The Model-Obstacle Relationship

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)

The Batman and the JokerIn The Dark Knight, The Joker, played so brilliantly by Heath Ledger, despite multiple opportunities, refuses to kill his rival. The conflict between Batman and the Joker, which drive’s the movie’s plot, is by no means, a cliche battle between the good guy and the bad guy, in which both sides seeks to annihilate the other.  The Joker needs Batman, he’s fascinated by him, finding any way he can to get closer to the Batman, even to enter his life. Remember the Joker’s pivotal line, which on its own, won Heath Ledger the academy award:

You complete me. [View on YouTube]

This makes total sense in light of Mimetic Theory: 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 self-worth.

Like the Joker, the Batman, when given the chance, doesn’t kill his rival.  Why is that? [View on YouTube] Might 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 the climax of the movie, when the Batman finally has the Joker in his grip, rather than turn the Joker over to the authorities (the Batman’s usual MO) he lets the Joker go. This does not lead the Joker to repent or have a change of heart, as we’ve come to expect with cliche movie plots. Instead, the Batman’s incredible self-control, makes him all the more attractive to his rival. The Joker’s increasingly mesmerized by him. But again, the Batman’s autonomous inner source is an illusion, fueled from the start by the Joker’s fascination.  As the model-obstacle relationship intensifies on both sides, as each is transfigured by the desire of the other, it becomes almost impossible to say who created who. – Sue Wright


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