have resulted from the altruistic choice they had made. Nobody on the boat would have known that Batman would interfere to save them. Thus, Joker won and he didn’t even know.
Thus, in the end, actually, evil in this movie triumphs in more ways than even Joker could grasp–or the director. This is because the evil is served to us on a sappy, emotionalist plate that has all the sprinkling of humanity, humanism, altruism, brotherhood, love, self-sacrifice, etc.
Finally, another really disturbing aspect of the movie was that the convict in the boat was shown as the one being able to make the so-called “moral” decision without a thought—of throwing the detonator out of the boat, saying this was something that should have been done a long time ago. I agree that the detonator should have been thrown out–but as I said above, there should have been an explicit statement of the reason–even briefly–that this was being done in defiance of the terrorist, not because we want to accept death and then congregate to pray together during our final moments (as it was shown in the movie among the convicts).
Meanwhile, the free citizens of Gotham were shown as immoral people who not only debated on whether or not to trigger the bomb but also who were ready to press the button right up until the last moment when the man got a moral crisis of guilt (or cowardice, whichever).
Why did Nolan choose to show convicts as making the “right” choice without a thought and show the free citizens debating the matter endless but then not being able to follow through? Is this a matter of undercutting the moral legitimacy of the good citizens?
For these reasons, my argument stands that the ending of this movie is morally ambiguous at best, critically wrong and evil at worst, and the actions of the citizens of Gotham on both those boats were terrifyingly evil for the logical consequences that would have played out. These citizens were not moral, were not virtuous, and were not defying the Joker. Hence, Joker should have been happy.