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.
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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.
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