Is The Joker really the bad guy in 'The Dark Knight'?

We take another look at the classic movie villain for Film Challenge Detroit


"The Dark Knight" starts with bad dudes in clown masks pulling a very elaborate heist in what we later find out is a mob-owned bank. Every step of the way, the subsequent henchman kills the previous henchman until there’s only one masked baddie left. Surprise! It’s The Joker! He gets away in classic Joker fashion, and after the heist we find Batman meeting with Detective Gordon about how this crime is part of a string of similar robberies. At the same time, the mob is meeting specifically during the day in an effort to avoid The Batman. Suddenly, The Joker sidles in, boldly letting every mob boss know that he has been the one robbing them, and that he has a plan to take down Batman.

Throughout this movie we are led to believe that the Joker is a bad guy without a conscience. Yet when we meet him, he is stealing money from the mob. Using fuzzy film logic, don’t two negatives equal a positive? This is similar behavior to other “heroic” characters we applaud. See: "Dexter" and "The Punisher."

Sure he’s breaking the law, but he’s taking out the real bad guys, right? He is killing men who clearly believe it is alright to rob a bank and hold civilians at gunpoint. We are led to believe that he is bad because he agrees to work with the mob, sure. And so what if on multiple occasions he tries and/or succeeds in cutting open people’s faces? Okay, okay, I agree that this last one might crossing the line.

We do know that The Joker’s goal is to get Batman to stop. The Joker puts a plot together to get the Batman to give up his identity; to put an end to one man thinking he can play judge and jury. He does this by harming innocent people, but he kindly leaves a hint revealing who will be next before every maiming. Talk about compassion! So one could easily argue that he doesn't really want to kill anyone. He leaves an easily followed trail of breadcrumbs for Batman, who is known to be the world’s greatest detective.

The Joker even hits the airwaves, revealing on television that one person will die every day until Batman reveals his true identity. This hero-in-clown-paint goes so far as to allow himself to be captured, so he can finally talk to Batman “mano a mano.” This is where he reveals that he knows Bruce Wayne is the man behind the mask, and that he believes that the city is taking advantage of him. There it is, The Joker is going to these extremes, risking life and limb, to help someone who is being exploited by a whole city. On one hand we have a man whose family helped save Gotham from economic devastation, and on the other, this brave champion and snappy dresser who is willing to risk the lives of himself and others, all so he can open Bruce Wayne’s eyes to the truth.

What do you think? Is the Joker a remorseless baddie, or does he simply adhere to the belief that the ends justify the means? Let us know in the comments section below.

Great characters make a great story. If you’ve got a story you want to tell, now is the time to enter Film Challenge Detroit 2018!

It’s Local 4’s film competition that takes the best film makers from all over the area, showcases their work, and awards the best films fabulous prizes. From cameras, to cash, to a trip for 4 to the Sundance Film Festival.

Check out FilmChallengeDetroit.com to see last year’s entries, peep the rules, and enter your masterpiece, and keep it turned to Local 4 all summer long for more information!