Before we begin to discuss what Joker’s worldview we must define what a worldview is. According to Dr. Mark Liederbach, professor of Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a worldview is a conceptual framework that contains our fundamental beliefs and is also the means by which we interpret and judge reality. To say it more simply, it is how one makes sense of the world. From Liederbach’s definition there are three important implications:
- The assumptions of a worldview go hand in hand with one’s reasons for behaving as they do.
- When worldview assumptions are identified, then understanding motivation for moral behavior becomes clearer.
- In this way we can understand why and how differing worldviews may share common moral practices, yet hold very distinctive foundational beliefs.
Everyone has a worldview that informs and motivates the way a person behaves. There are times, however, when a person might state that they hold a certain worldview, but their behavior does not logically correspond with their stated belief. As a believer this is so important for not only understanding our own worldview (how we see the world) but how others see the world as well. In this way we can understand how best to meet them with the Gospel.
I thought it would be profitable to take a look at the Joker’s worldview and evaluate whether his actions are consistent with his beliefs. “So…here…we…go!”
Let’s take a look at some of the Joker’s statements in The Dark Knight.
- “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.”
- “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!”
- “You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”
We won’t go in-depth with all of them, but I hope they serve as some samples of Joker’s worldview. First of all, one of the main themes in The Dark Knight is the battle between structure and chaos. Joker even identifies himself as an agent of chaos, attempting to create anarchy by rattling the structures set up by society. As we observe the Joker throughout the movie we see that this is a man who has no clear mission like Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins or even Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Rather, the Joker is a man who does not live by order, structure, or even morality. He is the complete antithesis to Batman as “a man who just likes to see the world burn.”
So what is the Joker’s worldview? The most appropriately term, I believe, to describe the Joker is nihilism. Though there are a variety of forms of nihilism, it is basically the philosophy that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. This is commonly referred to as existential nihilism. The logical conclusion of this is a moral nihilist, which claims that there is no inherent good or evil, but simply an abstract contrivance of morality.
In other words, Joker believes that there is no good or no evil, and rejects any authority, including God, who could validly impose such judgments. This belief is the very driving force of Joker’s actions throughout the movie as he submits to no authority and shows absolutely no concern for morality. If there is no meaning in the universe, then why should anyone care about whether good or evil is done since it doesn’t matter.
In a fascinating scene, when the Joker waits on top of the building for the people on the ferries to blow one another up, he is disappointed when it doesn’t happen. Batman then asks, “What were you trying to prove? That everyone is as ugly as you?!” In a way this is exactly what the Joker is trying to do. He claims that he is not a monster, he’s just “ahead of the curve,” implying that he has come to terms with the reality that there are no valid rules, structures, or morals and before long everyone will come to live consistently with this worldview.
It is interesting to compare the Joker to Batman and to Two Face. Batman wears a mask to protect his identity as Bruce Wayne. A fascinating irony is that Batman’s mask is a truer identifier of the person than the façade he puts on as Bruce Wayne, the billionaire playboy. Then you have Two Face, who by his very name reveals that he is not wholly consistent, and in more ways than one serves as a mirror for Batman’s character. Joker, however, basically wears his “mask” of paint all the time. In reality, Joker is the most consistent character throughout the film.
The frantic, supposedly random, actions committed by the Joker are a direct outworking of his belief system. Many people do not fully realize this is the logical conclusion of a belief system that rejects a Theistic worldview, where there is a God who has established a discernible system of morality. If life has no meaning, and there is no authority that can determine what is right and wrong, then why not live like the Joker since everything is random chaotic chance anyway? And even if we wanted to call the Joker evil, though we confessed a nihilistic worldview, we would have no right because that would be inconsistent, or in a way, “Two-Faced.” For those who say there is no meaning and no God, they have to make a leap of faith, so to speak, over the logical chasm between nihilistic worldview and living morally.
I am so thankful that Joker’s worldview is incorrect, because it would truly lead to a chaotic life. But because God is there and there is absolute truth, I can be confident that there is meaning in this world. I can be confident about what is good and evil, because God has revealed Himself in his Word. This worldview should have the greatest most beautiful effect on how we live our lives.
The Joker is such an incredible character not only for his contribution to the depth of the story but also for a case study for worldviews. And at the end of the day I truly am thankful that in The Dark Knight, the Joker was consistent in revealing the ugly face of a nihilistic worldview.