What would it take to really defeat evil? Especially if the evil in question has nothing to lose? (Then again, does evil, really, ever have anything to lose?)
These are some of the questions Christopher Nolan asks in The Dark Knight (this note contains SPOILERS, by the way, if you haven’t seen the movie yet). The arch-villain is The Joker, who turns out to be one of the most disturbing screen villains I’ve ever seen, not only because he has so little regard for human life, but because he, like Batman (ironically), cannot be bought. Watching him burn that stack of millions of dollars was, for me, one of the movie’s scariest moments. He cares for nothing, and so cannot be persuaded or bargained with – all he wants, as Alfred puts it, is “to watch the world burn.” (Those words made me think of Satan, hell-bent on destroying life as we know it.)
And now arise the dilemmas. Batman must give himself up, or the Joker will kill one person for each day of reticence. Batman must save only one of 2 people: the woman he loves or the man he promotes (i.e., choose between personal and communal good). The citizens must destroy in cold blood, or risk being destroyed. Batman must choose between returning to a “normal” life, or continuing to play the thankless role of masked vigilante.
Can Batman, who plays by the rules, take on this Joker who is limited by none? Or does the end (getting rid of such profound evil) justify “any means necessary”? Put differently, why should I bind myself to the rules of the game when my opponent’s gleefully playing foul? What certainty can I have of winning in such unfair circumstances? Wouldn’t rules be a needlessly heroic self-inhibition?
Or is “doing the right thing” more important than “defeating the bad guy”?
Batman’s answer to this recurring dilemma seems to be: “Do what’s right (i.e., try to keep within the rules), and hope for the best (i.e., luck/fate/providence).” Does that cut it? I have my thoughts.
A kobo for yours.