The Situationist

The Psychology of The Dark Knight

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 23, 2008

The Dark Knight, which in generating $158 million in gate receipts last weekend set the all-time record for most receipts in an opening weekend, has clearly entered the American consciousness. The film has attracted very favorable reviews by critics and even more favorable by movie-goers, many of whom have been struck by the amazing, chilling, and believable performance of the late Heath Ledger as The Joker.

The Dark Knight has also attracted the notice of academics and those with expertise in the social sciences. Clinical psychologist Robin S. Rosenberg of Psychablog, for example, offers an interesting entry titled “Dark Knight: A Psychologist’s View.” We excerpt it below.

* * *

This film is really about the Joker. We’re lured in to his world, where we learn what he’s capable of and what he cares about—what motivates him. Learning more about him is like watching a car accident unfold, but worse and more frightening, because it feels like you might be hit next. Nolan’s incarnation of the Joker, and Batman’s reactions to him, seem so real that The Dark Knight doesn’t feel like a superhero movie, but like a documentary on the emergence of a terrorist-cum-serial killer.

* * *

This Joker is neither impulsive nor capricious, although he may appear that way at first blush. Just as with Batman, the Joker’s actions are designed to create a particular impression, an impression that puts his adversaries at a disadvantage: that he’s weird and unpredictable. That you never know how far he’ll push something, so take him seriously. This, too, is part of the impression that Batman tries to create. But the Joker’s got Batman’s number because he knows that Batman isn’t entirely unpredictable—Batman lives within certain self-imposed and societally imposed rules. Because of those rules, Batman becomes predictable . . . at least to the Joker. Two men with similar talents, but in the Joker’s case, his talents are used to create anarchy for his own amusement. Is he a psychopath? Let’s investigate.

* * *

For the rest of the piece, click here. To watch an interview of Rosenberg on The History Channel, see this YouTube link.

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10 Responses to “The Psychology of The Dark Knight”

  1. patrick said

    at times the Joker seemed almost too smart, borderline clairvoyant, but i guess that what makes him a good foe for the Batman…

  2. That is really neat. But heck, I still need to see the movie.

  3. Such an incredible movie, on so many levels. An entire thesis paper could be written about it !

  4. pelagica said

    Not to sound over the top, but I enjoy watching bad guys be scared off with instability. As a fan of the series Lexx, I was unable to come up with a good philosophy of the film. Then I read an article by a psychologist who wrote one in a sci fi magazine! I thought it was brilliant. I really enjoy discussing film interpretation, I hope we see more posts like this! (Just my opinion, but obscure movies are fun too.)

  5. John said

    This is a very good review/analysis. The only addition that could be added is his obvious unrelatability because of his two different stories on how he got his scars. This perfects the character and is a get addition to the movie because it makes no audience member sympathise with him. With this he is way more effective as being different, unpredictable, and just plain scary.

  6. [...] 1) The Psychology of The Dark Knight « The Situationist. [...]

  7. stelman said

    I find this article very interesting. If you want check my analysis at Encefalus.

  8. Mike said

    Despite The Joker’s Malice and terrifying nature there is, it must be said, a certain admiration rather than distance created with audience members.Yes he is a crazed killer but for some his methods of his madness are cathartic.

    The world is changing and liberties are being removed everyday; war mongering nations are on all continents and debt is hiking even the price of bread through the roof. In this crazy yet so called “Civilized” world, The Joker acts as an enema, taking the anarchy of the world and forcing it to take note. He is both the solution to a restricted world and the cause, the reason of why the world is bad and the solution to stopping the world being bad.

    Much like Howard Beale’s manic yet inspiring character in Network (1976 Sidney Lumet) grabbed the attention of a nationally depressed America, so to does the Joker grab the fears but also the wants of a nation, perhaps even a world that is fed up with state control and threats of terrorism and mounting debts and is really just ready to allow that primal id impulse to run riot to, as Alfred states, “watch the world burn” in a cleansing fire.

    In Short The Joker, rather than a villain, really is an anti-hero of our times.

  9. The Joker is the mirror image of Batman. In fact, The Joker is no where near insanity. He is too sane. Actually writing a paper on this right now.

  10. Ballew said

    I wrote a psychoanalysis of the Joker @ http://www.ballewpost.com/2008/12/09/psychoanalysis-of-the-joker/

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