The Dark Knight: The Joker’s Worldview

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:

  1. The assumptions of a worldview go hand in hand with one’s reasons for behaving as they do.
  2. When worldview assumptions are identified, then understanding motivation for moral behavior becomes clearer.
  3. 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.

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11 responses to “The Dark Knight: The Joker’s Worldview

  1. Interesting article, and I understand how you end up where you do. Because of your comfortable conclusion, I’m forced to ask by what means you’ve determined the existence of a god and an absolute truth.

    You may be interested in a critical/philosophical paradigm known as Deconstruction. (Forgive me if you’re already familiar with this concept.) It relies heavily on linguistics and one of its main concepts is that of the nonexistence of a “transcendental signified.” In linguistics, there are signifiers, words and signs that point to object or ideas, and signifieds, those objects or ideas being pointed to. A common example is “tree.” There is the tall leafy thing in the park that we needed a name for. The thing itself is the signified. The word “tree” is the signifier.

    So now the concept of the transcendental signified. The transcendental signified is an object (or being, if you will) that transcends the text from which it comes. An excellent example of this is the Judeo-Christian Bible. The Bible, which is a text, argues for the existence of a being that really exists somewhere in the world. But this is a false idea. If you look closely, you find that the concept of that being, God, originates from the text, the Bible, thus negating the legitimacy of its transcendence. Because the text is given power by the authority and existence of the being existing outside of it, the text loses all its power once we realize that the transcendental signified, or outside being, or God, is really just a creation of the text itself.

    I know this is a strange idea but it gets to the heart of any concept of an “absolute truth.” Sorry for dumping all that on you, but I think it’s a really interesting topic, especially since it was pulled from a Batman movie. Cheers.

    • Hey Cody, thanks for responding! Just a couple of things in response to your comment. First, I really need to put up a page detailing my beliefs and the “bent” that I have in approaching movies. I hope this is evident in my posts, but it might be helpful nonetheless. Second, I love the study of languages, and though I am not entirely familiar with Deconstruction, I find it a fascinating topic of discussion. There were a couple of assumptions in your logical steps that I wouldn’t mind discussing further, though we might need to pick another forum. You said, “When you look closely, you find that the concept of that being, God originates from the text, the Bible…” Maybe you could be more specific in what you mean by “looking closely?” I have been studying not only the Text of Scripture itself for many years, but also the canonization process, and I am curious how the concept of God originates from the text. Also, I believe that God, the Transcendental Being, has revealed Himself, not only in the written Word, but also in the person of Jesus Christ within space and time. The doctrine of the incarnation and inspiration are important for understanding the Referent of the words within the Word (graphe). As far as absolute truth goes, such a statement as “there is no absolute truth” seems to be illogical because the very truthfulness of the statement would negate its validity. I am not sure if I am responding adequately to your comment, and if that is the case please help me. I want to learn. Thank you for the comment and look forward to hearing from you. Hit me up with an email if that would work better: vitamago@gmail.com

  2. You just dont want to suffer… but what happens when someone convinces you that what you want is to suffer? Then your whole “there is absolute truth” argument goes to the trash bin… sorry dude, but nihilism is more “honest” way of viewing this world. There is no “objectivity” in the universe… there simply “IS”… and that’s it

    • Thanks, Tomas for commenting on this post.

      I am not sure if I fully follow your argument about suffering. Maybe you can develop that further for me.

      Also, by saying “there is no ‘objectivity’ in the universe,” is that not an objective statement? Would this not be self defeating? In other words, one cannot say “there is no absolute truth” unless he is willing to allow that statement to be true, which would then contradict the statement to begin with.

      I do believe that if there is no God than nihilism is the logical and “honest” worldview to follow, but I have found no one who consistently lives that way. Usually the people who claim nihilism somehow still live with a concept of a standard of good and evil, with no rational explanation on how they determine that standard.

      Once again, thanks for commenting. I would love to hear more from you.

      • Cuz i say there’s no objectivity in the universe is an objc. truth is probably a valid thought at first… it sounds logic… intuitive… it’s like an ABSOLUT TRUTH in the paradigm of MY WORLD that I’m writing over here… and therefor, it could be considered like an objective truth inside my head (whether Im consious of it or not)

        Anyhow, if i tell you there’s a black teapot orbiting a far away sun, you cannot refute me cuz there’s no way to prove the contrary (we would be unable to prove it) but being said my statement, it wouldn’t necesarily mean that THERE IS a tea pot around there…

        One thing is what we need to “construct” in our minds to make the world function at a specific moment in our lifes (WORLDVIEWS are dynamic… they tend to change)… which of course sometimes need some logic validity, and for that, we need to make our own “absolute truths”, and A TOTALLY DIFFERENT THING IS if in any way those truths work anyhow more than inside our own heads (and not in the world we stand on that we use to construct the one in our heads).

        Being that said, I can say I don’t THINK there’s any objectivity in our universe, and that would be part of my own construct.. a truth of ME to ME (any thing that I believe as absolut, I (by myself) would consider OBJECTIVE…(even if I’m not aware of the first or the second characteristic given in my head of the “belief” itself) till the moment someone gets there and believe the “oposite”, then I would have to rethink the whole construct I made to myself)

        I think the most honest way to live is to be willing and trying to question everything we do and we believe in, willing to destroy it and therefor, destroying the ABSOLUTE TRUTHS that our own worlds lies on.. this would be the most near I think (now) would be a way nihilism to live with.

        The thing is that by logic, some stuff would be circle arguments (like the thing you mentioned bout “OBJECTIVITY” given the characteristic a WORLDVIEW has I mentioned before)…

        I haven’t given it more thought but of course this could be a good conversation to keep

  3. Pingback: Nihilism in Media | petersonbible12·

  4. Tomas,
    to say that you have a completely personal “objective” knowledge that only you are entitled to is not objective at all. It’s called subjective or mind dependent.
    An objective would be mind independent.
    For example: lets imagine I was blind and did not believe that the sun existed (subjective) . It does not mean that the sun does not exist. The sun exists (objective).
    Again you’ve fallen into the delusion that there are no objective truths. As you *OBJECTIVLY* state, “Being that said, I can say I don’t THINK there’s any objectivity”… You are shooting yourself in the foot Tomas.

  5. Yes… now that I think, its like the “argument from reason” of C.S. Lewis.

    Anyway, talking about the “good and evil” stuff that was commented before (that people who say they are nihilist still act like they “believed” -counsiously or not- in some form of good and evil), may be they DON’T believe in this supreme good and evil -which poeple who believe in god do. AKA: Good and evil are some form of NATURAL or SUPERNATURAL forces, like principles of the universe or something- but they just like stuff in some way. Its kind of “I grew up liking this way of life, and that’s me, not like theres a good or an evil, but it FEELS good to me. Therefore, you can’t have some “moral authority” over others, but just try to convince them of your worldview or “protect” or avoid others from having to live with the consecuences of the worldview of the other…

  6. Let’s assume for the moment and for the sake of argument that there is no God, and therefore no ‘absolute truth’ or highest moral authority to decide what is good and evil. Nihilism rejects an absolute truth and therefore the very purpose of life itself. However, accepting a nihilistc point of view doesn’t necessarily imply that life will become totally chaotic, or that humanity will descent into a state of nature. This where the Joker is wrong. The rules and laws that people have produced are not based on the Ten Commandments, but on the concept of a ‘fair’ lifestyle: people treat others the same way they want to be treated themselves. I would not want to live in an anarchy because, for example, even if I would be able to steal all the riches I wanted, nothing would prevent my family members being raped or murdered. Therefore order is required. The Joker, the cynical nihilist, states that without the laws based on ‘hollow’ morality “these civilised people will eat eachother”, insinuating that every person is psychopathic like himself, not being able to relate to other people and merely choosing those paths that would lead to the maximisation of their own personal gain, disregarding how many lives they would ruin in the process. However, we are able to judge what is ‘fair’ and what is not, and this judgement is based on empathy: the ability to relate to other people (something the Joker lacks). Tomas states that he ‘feels’ what is good and evil, and this feeling is derived from being able to place himself in the position of another person: he knows that murder is ‘evil’, because he does not want to have his own life taken away from him against his will. Apart from that, we know that we need other humans to add quality to our lives (to love, for example), so apart from ‘not wanting to be killed’ there is another aspect of self-preservation in respecting the lives of other people. Therefore no God or ‘highest moral authority’ is required to judge what is good an evil, because we are capable of doing so ourselves, based on empathy. Fairness may sound subjective (because some people would deem some things fair that others would deem unfair, for example, the torturing of terrorists to extract information or capital punishment for grave crimes), but can be distilled into some basic “rules” that we can (mostly) all agree on which gives this ‘fairness’ objectivity: the perfect example, of course, is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Therefore, we can conclude that the Joker is absolutely wrong (hooray!), but also that we do not need to put belief into a higher power to be able to live our lives right. Which is, in my personal opinion, a very good thing.

    • Daniel, thank you for your comment. Excellent discussion! Here’s a couple of comments in response.

      First, I want to make clear what I am NOT saying. I am NOT saying that people who don’t affirm or consent to the belief that there is an absolute truth and/or God are ipso facto anarchists who rape and pillage and do all sorts of nasty stuff. Or to put it another way, I don’t believe Nihilists are incapable of how you would understand living “our lives right,” which (and correct me if I am wrong) means a respectful lifestyle that honors one’s neighbor out of fairness.

      Second, having said that, my argument IS that people who do not believe in an absolute truth or higher power are inconsistent in saying that there is morality in which we are bound to live by. I see and agree with your point that even within a Nihilistic worldview one can choose to live a decent and “fair” lifestyle only because you don’t want others to mess with you and your family. BUT, without an absolute truth or Higher Power, you simply cannot say that one who does such a thing is wrong, but merely “antisocial” (that is going against the standards of a “fair” society). So, my question would be, “If there is no absolute truth or Higher Power, then why is ‘fairness’ the standard? If we are just evolutionary beings, where the strongest survives, why not have a different standard such as ‘strength'”

      Third (and connected to the second), you said, “We do not need to put belief into a higher power to be able to live our lives right.” What constitutes what is “right”? Is it just “fairness”? If so, why? It seems you have a standard of what is “right” but without absolute truths or a Higher Power, how do you know that your standard is correct?

      I think this is a good discussion, and I am very thankful that we can disagree on many aspects of philosophy and theology and yet still pursue “right living” that leads to such things as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But as a Christian, my “belief system” (which is oriented around Christ as the “Higher Power” and functions within absolute truths) allows me to say that certain living is right and certain living is wrong (i.e. the lifestyle of the Joker). And that the “rightness” of life is grounded and centered upon that Higher Power who is the embodiment of what is right and empowers those who believe in Him to fully live that out rightly. It also allows me to say that because humanity is created in the Image of God (or the “imprint” of a Higher Power), there is an aspect within humanity that intrinsically understands or at least longs for justice (even if it is skewed with many people much of the time).

      I am not sure if this helps or if this adequately communicates my position. I appreciate your comments and look forward to more dialogue.

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