A couple of nights ago, some friends and I watched The Dark Knight. It was the perfect home theater experience with good sound, a huge tv, comfy leather couches, and more pizza than we could hope to finish. But beyond simply being fans of this great movie, we planned on watching it for a specific purpose. We wanted to look for any worldview content within the film and at the end share our observations. But the most interesting question that demands to be answered is this: What is the Joker’s worldview?
Anarchist ≠ Nihilist
Nihilism: a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless. A doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths
Christopher Nolan’s Joker is commonly categorized as a Nihilist and for good reason. He throws the champagne out of a glass before taking a swig of the remaining air. He hands a gun to a two-faced Harvey Dent broken by the death of his fiance, whom Joker killed. He burns a colossal pyramid of money. Money, power, and pleasure-all the typical pursuits of a villain seem meaningless to him.
Although I can see why it would be easy to tie the Joker’s action to nihilism, his actions are better described as the acts of an anarchist. He even specifically says he’s going to introduce a little anarchy to Gotham, and calls himself an agent of chaos. In his mind chaos is better because it’s fair. While everyone else are schemers, he is a doer.
But why does he do what he does? What fuels his lust for anarchy? Well it’s not nihilism. Nihilism couldn’t inspire the extravagance and effort Joker puts into his work. He takes his self-proclaimed title as agent of chaos very seriously. Everything from his morning cosmetics routine to his boat-bomb social experiment are all a part of his “activism” for the cause of anarchy. It’s fascinating that throughout the movie there is really only one thing that seems to throw him off kilter-being called crazy. And that’s because he believes his actions are neither crazy nor meaningless. They are all a part of his crusade for chaos. The belief that existence is senseless doesn’t drive a man to become The Joker. He has too much passion and sheer enjoyment in his work for nihilism to be his foundation.
The End of Hedonism
Hedonism: The doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life
At the end of the day, the Joker is a hedonist. Typically the stereotype of a hedonist is an indulgent man, surrounded by women, bathing in luxury, while basking in his own importance. At a glance, crime boss Salvatore Maroni would be more easily pinned down as a hedonist. But when it comes down to it, Joker does what he does because he likes doing it. While plummeting to an impending death, he laughs hysterically. He tells people graphic stories about how he got his scars because he loves watching them squirm. He tells officer Stevens that likes killing with a knife so he can “savor all the little emotions”. He even says he doesn’t want Batman dead because he wouldn’t know what to do without him. He likes having Batman around because Batman is “fun”. He’s an adrenaline junkie, a twisted shock jock. He doesn’t like chaos because of a foundational belief in the meaninglessness of life. He likes chaos because it gives him the giggles.
Can hedonism be the motivation for chaotic evil in real life? Absolutely. So often it is the kids who grew up getting everything they ever wanted who end up doing the most evil things. If some one is used to getting whatever their heart desires, what happens when they desire evil? They chase down evil with all of their might, just like Joker when he says “I’m a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what to do if I actually caught one.” Recently in my neighborhood a 17 year old boy was killed by one of his peers. When the suspect was questioned about his motive, he said that there wasn’t any specific motive. He just felt like killing someone.
It isn’t a conviction of the meaninglessness of life that drives Joker to his terrifying actions. It isn’t even his ideal of anarchy. The Joker is just a guy following his heart. Perhaps Alfred says it best, “Some men just want to watch the world burn”.
You can contact Tim at email@example.com