The Batman – Joker relationship…
This post is an attempt to breakdown the mindsets of two of the most exciting, most intense, most ridiculously dressed antagonists in the history of modern cinema: The Batman and the Joker. These two have been popular a long time, and ever since The Dark Knight their fame has skyrocketed to nuclear status, yet their relationship remains as complex as ever.
As I type this, filming is underway on the latest Batman inspired movie and it features Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker. I’m really excited to see his rendition of the madman. He’s such a seasoned actor who has played crazy in many movies before (Gladiator anyone?) so he has the experience.
Now I understand that a lot of people are very invested in these characters, so I want to state early that this is a personal interpretation. Also, some of the events I describe may not be “canon” to you, as there are hundreds of reading material on the Batman, some contradicting each other. Let’s just have some fun with the fact that these are fictional characters. Basically, this entire paragraph is an attempt to ward off attacks from “DC fanboys” 😊 OK let’s do this.
To many people, the Batman is your basic superhero story where the good guy faces the bad guys and comes out on top; albeit with a darker Instagram filter. But what makes Batman so unique is that behind this beloved tale is a very harrowing treatise on human psychology. Almost every character in the franchise is a victim of a very troubled past and it shows…
People love the Batman for many reasons. He fights injustice at great personal risk to himself and little to no reward. He is a relatable orphan boy who is trying to make the best of his life and situation. He is so good at what he does that his enemies revere him and actual superpowered beings fear him. He has so much personal discipline that he can stand toe to toe with superhumans, aliens, gods, demons, clowns and still come out on top. In some story arcs, even Wonderwoman falls in love with him, yet he refuses her advances, maybe because a simple hug from her could paralyse him? Nope, just personal discipline.
He is founder and leader of the Justice League. He is rich as fukkkkkk and gets to use a variety of cool gadgets. He appeals to people of all ages so he’s a marketer’s dream. So it can be funny to think that behind all of this is a scared little boy who believes that by fighting criminals, he is avenging the death of his parents.
Batman’s origin story has been treated to exhaustion, but it is very important to his character. As a young boy at age 10 Bruce Wayne and his parents were leaving a theatre when his parents were shot and killed before his very eyes by an unknown robber (I’ll tell you his name, just Chill). Little did that robber know that he had just given rise to the greatest menace that his kind would ever have to face: the Batman.
As a child, Bruce Wayne was very prone to fears and anxieties. It is known that he harboured a fear for bats which carried well into his adulthood, inspiring his Batman persona. As the Batman, he tries to impose his childhood fears on the criminals he faces in Gotham city. He seeks to inspire in them the very same fears he felt as a young boy as punishment for taking his parents from him. He does this by trying to be the biggest, scariest bat of them all.
Another widely known principle of the Batman is that he does not kill (in cold blood). As noble as this must seem for such a relentless vigilante, the reason is far more basic than moral. Killing would be a cruel reminder of the trauma he felt when watching his parents die, so he can’t bring himself to do it. I believe that by killing he would be doing unspeakable harm to his parents’ memories which would further his descent into madness.
Batman is just as crazy, if not crazier than the villains he faces. The major reason he is able to retain some semblance of sanity is due to the influence of his butler, Alfred. Alfred Pennyworth was entrusted with the care of Bruce from the moment his parents died and he took up the position wholeheartedly. As a result, Bruce retained a strong father figure in Alfred.
As you may have noticed, many of Batman’s mannerisms mirror those of Alfred himself: his cold dry wit is Batman’s preferred source of humour. His ability to slink from room to room unnoticed; his quiet nature, all mirrored by the caped crusader. For all of Alfred’s complaints that Bruce Wayne chooses to remain single, he never noticed that it may be as a result of his personal influence, being a single man himself and choosing to remain one since Bruce was placed in his care.
The Joker ;D
Dangerous and philosophical in his crazy, the Joker is the undisputed bastion of evil in the Batman universe. Few would forget Heath Ledger’s award-winning rendition of the Joker prior to his untimely death. The Joker’s MO is to revel in destruction.
His origin stories are vague and left to interpretation. One widely accepted theory is that he was a failed comedian who opted for a life of crime and ended up losing his pregnant wife and getting horribly disfigured in the process. Some even posit that there are multiple Jokers. But whatever incarnation of the Joker you may choose to accept, it is clear that they have one thing in common – a terrible past.
Whenever the Joker tries to make mention of his past, whether real or imagined it is always negative, so even as much as he tries to forget, the traumatizing nature of it will always set in. He is a character that has chosen to mask his pain in laughter, be it physical or emotional pain. He laughs when he is in a dangerous situation that he can’t escape, he laughs when being physically beaten, he even seems to take joy in the suffering of others. He tries to rationalize the trauma of his past by believing that life is meaningless and he enforces this by causing mayhem. In this way, he is not your average criminal, as money and power are secondary to his goals.
It is only after the examination of both characters, the Batman and the Joker, that you can appreciate the uniqueness of their relationship. They are two people operating on two opposite ends of a spectrum of ideology and they fascinate each other. Both men believe that their way of handling their past trauma is the “right” way and refuse to be convinced otherwise. They are each other’s most convincing arguments.
It is the major reason they refuse to kill each other because since they are so equally driven and equally matched, either one needs the other to see their viewpoint. If Batman can get the Joker to change his ways, it validates his life purpose, if the Joker can get the Batman to abandon his ideals, him lashing out at society is not in vain. They exist to prove each other wrong. Have you ever wondered why many of their iconic battles take place in rooms filled with mirrors?
The overarching theme of the Batman is a philosophical one. You can choose to be a victim of your past or you can choose to take action, but then, how much of the past is within your control to make amends and then, what actions are truly justified to take?
Also, I find it funny that the Joker (disfigured murderer in makeup) can keep a long-term relationship where the Batman (Handsome billionaire) can’t.