Thoughts on Good vs. Evil in the Movies

[SPOILER WARNING] The latest Batman film stirs the entire audience with questions and insights into the “battle” between good vs. evil. Several worldviews (perspectives on right vs. wrong) are expressed by the characters in the film. The Joker believes and acts “ahead of the curve” that all is chaos, and eventually the soul will show it’s true form as total depraved. The Joker’s way to prove his beliefs is to push people into their darkest moment with the threat of taking their lives, then taking their lives to shatter any hope the onlookers may have for their own.

This is the stark opposite of Batman’s perspective. In fact, Bruce Wayne (Batman) doesn’t seem to be able to make heads or tails out of the Joker’s motivation. Alphred, Wayne’s wise butler, notes that some people don’t care about anything, and don’t make rhyme or reason. This still doesn’t satisfy Bruce, as he obviously still marvels at the pure sensatable love for terror the Joker reigns on the citizens of Gotham.

Bruce Wayne, along with strongly moralistic men like Commissioner Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, strive to give the people of the city all the hope they can muster. They want to encourage mankind to believe that someone can choose to do good, then basically will. They admit that anyone has the potential to choose to do evil, but what with constant reminders of this coming from the mega-crime racket of the city, they want to oppose the evil as role-models with good heroics of their own.

Of course, the objective to appear basically good as Batman is difficult for Bruce to pull off, as it is only natural to suspect his secretive vigilante-style heroics. Gotham’s “Dark Knight” as he’s come to be known, is the last thing he’d want the good citizens to think of him. He wants to make the criminals see him as such, but in so doing, all will see him as such. It can’t be helped.

The Joker, using his cunning pshycological tricks, tempts both Harvey Dent and Batman to fall into their potential dark side. In the case of Harvey, who is overwhelmed with the loss of the girl he was planning to marry, can’t seem to help himself, and caves under Joker’s pressure. He goes on a spree to eliminate everyone remotely responsible for his girl’s murder. Harvey shows he’s not able to stand on his beliefs when he knows it’s dire important for him to. He throws everything he stood for to the wind.

In so doing, he sets Commissioner Gordon and Batman up in a very difficult juncture. They can report the truth to the people that Harvey failed and was overpowered by the Joker. This, they are certain, would destroy all the hope they’ve fought for. The city itself would be set on a downward spiral of helplessness knowing their “white knight,” as Dent had been recognized, could fall into evil.

Batman determines the public must not know. He tells Gordon to claim that Batman is responsible for the murders Harvey—Twoface—committed. Since Batman will lay down his reputation for Harvey’s legacy, and the hope of the people, he will save their courage to face evil and defeat evil. At least, that’s the idea.

This was a masterful turn of events. The protagonist laying down his own reputation for the “good” of the people. I don’t think many honest roles a hero play would allow for an honest man to do this, but since Batman is really not a person, but an idea, and the idea of Batman is taking the blame, I don’t think Bruce is harmfully deceiving the people.

Usually, evil is portrayed as deeper, smarter, quicker, witty-er and more interesting than good is in the movies. In the case of Batman, this has been the norm—up til now. Although the villains easily took the focus off of Batman in the film, the attention to the good guys was still there. I think, for once, the good guys are a formidable foe to the villains. Good was easily as hard to beat as evil.

Good is harder for hollywood’s storytellers to convey without coming off cheasily. Thus, strong, moral protagonists appear less and less in the movies. More and more, most characters are flawed to the point of being villains. The only reason not all the characters in such movies are villains is because there is still one more character that is more evil than all the rest, and this is the “badguy” the rest of the lesser evil men are up against. They look “good” compared to this other guy.

An example where attempted clean-cut good guys didn’t work was in the last Superman movie. As much of a fan as I am of the Superman story, I cringe at the thought of that movie. the directors, writers, and the whole of the production wasted their time trying to do what so many others could not do (many other hollywood people had turned down the job because they knew they weren’t up for it). And they too failed to sell a believable honest goodguy. I’ll give them kudos for trying, but even then, I suspect their attempt to make a good Superman movie with strong moral values was from out of their pride—the filmmakers appeared to give themselves too much credit.

It’s hard for these good story tellers to tell a convincing “good” vs a strong “evil” because they don’t know what good is anymore. They are not good people themselves, and have limited examples in their lives. Fortunately, their must still be some artists out there that know how, and those are the artists leading the way for the time being.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Good vs. Evil in the Movies

  1. Actually he does consider killing the Joker. The Joker puts the gun to his own head and gives Dent the opportunity to kill him. Dent chooses to flip his coin to determine Joker’s fate. Obviously the coin toss resulted in the Joker not taking a bullet to the head.

  2. Jeanette, I believe your referencing this part of what I wrote:

    (surprisingly, the last person he thinks about killing is the Joker, who is actually responsible for her death).

    And you’re right. I recall that he did toss the coin to decide whether to kill the Joker or not. Thanks for pointing this out. I’ve removed this statement from the post.

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