OF DARK KNIGHTS AND WHITE KNIGHTS, SHADOWS AND SHAMANS: “Want to know how I got these scars?!!”
So, in “A ‘chance encounter” I write that the Joker’s claims that he and Batman are cut from a similar cloth has some merit, demonstrated by how they enter the fundraiser for Harvey Dent and their not needing “liquid courage” in the form of champagne. But that’s only “skin deep.” Cut below that layer and into the scars, and we see that the Joker understands far, far more than he lets on. Let’s go back to the fundraiser for Harvey Dent.
Upon the Joker’s entrance, he walks up to Bruce Wayne’s love, Rachel, and tells her how he got his grotesque scars. Just scenes before, he told a mob boss the origin story of his scars. The two stories are completely different. Which one is the real story? I don’t think either of them are. That’s what makes the Joker so terrifying: there is no REAL story. He’s both a god and beast: a shrieking echo. Yes, he can make a shrill noise, guaranteed to burn through the ears of its victims, but it’s just an echo. Wherever the echo began, it has long since been forgotten. There is nothing there. Nothing.
As the Commissioner tells Batman, the Joker has no name, no identity, no clear motive, no fingerprints. In fact, the only thing that the Joker has is an ability to channel Batman’s unconscious. We know this not only because he implies this again and again, but because of the way he tells the story of how he got his scars.On the one hand, the story is nothing more than the Joker’s insane way of playing with how our culture desperately dwells on and obsesses over the origin story of killers: trying to understand them, and maybe even have some compassion for them. If we truly understood what Hitler or Charles Manson went through as children, maybe we could understand them better, etc. Maybe we could make sense of the senseless. The Joker is mimicking this need that people have, like a shrieking echo. But he is also actively dismissing that need by changing and his story again and again – each time making it more sensational.
But that’s not all he’s doing. There is a pattern to the story. When he tells the mob boss Gambol (an authority figure) how he got his scars, he looks at this man and tells him that they came from his father. When he tells a woman the story (a woman who is the love interest of Bruce Wayne AND Harvey Dent), he chooses to go with the notion that they came from his wife.
But that’s not the only piece to this perverse puzzle. The Joker’s playfully sadistic nihilism happens in layers. Peel it back and we begin to see that the Joker seems to have accessed a direct line to Batman’s unconscious. To the Joker, Batman completes him, defines him, is his kindred Nietzschean brother and “boyfriend.” They are both gods. One an unstoppable force, the other an unmovable object. They both come from the Underworld – not simply the Underworld that is the mob. That’s surface BS. No. They come from the Underworld of Gotham’s unconscious.
Let’s start with the version of the origin story he tells Rachel at the fundraiser. His wife, he tells Batman’s beloved Rachel, his wife had hung out “with the sharks.” And they cut her up. The Joker claims that this caused him such despair that he felt forced to inflict horrific wounds upon himself.
Now let’s go to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. Rachel is furious with him when she learns how mean and apathetic he had become – how little he resembled her best friend in childhood. She is one of the only two people that Bruce loves and she is ashamed of the cowardly, angry child that he has grown up to be. Here she’s fighting the good fight against the mob (Gotham’s terrible underworld) – something that Bruce’s father had tried to do – and here he is not helping. Yes, Rachel is quite literally “hanging out with the sharks” as a prosecuting attorney, trying to clean up Gotham. By the time Bruce returns from his time away, “the sharks” want her dead, and it’s just a matter of time before they kill her. This inspires Bruce to wear a mask and go from human to god, from Bruce Wayne to Batman.
Bruce has been forced under a deep coat of armor. A suit that belonged to the shadows, inspired by the League of Shadows, and that elevated him to a god. In the process of becoming a Nietzschean superman, a god amongst gods, the real Bruce disappears behind the armor–as all of us victims of trauma are apt to do from time to time. The Batman suit is the full-on manifestation of the scars of Bruce Wayne, and the Joker knows it. He smells it. And he reveals that, scenes before the fundraiser, when talking to the mob boss Gambol.
Before he slices Gambol’s face off, he breathes into his ear, “want to know how I got these scars?” It wasn’t his wife in this instance. It was his father.
Bruce Wayne truly became Batman because of his father’s death. It was the death of Bruce’s father that caused him to hide behind an armor of toughness and indifference, and eventually turn back to Gotham as Batman–in a suit entirely made of the armor of gods and scars where underneath lie intense suffering and sorrow.
The City of Gotham, the city that Bruce’s father saved (at least temporarily), also killed Bruce’s father. Not one lowlife killer, but the entire Falcone underworld that Gotham was allowing itself to be sucked into hell by. Gotham gave Bruce his scars by murdering his father and his mother right in front him as an innocent child.
Like the Joker, Batman is no one. Even underneath the armor, Bruce is no one. The scars are too deep.
Even his public identity as Bruce has him running around as a rich playboy, escorted by things that the shallow elements of our culture strive for: money, models, and any thing that he could possibly “want–though not what he needs, and not what he truly deserves (I’ll get back to that in another post regarding the difference between what we want and what we deserve). Bruce deserves to be human, but his heart is cut up and scarred.
Like Batman, the Joker…the Joker is no one. He is imitating Batman. Their dancing duality connects them in a way that, to the Joker, is the only thing worth caring about. Many people lament the fact that Bruce Wayne/Batman are the main character in Batman Begins, but in Dark Knight are completely upstaged by the Joker. Only thing is, the Joker is nothing but a shattered, bloody reflection of Batman.
As for the Joker’s stories about how he got his scars are not his stories – they belong to Bruce Wayne.
And I am willing to bet that the Joker secretly knows that.
More soon! Curious to hear your thoughts!