Arguably the best superhero movie that has ever been made, in one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time: The Dark Knight. An astonishing film, with Heath Ledger's incredible performance as the Joker, a great and thought-provoking storyline, and a lot of lessons hidden in it that apply to everyday life. The Dark Knight is not simply a standard superhero movie, it has much more to it.
The movie is an illustration of what happens when a city falls into a state of anarchy, where everybody has to fend for themselves. It’s about having to make difficult choices in life, choices where one option seems even worse than the other. It’s about enduring when times are hard, seeing it out through the end no matter what. In this blog we’re going over five life lessons you can learn from the Dark Knight, how they are applied in the movie, and how you can apply them to your own life. But first, we’re going to talk about the main theme of this movie. Every movie of the Dark Knight trilogy has its main theme. For the first movie, it was fear. The Dark Knight goes a little further with that and takes a look at what happens when that fear turns into chaos.
“Upset the established order and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. ” ~ The Joker
Main theme: Chaos.
The overall theme of this movie is chaos. It’s about the chaos the Joker causes when he steps into the scene. The chaos starts at the beginning of the movie, when the Joker robs a bank owned by the mafia. This is meant to inspire a reaction out of the mob and get their attention, as we’ll see throughout the movie, to the Joker it’s not about the money, it’s about the chaos it can cause. When he successfully gets their attention, he walks in on a meeting of the maffia unprompted and makes them a proposition. If he kills the Batman for them, he’ll get half of their money. Again, it’s not about him having the money, but about them losing it. He only cares what the effects for them are and what this will do to their status and to their minds.
After the Joker decides to go on a killing spree, announcing clues about who he is going to murder, he attempts to cause mass panic and succeeds. Fear is created by uncertainty, when people don’t know who will be next, they get scared, and this evolves into a feeling of panic, which causes chaos. People are now stressing out, what will the Joker do next, who is his next target, am I safe? This is what causes the actual chaos in Gotham, uncertainty. They have the certainty that something is about to happen, but they have no idea what and how.
Another part of the Joker's act is that he tells contradicting stories about his past. This is in this case only really for the viewer, because no one else gets to hear the stories, but it shows the unpredictability of the Joker. You have no idea where he is from, who he is, or why he does what he does, you don’t even know what his real name is. This unpredictability makes him very scary, especially in combination with his being a psychopath. You have no idea what he is up to nor do you know what he’s capable of.
The Joker believes, rightfully so, that during times of chaos, they will act more impulsive, self-interested, and emotional. The normal moral guidelines vanish and people simply do what’s best for them in the moment. He wants people to know that when push comes to shove, everybody is just as crazy and immoral as him. He wants them to believe that he is not a monster, he’s just ahead of the curve.
“What do we got?”
“Nothing no matches on prints, DNA, dental, clothing is custom, no labels. Nothing in his pockets but knives and lint. No name, no other alias.”
The choice may be between the lesser of two evils.
There are multiple occasions in the movie where a choice has to be made between two evils, and where they have to pick the least evil of the two. We see this first when the Joker provokes Batman to take off his mask, if he doesn’t do that, he’ll continue to kill more people. The problem with Batman taking off his mask is that he wouldn't be able to be Batman anymore, he’ll probably be arrested or stripped away of everything he has, and he’ll be a target for criminals. So by taking off his mask, he knows that he will be out of the game. This will happen plus he is not even sure that the Joker will stop killing people. As we’ve seen he is an absolute psychopath, and those people can’t really be trusted. Taking off his mask is bad, but letting multiple other people get killed is also bad. He must weigh his choices between two evils and decide.
Everyone is going to face situations in life where all the options are bad, and you simply have to pick the least worst one. There won’t always be a clear good or bad choice, sometimes there are choices where every outcome imaginable is bad, but always one will be less bad than the other, and it is then up to you to decide which one that may be. Batman had to choose between quitting now and possibly saving people, letting a psychopath run loose, or holding out and stopping this psychopath. These choices may seem obvious in hindsight, but when you need to make them they mostly aren't. Sometimes it's simply about you doing what is right, and what feels right to you. Use your mind and your heart, and the best decision will always come forward.
Endure the hard times.
When Bruce Wayne decides to reveal that he is the Batman and wants to turn himself in, he has a conversation with Alfred. Bruce lets Alfred know that he couldn’t see any other option than turning himself in, he had to do something to stop the Joker. Alfred tells him that he believes that he is making the wrong choice and that he shouldn’t give in. He says: “Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman. He can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.” Alfred tells Bruce that despite what other people would say or think of him, whatever the cost in the short term may be, he is the only person who can make the right choice. He has to endure the temporary suffering right now so that he’ll come out victorious later on. If he gives up now, all hope is lost anyway.
We may suffer sometimes, and when we do, we might want to quit. We want the temporary suffering to end as soon as possible, so we give up. When we do this, we miss the point of the suffering. Beyond it are the results we are after, when we are not willing to suffer, we can't attain those results. Sometimes the suffering may seem unbearable, but this is only an illusion of the mind. We tend to believe that our capabilities are limited, and they are if we believe that to be true. However, when we believe we are limitless, and we can endure the suffering and pain for as long as it takes because we know what will eventually come of it, the suffering suddenly becomes bearable. When we have a purpose in life, some goal to strive for, then our suffering is simply a means to an end, necessary for our success. Knowing what the suffering is for, enduring becomes easy.
People are inherently good.
When the Joker gives the people in the boats both a detonator to blow up the other boat, with the promise that the one who blows up the other boat first will survive, he assumes that the primal nature of man will take over and that they’ll simply save their own group and won’t care about the lives on the other boat. With the added promise that the Joker will blow both of the boats up if they don’t detonate one first, it really becomes us or them. ‘If we don’t blow their boat up first, they may blow us up, and if they don’t, the Joker will blow us up anyway.’ The Joker believes that one boat will blow up the other in no time because he believes that people are capable of doing terrible things in times of chaos. He is disappointed however by the fact that he turned out to be wrong. The people of Gotham, both the prisoners and the civilians chose to do the right thing and not blow one another up. Batman was not surprised at all when this happened because he believed that people are inherently good: “This city just showed you that it’s full of people, ready to believe in good.”
The world may sometimes seem like a very cruel place, and it is, but that doesn't mean that the people who inhabit this planet aren't inherently good. The boat scene in The Dark Knight is meant to show you that people, even in desperate situations, will hold on to their morals and make the right choice. This is absolutely true, because most people are actually inherently good. They may not know how to express this, but their intentions are almost always for good. Yes there is genuine evil in the world (which we´re going to talk about later) but this is not the norm, these are rare exceptions. Most people do actually believe in good and doing what's right. A lot of people do however have trouble expressing this, but that doesn't take away that these are still good people who believe in doing what's right. There are a lot more people in this world who believe in good than in bad, that is why evil will always be outnumbered by good by a long shot, and the good people will always prevail.
Morals and rules vanish in times of chaos.
Everything the Joker does is with the simple goal of trying to create chaos. He believes that if people start to panic and start acting emotionally, their morals will disappear and they’ll simply do what’s good for them in the short term. He eventually succeeds in putting the city of Gotham in a state of chaos. He does this by killing people, creating uncertainty about who will be next and how he will kill them, making everyone fear for their lives. He makes the city believe that any official or important person may be next and that he could come for them whenever, wherever. This unpredictability is what creates chaos, people panic and they can’t prepare themselves for what is coming. Through all of this chaos, people can’t rationally think anymore, only emotionally, so all good decision-making goes out the window. People now want the Batman arrested, because they believe it is their only chance of stopping the Joker from killing people. Not realizing that the Joker is probably a psychopath and can’t be trusted to stop killing people anyway, it’s simply what he likes to do. But when there is absolute chaos and people are panicking, they are willing to settle for anything that has a chance of solving their problems and removing their fear, doesn’t matter what or how.
We've experienced plenty of situations of actual chaos in our world before. The French Revolution is a great example of this, where the chaos absolutely led to people's moral compass dissipating for a while and killing thousands of people, most simply for having an opinion. This happens in real life, it's not some sort of fallacy that the Joker believed in or something only made for the movies. When absolute chaos erupts, people will only fend for themselves and do everything they think is necessary to survive. In absolute panic, people cannot think straight, so they'll likely make choices that they wouldn't make when they’d rationally evaluate the situation. This is what has happened in times of chaos every time, but chaos is always temporary. When the situation settles and everything is stable, morals come back and people start to think again. This happened in the French Revolution too, when people were done with the revolutionaries executing people based on their ideas about the revolution, so they revolted and stopped participating in the madness. Eventually, people are always inherently good, but chaos can bring out the worst, and most animalistic side in them.
“When the chips are down, these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.” ~ The Joker
Genuine evil does exist.
What is also important to take away from this movie is the fact that not everybody is inherently good, there are evil people in the world without morals, who want to do people harm. The Joker is simply a ruthless psychopath who enjoys seeing other people suffer and who likes blowing things up. He can’t be negotiated or reasoned with, he simply does what he wants to do.
He isn’t out there doing this to really gain any result, he simply enjoys the process. Like he says himself: “I’m like a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it.” He just does what he feels like, no matter what the consequences are for other people, or even for himself. When the Joker gets punched over and over by Batman during the prison negotiation, he takes all the punches with ease, it almost seems like he doesn’t feel any of the pain. “You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with, nothing to do with all your strength.”
While most people are actually good people, even when they don't know how to express their goodness, there is genuine evil roaming around in this world out to do harm. You have people who really want to hurt people and can't be negotiated with, they don't want anything else than to see someone else’s world burn.
The tricky thing is that these people often go disguised as good people, they are your psychopaths and sociopaths, friendly and likable on the outside, but demonic on the inside. These are probably the most dangerous people alive and all you can do is avoid them at all costs. They won't care about you, or anyone else, all they care about is themselves and how they feel. One of the most famous quotes from the movie of Alfred illustrates the wickedness of these people perfectly:
“Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”