Who Completes Who?

Posted: November 18, 2014 in Batman
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Dark Knight PosterWhat makes Christopher Nolans’ film The Black Knight so compelling? Critics agree: Nolan strikes a deep chord with his portrayal of the rivalrous bond between the Batman and his arch nemesis, the Joker.  To watch the film, is to be drawn into the inner vortex of their mutually obsessive relationship.

The Batman and the JokerThe Joker, played by Heath Ledger,  refuses, when he has the chance, to kill his rival.  The conflict between the Batman and the Joker, which drive’s the movie’s plot, is by no means a cliche battle between good guy and bad guy, in which both sides seek to annihilate the other. The Joker needs the Batman, he’s fascinated by him, orchestrating ways to get close to the Batman, and insert himself into his life. Remember the Joker’s pivotal line, which on its own, won Heath Ledger the Oscar:

You complete me. [View on YouTube]

The-Dark-Knight-Rises-Trailer-fan-madeThis makes total sense in light of Mimetic Theory, what René Girard terms the Model-Obstacle Relationship: we are fascinated by our rivals, whose power to command our attention seems to derive from some autonomous inner source, when in fact it’s our desire which gives them that irresistible quality. This means that the Batman, though he won’t openly disclose it, may be just as dependent on the Joker for his self-concept and sense of being.

The model-obstacle is someone or something over whom the subject cannot win, or in some cases it would be accurate to say that the subject will not allow himself to defeat the model-obstacle, for to achieve that would be to lose the model. All sorts of self-defeating behavior, including addictions (so well described in Dostoyevsky’s writings), stem from this predicament. From the standpoint of the mimetic theory, it can only be understood in terms of the mimetic, interdividual character of human existence. The person in this predicament could be described as stumbling over or being blocked by the skandalon (Greek). (James G. Williams, The Girard Reader, 291)

Joker Movie PosterThe Batman, mirroring the fascination of his rival, also refuses, when given the chance, to kill his rival. Why is that? [View on YouTube] Does the Batman need the Joker too, in a kind reciprocity? Or was he acting out of compassion? We may never know.

Either way, the result is the same — rather than bring the conflict to it’s usual conclusion, in The Dark Knight the model-obstacle relationship intensifies. At movie’s climax, when the Batman finally has the Joker in his grip, rather than turn the Joker over to the authorities (his usual MO) the Batman lets the Joker go!

the batman and the joker mirror imageDoes this lead the Joker to repent or have a change of heart? The usual cliche movie plot? Not a chance! The Batman’s incredible self-control only makes him more attractive to his rival. But again, the Batman’s autonomous inner source is an illusion, fueled from the start by the Joker’s fascination. As their model-obstacle relationship intensifies on both sides, and each is transfigured by the desire of the other, it’s impossible to say who created who. – Sue Wright


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