The World According to Joker: The Dark Knight Predicted the Future a Decade Ago

Pop Culture

The World According to Joker: The Dark Knight Predicted the Future a Decade Ago

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

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arvel vs DC is pop culture’s version of India vs Pakistan – two sets of fervent supporters locked in bitter struggle to claim superiority in every aspect, despite being as alike as peas in a pod. But no matter which side of the superhero divide you identify with, there’s an unforgettable performance that unites the fandom in wide-eyed admiration. That film is The Dark Knight, and that performance is Heath Ledger’s once-in-a-generation turn as The Joker.

There’s a reason that The Dark Knight is still a mainstay in the lists of best superhero films of all time, both critically and commercially, as it completes 10 years to its release today. For all the spectacle of the Avengers franchise and the mould-shattering freshness of Wonder Woman, they are offerings that are germane to the moment of their release, to movements and ideas that were trending at the time. But, The Dark Knight has at its core the Joker – a manifestation of pure evil – who poses a threat not by holding up a gun, but by holding up a mirror to reflect humanity’s darkest self. What the Joker embodies is our id, a callback to our earliest impulses, devoid of self-control or rational thought.

The scariest thing about the Joker is that he lives inside each of us – even our hero Batman. When he says, “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules,” on some subconscious level, you have to agree with him. There’s too much evidence in support of his theory.

“Madness is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.”

Warner Bros Pictures

I first watched The Dark Knight as a gullible 16-year-old – back then, I didn’t really have the awareness to believe his, frankly scary, theories. “When the chips are down, these… civilised people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve,” he says. Ten years ago, hearing the Joker’s prophecy about our readiness to turn on our own kind seemed bizarre – now it feels like a repetition of what I see around me. Just like Gotham, our world is not short on strife. Refugees fleeing from conflict turn up on foreign shores seeking asylum, only some of them end up face down in the surf like Aylan Kurdi. Others wind up like the little girl in the pink jacket, crying while immigration officers pat down her mother at USA’s southern border. International laws and border protocols are tearing apart families and costing lives, but that’s the price of a secure, civilised lifestyle, right?

The Joker saw through society’s hypocrisy. He recognised our tendency to turn a blind eye to the most horrific happenings, just because we’ve become habituated to them. It’s not just everyday brutalities and atrocities, like the murder of journalists, rationalists, and activists, but even the mundane annoyances of life that we swallow without giving them a second thought. Every year, our cities’ infrastructure lies exposed, government apathy plain to see in Mumbai’s flooded streets, Bangalore’s toxic lakes, or Delhi’s smog-choked air. We go through life with all of this happening around us simply because we’re used to it. Or, as the Joker said himself, “You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan’. Even if the plan is horrifying!”

The Joker has an amoral code for an amoral world, and that’s why he’s still relevant today.

When chaos is everywhere, it becomes the new normal. What the Joker realised was that anarchy is kept at bay only by a false sense of security. Every action has unimaginable consequences. A beef ban introduced to prevent the illegal slaughter of cattle has led to a rise in the illegal slaughter of humans accused of slaughtering cattle. Now, it seems like every month there’s a new, depressing headline about a lynch mob running wild in some part of the country, protecting the rights of imaginary cows and un-kidnapped children.

Thinking about how we got to this point can lead you down a rabbit hole of absurdity, so let’s leave it to the Joker to put it as eloquently and poetically as only he can. “Madness is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.”

“When the chips are down, these… civilised people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”

Warner Bros Pictures

Before The Dark Knight, I would’ve scoffed at the notion that a superhero film could contain life advice, but ten years of having the Joker’s words justified in the world around me has changed that attitude. His is an amoral code for an amoral world, and that’s why he’s still relevant today. It might be bleak to think like he does, that all our actions are eventually meaningless and that bad things happen regardless of good intentions, which is why I think the very first words we hear him in the film speak act as a tonic to the nihilism he unleashes in his wake.

We might live in a cruel, senseless world, but here we are. We’re still alive and doing the best we can, and to quote the Joker one last time, “whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you… stranger.”

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