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A Critical analysis of the movie The Dark Knight

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1 A Critical analysis of the movie The Dark Knight
By: Jeff Currie 252823 ED 6108

2 Introduction Freudian Analysis
I will examine Freud’s concepts of the conscious, unconscious, id, ego, and the superego and how they apply to Batman and the Joker in the movie The Dark Knight.

3 Freudian Analysis

4 Psychoanalysis Psychoanalysis is part of our everyday lives and is one of the most familiar criticisms for most people. Anyone who has done an undergraduate degree or completed at least one year at a university would be familiar with the name Sigmund Freud and his thoughts and theories. Freud’s theories were very exploratory in nature and his hope was that others would further his theories or correct them. The key to psychoanalysis is to keep it simple and use it to gain a better understanding about human behavior. If we can understand how to use it to analyze human behavior we can also use it to analyze or read human behaviour in movie/media characters. This presentation will use Freud’s theories to analyze some of the characters from the movie The Dark Knight.

5 Freud’s Levels of Consciousness
In Freud’s understanding of the human mind based on the “Mental Iceberg” diagram the conscious mind is at the tip of the iceberg. This is where a person’s active thoughts and perceptions occur. This is a person’s everyday actions, what they do during the day and is where the mind is at it’s current awareness. This is a person’s most noticeable layer but only a small portion of a person’s awareness. Only 10% of an iceberg is visible (conscious) Source:

6 Batman/Bruce Wayne’s Conscious Mind
Batman/Bruce Wayne- Concerned with the protection of the citizens of Gotham. Batman is unconventional and unrelenting is chasing criminals but he does have his own laws and follows them. Even though he is unconventional he feels that the “ends justify the means”. Bruce’s other concern is his love for Rachel Dawes, his closest childhood friend. Batman/Bruce Wayne: Law & Order, Justice, Protection of the weak and love.

7 The Joker’s Conscious Mind
The Joker has no boundaries and acts without thinking about the consequences. The Joker has his own set of rules and plays by them. In the movie he often creates situations where is plays with people and he sets the rules of the “game”. In the movie he actively seeks to manipulate people and tries to turn them to evil. He always seems to create disorder and chaos wherever he goes. The Joker’s desire is to twist people’s minds and breakdown the current “system” and thus create chaos. No laws but his own No limit as to how far he will push the envelope Likes disorder and chaos Great at manipulating people, especially the clinically insane

8 Level of Unconsciousness
In Freud’s understanding of the human mind based on the “Mental Iceberg” diagram ,the unconscious mind is at the bottom portion of the iceberg. It also accounts for the majority of the iceberg. This is where a person’s fears, unacceptable desires, selfish needs, immoral urges, and underlying motives are located. The Unconscious is allotted an overwhelming 75%-80% of the mental iceberg. Source:

9 The Unconscious Mind Freud believed that people are inherently driven by their unconscious mind. Those driving forces being fears, selfish needs, immoral urges, unacceptable sexual desires, etc. Tyson 2006 states: “The unconscious is the storehouse of those painful experiences and emotions, those wounds, fears, guilty desires, and unresolved conflicts we do not want to know about because we feel we will be overwhelmed by them” (p.12). Many times these negative thoughts and feelings are repressed to the unconscious mind but this does not eliminate them but only serves to shape our present experiences.

10 Batman/Bruce Wayne’s Unconscious Mind
From Bruce’s background we know that he has a fear of bats but still chooses to use that symbol and surround himself with it. Bruce also has a tendency to have a lusty attitude. He is often chasing his love, Rachel Dawes, and is often surrounded by beautiful women. Both Batman and Bruce want to protect those that are closest to them and are willing to sacrifice themselves to do so. Batman is a very dark personality (comes out at night, uses darkness and fear to his advantage when fighting criminals). There is also an undertone of jealousy when it comes to Rachel dating Harvey Dent. Fear Lusty Egotistical Overbearing Dark/mysterious

11 The Joker’s Unconscious Mind
The most apparent level of unconsciousness with the Joker is his perceived insanity. He feels that humans are naturally evil and thus he sees nothing wrong with his actions. He feels he is just shedding light on an evil that already exists. This is proven wrong by Batman at the end of the movie. The joker seems to display signs of a repressed childhood. He often seems to be “playing” games with people. His overexcitement with the destruction he creates is another sign. He is always laughing even when in pain. There seems to also be some sexual urges and desires. This is apparent in how he treats women and even men (Batman). These urges may not always be apparent. The Joker seems to have a need to be in control. This is very apparent in the plots and schemes that he takes part in. The joker likes to create disorder and gain some control when doing this. Insanity Repressed childhood Sexual urges Need for control

12 A Look At The Past In order to understand why a person acts the way they do in the present we need to understand what occurred in their past. Tyson 2006 tells us, “When we look at the world through a psychoanalysis lens, we see that it is comprised of individual human beings, each with a psychological history that begins with childhood experiences in the family and each with patterns of adolescent and adult behavior that are the direct result of that early experience” (p.12). In many cases people are unaware of their past childhood issues or if they are aware they fail to realize when these issues are affecting their current behavior.

13 Bruce Wayne/ Batman’s past
Bruce Wayne/ Batman’s past At eight years of age Bruce witnesses the shooting and killing of his parents by a mugger. His parents’ death drives him to want to fight crime in Gotham City. He goes through intense physical and mental training to be able to fight crime but he decides that this training is not enough. So Bruce decided he needed to also strike fear into the minds of criminals. He felt he needed to be dark and a creature of the night. While trying to figure out how he is going to do this, a bat flies into his room through an open window and this is when he decided to dress in black and call himself the Batman. The most ironic thing about this is that Bruce has a fear of bats yet he surrounds himself with bat like symbols.

14 The Joker’s Past The Joker can’t recall the whole story of his past. In one scene in the movie he blames his dad for the horrific scars he has on his face and in another he blames his wife. So it is evident that he either does not really know or he just makes up a story to suit his needs at that moment in time. Prior to becoming the Joker (we don’t actually know his real name), the Joker worked as an engineer in a chemical plant but quits to try his hand at standup comedy. The Joker fails at his new career and in order to support his pregnant wife he decides to help out a couple of thieves by getting them into his former work place in order to gain access to a card shop next to the chemical plant.

15 The Joker’s Past Continued
Before the execution of the robbery plan the Joker finds out his wife and unborn child have died in a household accident. The Joker tried to back out of the plan but the two criminals strong arm him into following through with his end of the deal. The three men get caught breaking into the chemical plant and they are confronted by Batman. During their escape the Joker tries to get away by jumping a rail into a vat of chemicals. He is swept away and sometime later emerges in a nearby reservoir. When he emerges his sees that his skin is bleached white, his lips are ruby red, and his hair has turned green.



18 The Defenses A person’s defenses are what keeps their unconscious thoughts in the unconscious part of the mind. These defenses keep people from dealing with their destructive behaviors. Throughout the movie both Batman and the Joker display the defenses they use to keep their negative past suppressed in their unconscious mind. We will take a look at some of their defenses.

19 Batman/Bruce Wayne’s Defenses
Displacement – Batman/Bruce displays the defense of displacement by creating the character of Batman in order to fight crime. For the most part he is taking out his hurt, frustration and anger on the criminals of Gotham City. Batman/Bruce seems to attribute his issues to others such as the Joker or other super criminals he fights. He criticizes them but denies that he has similar issues.

20 Batman/Bruce Wayne’s Defenses
From these defense mechanisms Batman/Bruce also shows a fear of intimacy. Tyson 2006 states that fear of intimacy is, “fear of emotional involvement with another human being – is often an effective defense against learning about our own psychological wounds because it keeps us at an emotional distance in relationships most likely to bring those wounds to the surface” (p.16).

21 The Joker’s Defenses Selective Memory – The Joker seems to display selective memory when it comes to explaining the scars on his face. He is either doing this because he doesn’t want to remember or he does it to suit his desire at that moment. Rationalization – The Joker shows signs of making excuses to explain what he has done. In other words, rationalization is a way to explain immoral behaviors or feelings in a rational or logical manner to avoid the true explanation.

22 Freud’s Theory of the Death Drive
Freud suggests that as humans, we have a biological death drive. By this he meant that humans must have something in their biological make up to drive them to allow death to not only psychologically hurt them but also physically hurt them. Batman/Bruce may show signs of the fear of abandonment. Fear of abandonment comes into play when we look at losing a parent due to death. This fear of death through abandonment may explain their fear of intimacy. Tyson 2006 indicates: “Fear of death is often responsible – along with other reasons, as we saw earlier – for fear of intimacy” (p.23).

23 Freud’s Theory of the Death Drive
As for the Joker, his relationship with death is slightly different than Batman’s. The Joker’s relationship with death can be summed up by Tyson 2006 when she says: “If I don’t feel anything, then I can’t be hurt” (p.23). “this desire not to feel, this desire to insulate ourselves from life in order to insulate ourselves from pain, is probably the most common form of death work” (p.23). “the greater the role that death work plays in our psychological being, the greater our attraction is, despite the horror that accompanies it, […]”(p.24).

24 The id, ego, and superego Id – The id is based on the pleasure principle. It id wants what feels good at that present time. The id is not concerned with reality or about anyone else’s needs, it is only concerned with it’s own needs. The id is the furthest part from the conscious mind and contains a person’s basic drives. The id deals with the irrational and emotional portion of the mind. Ego – The ego is based on the reality principle. The ego’s job is to find a balance between the id and the superego. The ego seeks to satisfy the id while maintaining an outlook of reality and the fact that other people have needs as well. The ego helps to organize logical thoughts and lets a person make sense of the world around them. The ego deals with the rational part of the mind. Superego – Is a person’s conscience or the societal laws they follow. The superego helps people to think about there actions and keeps them in line with what it presumed to be acceptable. The superego is the diametric opposition to the id. It deals with the moral part of the mind.

25 The id The ego The superego

26 The id – The Joker The Joker is a perfect example of the id. He is irrational and his emotions can change quickly without indication. The Joker plays by his own rules and is uncontrollable. He does not plan his plots ahead of time but rather operates based on that particular moment in time. The Joker is unpredictable. Acts on impulses and desires. Does not plan ahead or prepare. He is emotional and irrational in his actions. He is chaotic and an example of what happens when the id is given free reign.

27 The Ego – Batman Batman is the ego.
He teeters between chaos and law & order and seeks to find a balance between the two when fighting crime. Batman is stuck between the desires of the id and the cautions of the superego. Id – Wants Gotham to kill Batman Superego – Wants Gotham to realize that Batman is the protector of the city Split between chaos and law. Split between the Joker and Harvey Dent.

28 Superego – Harvey Dent Harvey is put into a position of power because of a societal need. He is clean cut and strives for perfection. His striving for absolute perfection while trying to completely suppress the id will ultimately lead him to madness and evil. This occurs when he becomes the character of Two Face. Two Face is a great example of the id and superego in one person with no ego present.

29 Video Evidence of a PSYCHOanalysis
Click on the video to get it to play. In this clip we see evidence of Batman playing by his rules and laws. Batman walks a fine line between law and chaos (signs of him in the ego role). Batman says he will not kill anyone while fighting crime. He uses just enough force to subdue his criminal and send a message that he means business when fighting crime in Gotham City. Interesting comment when an impersonator batman asks, “What’s the difference between you and me?”

30 Here the Joker displays:
His Insanity His need for control Death Drive Signs of the id: pleasure, only concerned with his needs, irrational, Joker plays by his rules, unpredictable

31 This clip shows the Joker as being unpredictable (jacket full of grenades) yet intelligent enough to outthink the criminals. The Joker shows that he likes to be in control and displays his ability to manipulate people to do things he wants them to do. The Joker shows signs of being insane but takes offense to Gamble calling him crazy.

32 This clip is another example of Batman having his own rules and laws
This clip is another example of Batman having his own rules and laws. Here a criminal (Lau) has left the US to go back to China knowing the Chinese government won’t extradite him. Since Batman does not have to obey international boundaries when it come to apprehending criminals he (Bruce) travels to China and takes Lau back to the US for questioning. Again he fights off the bad guys but does not use excessive force.

33 In this clip we see more signs of the Joker as the perfect example of the id. We also see him trying to make the citizens of Gotham believe that all of the chaos in the city is the fault of Batman.

34 This clip shows Bruce Wayne’s desire (lust) for is lifelong love Rachel Dawes. Bruce and Rachel have not been able to maintain a serious relationship because of Bruce’s inability to commit. Bruce may be displaying his fear of intimacy due to suppressed feelings from the past.

35 This clip is another example of Bruce’s jealousy and desire for Rachel
This clip is another example of Bruce’s jealousy and desire for Rachel. He went out of his way to make sure Harvey and Rachel could not go on their date to the Russian Ballet.

36 This clip is another example of Bruce Wayne’s lusty side
This clip is another example of Bruce Wayne’s lusty side. He shows up to the fundraiser with three beautiful women. He probably does this to make Rachel jealous. Having three women with him is also another sign of fear of intimacy by not being able to commit to one person.

37 This is the first scene where the Joker is explaining the scars on his face. He tells a different story in the next scene. This shows one of his defenses, selective memory. He probably can’t remember or does not want to remember what happened to him so he makes stories up to suit his needs at that time.

38 This is another clip with a lot of items to talk about.
First the Joker shows signs of the defense mechanism of projection when he grabs and older gentleman and thinks about taking his hatred for his father out on this man. We see signs of his sexual urges towards Rachel. We hear a different version of how he got his scars. Batman arrives to protect his love, Rachel and at the end of the scene we see the desire and sexual urges he has for her. There is also some language deconstruction here. First the Joker says the word “Gentlemen” and stresses the word gentle, as if to say they are too nice to threaten him. We also see that a sentence can be taken out of context and have a different meaning when Batman says, “Let her go.” He wants the Joker to turn her over but instead the Joker drops her out the window.

39 This clip again shows Batman playing by his rules but he is pushing those rules to their limit. The criminal he throws from the building even refers to the fact that Batman has rules while the Joker doesn’t. We also see Harvey Dent as the superego and Batman tries to play that role up by telling Harvey that he can be the ray of hope the city needs and that he (Batman) cannot deliver that hope because of how the citizens of Gotham perceive him at this point in time because of the Joker’s manipulation. The other interesting note is that we are starting to see Harvey, as the superego, starting to come unraveled. Harvey is showing his struggle to ignore the id. His coin tossing is an example of the id and superego. One side of the coin represents the desires of the id while the other side represents the rational thoughts of the superego.

40 There is a lot going on in this scene
There is a lot going on in this scene. Again we get a reference to Batman’s rules and the Joker is trying to make him feel like he is going to have to break the biggest one, which is to not kill anyone. By making Batman choose the Joker he is manipulating Batman and making him feel that if Rachel or Harvey dies it will be his fault. We also see the Joker’s sexual urges in this scene. He places emphasis on the word “predicament” . There is also a lot of licking of lips by the joker and he also says to Batman, “You complete me.” The Joker also displays his joy of pain when Batman is beating him up.

41 Harvey Dent as the superego.

42 The Joker is displaying his death drive in this seen
The Joker is displaying his death drive in this seen. Death seems to play a big role in his life and the death of his wife and unborn child seem to make death more attractive to him. The Joker is also pushing Batman to his limit and wants Batman to break his own laws and kill him (the Joker). Batman demonstrates the struggle he is experiencing between the id and the superego. The id wants him to kill the Joker and the superego is saying that killing the Joker is morally wrong. Batman’s ego is able to sort things out and Batman does not kill the Joker.

43 This clips show the Joker’s ability to create havoc and chaos.
We also see that Harvey Dent is starting to unravel and display signs of the his id which is starting to influence him.

44 Here we see Harvey Dent as Two Face
Here we see Harvey Dent as Two Face. Two Face is a perfect example of the id and superego in one person. He uses a flip of his coin to decide who wins, the id or the superego.

45 The Joker displays one of these defense mechanisms while he is visiting Harvey Dent in the hospital after he is burned. The defense mechanism that he shows here is rationalization. When Harvey Dent blames the Joker for the death of his girlfriend Rachel, the Joker begins to give him reasons to try to rationalize why he did what he did. He tells Dent that he does things to show the people who have plans how pathetic they are from trying to control things in their lives. The Joker claims that he does not have plans and that he does not draw up schemes, but everything that he is telling Harvey Dent is actually just setting up one of his plans. The Joker has a plan to bring Harvey Dent down to his level to show the people of Gotham that everyone is actually just like him. Instead of actually telling Dent his reasons for doing things, he is rationalizing his actions to hide the true reasoning behind them.

46 We see the Joker’s ability to manipulate Gotham’s White Knight and he figures if he can corrupt him then everyone is just as vulnerable. Again we see that Batman will not kill anyone, even his arch-nemesis, the Joker.

47 Here we see Harvey Dent has succumbed to the fears, needs, and desires of the id. The Joker was able to corrupt the one person everyone thought could not be corrupted. Interesting to note that Harvey Dent dies and it is Batman that knocked him to the ground. Batman again, had to make a choice and saved the boy and not Harvey. Only this time it was by his doing that Harvey died. So the question that remains is; did Batman break his biggest rule and kill Harvey Dent?

48 References Nolan, C., Roven, C., Thomas, E. & Nolan, C. (2008) The Dark Knight. Warner Bros. Tyson, L. (2006). Critical theory today: A user-friendly guide. New York: Routledge.

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