By Nicolle Westlund
Midnight, July 13, 2008: I clutched my contraband homemade popcorn, actually holding my breath while the Joker tortured the city of Gotham. My younger sister and I exchanged glances frequently, squealing during the car chases, sweating when Batman and the Joker punched each other out.
As the owner of all the movies in the X-Men franchise, as well as the Spiderman trilogy and a few other superhero movies that I’m not quite as proud of (cough, Fantastic Four, cough), you can only imagine how excited I was when the second of three new Batman movies graced the theaters. I didn’t know how excited I truly was until I started having nightmares about the Joker sewing a combustible cell phone into my stomach just to break himself out of prison.
And that’s the beauty of The Dark Knight: its villain. Its frightening, unpredictable, mildly psychotic villain. The Joker.
Most villains fall into two categories:
1. They’ve been scarred, bullied and tormented themselves. Their wounds create a feeling of entitlement and they lash out to take back what they think is theirs.
2. They’re narcissistic pricks who feed their egos with the thrill of taking from others – money, humanity, life.
The Joker defies these usual categories. Instead, he’s motivated by chaos, sheer chaos. That, plus his constantly changing backstory, makes him impossible to relate to or predict. He doesn’t follow usual criminal protocol. He keeps no one close (remember how he kills all his comrades in the opening scene?). He has regard for no human life (again, he kills all his accomplices before we even know who he is). He switches allegiance at the drop of a mask. He terrorizes an entire city to get access to one person.
While this makes him a more intriguing character than our hero, Batman, I’d argue that the Joker’s inability to be defined also makes the movie. For once, I didn’t know how the movie was going to end. For once, I didn’t see the plot wrapped up in a neat bow. For once, a movie villain was threatening enough to double-check my apartment locks (though coming from a girl who gets nightmares from watching Law and Order, that last point may be moot).
In a genre that is usually predictable and, at its worst, stale, The Dark Knight stands out by redefining the term villain. And, even though that means viewers care less about our hero’s inner turmoil, it also means we get a legitimate thrill ride (if we can also ignore the fact that since the trilogy’s first installment, Katie Holmes has grown a few inches and gained a cup size before completely morphing into Maggie Gyellenhaal).