insights from a conversation with Khet

MOLOKOV: The man is utterly mad! You’re playing a lunatic.

THE RUSSIAN: That’s the problem: he’s a brilliant lunatic. You can’t tell which way he’ll jump. Like his game, he’s impossible to analyze. You can’t dissect him, predict him — which of course means he’s not a lunatic at all.

–from the musical Chess

The Joker is a lunatic, of course, but that quote came to mind while khet_tcheba and I were discussing why Heath Ledger’s take on the character was so disturbing. And it made me realize that you can’t triumph over his Joker: you can capture him, or you can thwart his plan, but you will never get the satisfaction of a psychological victory. There is absolutely nothing you can do that will make him react with real chagrin and acknowledge that you have bested him, not because he’s too egotistical to admit his own defeat, but because he’s too chaotic; defeat can only happen if he’s invested in a particular outcome. And he isn’t. Anything you do, or don’t do, is equally amusing to him, equally a demonstration of the chaos and meaninglessness he sees.

. . . and that’s creepy.

0 Responses to “insights from a conversation with Khet”

  1. eclectician

    I haven’t seen the movie, but this is exactly the point that Frank Miller made in the comic. A potential problem with this interpretation is the question of why Batman would then have problems killing the Joker, knowing that nothing he can ever do will force the Joker to see the natural order that Batman does.

    • Marie Brennan

      I think the answer to that question depends on the reason why Batman does not kill. It sounds like Miller’s reason is, as you say, the potential for getting the villain to see (and presumably follow) the natural order, in which case Batman’s reluctance would almost have to be based in an unwillingness or inability to believe the Joker really can’t be changed. The movies seem to base his reason on a faith in law and order — these guys should be brought to justice by society, not by a lone vigilante. From that perspective, as long as the Joker is arrested and the corruption of Gotham doesn’t let him go again, Batman has won . . . but it still feels a bit hollow, because the Joker hasn’t lost.

  2. occultatio

    That trait of the new Joker’s is also why, as I walked out of the theater, I was thinking that for all that Dark Knight was amazing, Batman Begins was the better *movie* — it’s because the villains in that movie had an actual plan, and the plan had forward motion and a climax, and here it was just this guy going around causing massive chaos wherever he could.

    What they need to do now is bring him back (after a spacer movie, of course) with the specific intention of trying to get Batman to break his no-killing vow (which was only incidental to his motivation this time). THAT would be effing awesome.

    • Marie Brennan

      But how can you bring him back? I wouldn’t want to be the actor tapped to pick up where Heath Ledger left off.

      The Joker here had a plan; he just had no particular investment in its outcome, because ultimately, his real interest is in screwing around with Batman. I think this is the stronger film, but also less easily parsed, because its central axis is not the conflict against a concrete threat, but the problems of heroism and villainy, as demonstrated through Batman, the Joker, and Harvey Dent/Two-Face. The film ended when it had worked through that question to a suitable stopping point, rather than when it had defeated a threat. Which makes its structure less easily grasped than a more conventional one would be.

  3. azorielios

    While I agree with your assessment on a general level, on the specifics I got the sense that the Joker was plotting something, that he did have a plan. But I agree – it’s more a matter that if the plan failed, he would shrug and dance away from the scene, likely scaring and or killing some random norm along the way.

    What made him so creepy is that he could have that general happy-go-lucky apathy about how things would work out and still put together such intricate plans. Normal people could not invest that much work and not really care – if nothing else, we care about our time. He seemed like an excellent example of a sociologist gone horribly wrong – the Prisoner’s Dilemma (with real prisoners, no less) suggests an understand not just instinctively of the human mind, but in a classically studied way as well.

    As for bringing him back…well, really. Aside from interesting uses of CGI and or necromancy, how could you? Heath Ledger breathed something fantastic into that character, and claims of accidental death aside I have to wonder if he touched on something in the human psyche that led to his eventual demise.

    • Marie Brennan

      and claims of accidental death aside I have to wonder if he touched on something in the human psyche that led to his eventual demise.

      Last I heard, they were attributing his death to the medications he was on after he finished filming. And since he was on those medications because of how badly playing the Joker messed with his head, there is a connection.

      You’re right: the Joker did have a plan. But he didn’t much seem to care if the plan succeeded. He was disappointed enough in the failure of the passengers to try and detonate them himself, but had he done that, he would have been happy. Having failed to do that, he was still happy. Therefore, saving the passengers is a victory, but not a victory over the Joker. You can win, but you can’t beat him.

  4. sora_blue

    The inability to defeat the Big Bad is why Japanese horror films scare the crap out of me.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’m not much of a horror film person in general, and I think I’ve only seen American remakes of their classics. I take it that’s the general pattern over there?

      • sora_blue

        I’m not certain how standard it is, but from what I’ve heard their movies tend to be more psychological.

        The one that really got to me was Ju-On (the Grudge.) You have this force that obeys no “rules” like the baddies in Western horror flicks. You go in the house, you die. There’s no indication of what house it is. There’s no moralizing of the people who enter by the spirit. Just house = death.

        • Marie Brennan

          Yeah, true horror is when being good and pure of heart and all that jazz means nothing. Good, bad, indifferent — everybody dies the same.

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