I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight yesterday. Batman is pretty much the only superhero that interests me. The movie had me thinking a lot about the dearth of female superheroes and the status of superhero love interests, but what it got me thinking about most was masculinitiy. So I’ll post my thoughts on it under a jump to spare you any spoilers.
But, a little food for thought before that. My partner and I were trying to decide who might be the next Batman, assuming there’s another movie. Of course, Christian Bale might have the part again, but you never know. Anyway, I got to wondering . . . does Batman have to be played by a white guy every time? I know that ever since Batman existed as a comic book character, he has been a white guy, but does that really matter? It’s not like the character has been played by the same actor throughout history. Heck, he’s had a consistent love interest between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and she was played by a different actress each time!
Anyway, my thoughts on the film . . .
Probably because I just recently finished Susan Faludi’s Stiffed, masculinity has been on my mind a lot lately. Specifically, I’m interested in this idea that a really masculine man is solitary, isolated. The Dark Knight, of course, portrays Batman as brooding and alone. He can’t be with the woman he loves because his night job as a vigilante gets in the way of their relationship. He brushes off wanna-be Batman impersonators who want to help him. He of course has to hide his identity. But when you get right down to it, Batman doesn’t work alone. For example, he has Lucius Fox on hand to help him create a new suit as well as high-tech gadgets and plans. For all the money that Bruce Wayne has, he needs someone to help him out. He may work alone, but his partnership with Commissioner Gordon affords him a bit of protection from the police who are instructed to arrest him if caught. He also is able to make use of police forces when trying to save Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent. Even the most masculine, solitary superhero can’t do it entirely alone.
And it’s the same with the Joker. The Dark Knight tries to show two solitary men, one hero and one villian, pitted against each other. But even the Joker doesn’t work in complete isolation. He works with members of the mob to help him get what he wants. He hires henchmen. Even he needs help to pull of his sociopathic killing spree. And, as the Joker points out, he needs Batman. And Batman needs him. Without villians, Batman can’t exist to exact vigilante justice (although Bruce Wayne would probably like it that way). But the Joker really does need Batman in order to exist. Sure, the police could go after him. But he really can’t be a villian without a hero (even a misunderstood hero) for an arch-enemy.
So while The Dark Knight attempts to present the struggles of the solitary, masculine hero, it also deconstructs the idea. Neither Batman nor the Joker work entirely alone. And when you get right down to it, their identities are dependent on each other’s existence. These two solitary men in fact need each other. The isolated, brooding man doesn’t really exist anywhere, not in real life, and not even in the movies.