Thursday, August 02, 2012

James Rovira on The Joker . . . Plus my Extrapolations

James Rovira

In reflecting on all three Batman films by Christopher Nolan, I had wondered about the absence of the Joker in the third film. I know of course that the actor who played the Joker is dead, so that particular version of the Joker could not easily return, but what happened to the Joker, after all? Wouldn't he have been in that prison whose inmates were liberated by Bane? Or was he imprisoned far away from Gotham City? Well, the Blake (and Milton!) scholar James Rovira offers an explanation, namely, that the violence carried out by the Joker is there all along, in all three films, not because the Joker is personally behind it but because the point of the violence is destruction for the sake of destruction:
I think we need to get this point to really understand these films, perhaps then understanding why the character of the Joker -- who personifies chaotic and random destructive force following nihilistic impulsiveness -- was necessarily central to the trilogy. The Joker, as far as plot development is concerned, was irrelevant to the plot line that was established in the first film and then completed in the third film. His presence does not follow directly from the events of the first film and is unnecessary to any of the action that takes place in the third film. Keep in mind that the material in the second film essential to the third film -- Dent's corruption, death, and then the lie told about it -- could have been set up on any variety of pretexts. These events could have been developed in less time at the end of the first film, excluding any need for the second film altogether. But thematically, the Joker exists at the center of the trilogy. He embodies the reason why we must not attempt to politicize the evil criminality that runs through Nolan's Batman trilogy from beginning to end. The Joker reveals its true nature by revealing that the pretexts for destruction are equally interchangeable and equally pointless regardless of their supporting political rhetoric. Only the destruction itself matters. (James Rovira, "The Dark Knight Rises," James Rovira: What I'm Thinking. What I'm Doing, July 27, 2012)
This doesn't actually respond to my question, but I never asked Mr. Rovira directly, anyway, and the analysis is interesting to consider. I don't entirely agree with this view, for I think that politics and religion in the films are about more than destruction for destruction's sake. But I like Rovira's analysis of the Joker's significance, and what I would suggest is that he represents the logical extension of violence carried out for destructive judgment when that judgment lacks the quality of mercy, for then must everything suffer destruction, such that Bane, as the most extreme member of the shadowy League of Shadows, may speak of liberation -- whether political or religious -- but he intends only willful destruction. Rovira cites Hegel in the Elements of the Philosophy of Right for explicating the significance of willful violence:
If it [the will abstracted from intellect, or what Hegel calls "the freedom of the void"] turns to actuality, it becomes in the realm of both politics and religion the fanaticism of destruction, eliminating all individuals regarded as suspect by a given order, and annihilating any organization which attempts to rise up anew. Only in destroying something does this negative will have a feeling of its own existence [Dasein]. It may well believe that it wills some positive condition, for instance the condition of universal equality of or universal religious life, but it does not in fact will the positive actuality of this condition, for this at once gives rise to some kind of order, a particularization both of institutions and of individuals; but it is precisely through the annihilation of particularity and of objective determination that the self-consciousness of this negative freedom arises. Thus, whatever such freedom believes that it wills can in itself be no more than an abstract representation, and its actualization can only be the fury of destruction. (cf. here)
If Rovira is right, and his analysis is intriguing, then Bane is the devotee of a willful deity, a deity who promises mercy but provides none, a deity who visits only destruction upon the world and is capable of destroying the world in an instant and recreating it in an instant merely for the willful pleasure of destroying it in the next instant, an evil occasionalist deity whose followers are created in his image in their destructive willfulness absent of reason.

Not that Nolan saw quite so far as this, but we hermeneuts can extrapolate to this uber-cosmic joker of a deity . . .

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At 6:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't entirely agree with this view, for I think that politics and religion in the films are about more than destruction for destruction's sake."



At 6:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...


Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:40 AM, Blogger James Rovira said...

Thanks for reading and responding, Jeffery. I appreciate the privilege of having you as a reader. Just to clarify a point or two -- I wouldn't call myself a Milton scholar. I'd call myself a Blake scholar who has had to read and try to understand Milton to make sense of Blake.

I think the absence of the Joker was largely just due to Heath Ledger's untimely, tragic death. The third film acts as if the Joker never existed, and I agree, he should have been kept in the asylum at Arkham. I don't know, but perhaps the whole situation is so sad and tragic that Nolan didn't want to make reference to it.

If you think the references to politics mean more, though, then explain. Give us a coherent reading of the films that makes sense of these elements.

At 8:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks Jim. I think that I mainly agree with you, but I express it in a different way.

You might want to look at my other Batman posts for my speculations on politics and religion in the trilogy.

The fervent loyalty of Bane's followers suggests the fanaticism of religion, and the League of Shadows with its leader Ra's al Gul recalls the Assassins and their leader, the Old Man of the Mountain. Also, the destruction of Gotham City recalls the 9/11 destruction of NYC by religious fanatics.

I thus think that there's more there to explore . . . but I ultimately agree with you on the nature of the destruction as nihilistic.

Jeffery Hodges

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