This article is part of our Classic Film Throwback series
– By Sam Hendrian –
Evil is not always depicted accurately in art, especially in works intended to entertain the masses. Bumbling, relatively un-scary villains are all too common in films, and corruption is often startlingly portrayed as lighthearted and humorous rather than a serious threat to the goodness in Man’s heart.
One film that commits no such fallacy is Christopher Nolan’s comic book adaptation The Dark Knight, which is now celebrating its tenth anniversary. The main villain, who is known as The Joker, is so cunning and diabolical that he accurately represents not only evil, but the worst of evil, which would be Satan himself. By watching The Dark Knight and witnessing the struggle that Batman and other virtuous men and women have in foiling the sinister plans of The Joker, we can learn to recognize and better combat the tactics that Satan uses in an attempt to conquer our souls.
Before The Joker became a problem for Gotham City, Batman and his fellow crime-fighters were mostly concerned with mob bosses, greedy leaders of organized crime who mainly had money on their minds. While elusive and unscrupulously vicious, these mob bosses were ultimately not terribly hard to defeat, for once their money was taken away, so was their power and motivation to keep doing evil.
The Joker, on the other hand, is an entirely different monster. He does not care about money; he does not even care if someone puts a bullet through his head. All that matters to him is that good people’s souls are corrupted so that Gotham City will gradually fall into a state of amoral anarchy. Like Satan, The Joker bears what could be called a spirit of warped altruism; he does not care what is personally done to him as long as people’s souls continue to be decimated by sin.
Perhaps the most striking similarity between The Joker and the Prince of Lies is that they both have a twisted obsession with making good people fall from grace. Just as Gotham City is becoming sick of having to rely on a masked vigilante to effectively fight crime for them, the new district attorney Harvey Dent comes to power and promises to be a virtuous, effective warrior against crime within the legal system. The citizens of Gotham quickly look up to Harvey Dent as their knight in shining armor, and they place all their hope for a brighter tomorrow in him.
Seeing how much faith the people of Gotham place in this man’s virtue, The Joker makes it his goal to corrupt the revered district attorney and turn him into a despicable villain. He succeeds; Harvey becomes a murderous madman by the end of the film, at least partially proving The Joker’s theory that even the best of humanity will become evil when fear and despair conquer their souls.
Similarly, Satan loves to lead well-respected people like priests and politicians into committing scandals and falling from grace, for it severely discourages and disillusions all those who formerly looked up to them. After all, if even the most virtuous people can commit heinous acts, what does that mean for the rest of us?
The Joker also derives sick pleasure from testing the rock-solid moral codes that all warriors against evil try to uphold. Batman can become intensely violent while fighting criminals, but he has one rule that he refuses to break: he will not take a life. Seeing how determined Batman is not to kill even a dangerous madman like himself, The Joker tries to use this noble ideal against him and frame it as a fatal weakness.
In a climactic scene that sees Batman dangling The Joker off of a skyscraper and having every opportunity to let him fall to his death, The Joker delivers a few chilling lines of dialogue that could have easily been uttered by Satan himself to a real-life warrior for goodness. He says:
“Oh, you. You just couldn’t let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immoveable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”
Batman’s noble character is defined by his unbreakable moral code, but if this code prevents him from ever truly conquering evil, is it worth following? Satan enjoys asking similar questions, especially in today’s war on terror. When we are faced with enemies who manifest themselves as mercilessly violent, unstoppable forces, is there really such a thing as peaceful resistance? Must not we ultimately use violence to fight violence? These questions especially haunt our nation’s conscience, and Satan loves it.
So how do we defend ourselves against these tactics of Satan that are so vividly depicted in The Dark Knight? Let us first examine the formidable problem of Satan’s “warped altruism.” If Satan only cares about corrupting our souls and can never really be destroyed, how do we defeat him? The answer is simple but not easy: we must not surrender to his demands.
Temptations of all sort surround us every day, and Satan takes great pleasure when we give into them. If we do not want him to have this pleasure, if we want him to suffer in the only way that he can, then we must resist these temptations and persist in doing good. This takes a humble willingness to seek out and receive all the graces God has to offer us, but if we can have this, we will be triumphant.
But how do we tackle the painful reality of good, admirable people falling from grace? It is quite easy to become discouraged when those we revere commit evil, but this is exactly what Satan wants; in fact, discouragement is one of his most potent tactics. Recognizing that we are fallen creatures no matter how many virtuous things we can achieve in this world, we must not be shocked at scandals but rather immediately place our hope in the existence of redemption.
If good people can become evil, then surely evil people can become good; we need never have complete despair over any person’s soul as long as he still lives and breathes on this Earth. Satan loves to blind us to the possibility of redemption, which is why we become so easily discouraged when leaders and role models let vice overtake them. If we can resist being blinded and do our best to help those who have fallen from grace find the path to redemption, then Satan will not have the last laugh.
Now we must analyze what is perhaps the hardest problem of all: conquering evil when our moral codes seem to hinder us from doing so. Like The Joker, Satan asks us, Can you ever really put an end to evil without betraying your morals from time to time? Don’t you know that only evil can destroy evil? As the Prince of Lies, Satan loves to say things like this, but we must reject these words for what they are: lies.
One might say that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki offer proof that only evil can conquer evil, for they are what finally ended World War II on the Eastern Front. It is true that these bombings prevented even more lives from being lost by the war dragging on, but did they really conquer evil? Imperial Japan may have been defeated, but with this defeat came the advent of the Nuclear Age and a Cold War that would put the world on the brink of complete destruction. The mass murder of innocent lives in Japan did not conquer all evils once and for all; it simply paved the way for new ones.
Satan and The Joker’s claim that evil can only be destroyed if we break our moral codes and choose to devalue some human lives is certainly compelling, but it is not true. Even when our steadfast virtue seems to be in vain, and moral relativism appears to be immensely attractive, we must always remember that only good will win in the end. Evil never has and never will bring lasting peace to our world.
About the Author
Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing a double emphasis in Screenwriting and Directing.