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Batman vs. the Joker: Hope vs. Destruction

Batman vs. the Joker: Hope vs. Destruction

Can the world be redeemed?

by Dan Illouz

The Dark Knight, the new Batman movie, is breaking records in the box office. It's not only action-packed but also full of troubling philosophical and moral questions. An overarching theme of the film, interpreted through the eyes of Jewish thought, will help us better understand some basic principles of Jewish philosophy.

The rivalry between the Joker and Batman is more than the regular rivalry between a hero and a criminal. The Joker, eccentric, crazed and irrational, represents a coherent ideology. He is all about chaos. He believes there is nothing intrinsically good in this world. The final destination is always chaos or apocalypse. This world is bad and irredeemable.

The Joker believes there is no value in this world. Batman believes this world can and should be fixed.

On the other hand, Batman has hope in this world. He believes the world has order and can be good, that Gotham is constantly, yet slowly, evolving towards a positive destiny. A city which was full of criminals a few years ago is now a lot more quiet. There are even idealists who try to be superheroes themselves and a courageous District Attorney who is fighting corruption.

The Joker believes there is no value in this world. Batman believes this world can and should be fixed.

Judaism believes the world is not hurtling towards Chaos. The world is fundamentally good, and it's our job to bring out its potential. History has a destiny and the world is inching, step by slow step, towards redemption.

These two opposing views come to head during the film's climax, with the Joker betting on man's inherent drive for evil and self-interest, and Batman hoping man's fundamental drive for good and selflessness will rule the day. Ultimately Batman's belief in humanity triumphs, with some casualties along the way.

According to Jewish thought, there are two different forces acting in this world. One is called the derech habechiri, the way of choice, which is influenced by the freedom of choice of individuals. If individuals want to do good, they can. If they want to do bad, they can.

The other force is Derech hayichud-- the way of the unification, which continuously influences history to be moving forward towards the ultimate unification of God's name. Even when individuals choose to do bad, we are always moving towards the revelation of God's name of this world as a collective. As individuals, we have free will. But as a collective, whether we like it or not, we will always be revealing God's name. We will always be moving forward towards our final redemption. Ultimately this paradox can only be fully understood by God Himself.

This is Judaism's message of hope. Even if individuals choose bad, the collective will always be moving forward towards God's unification.

This is Judaism's message of hope. Even if individuals choose bad, the collective will always be moving forward towards God's unification in this world, revealing the ultimate good. Look at how the world has changed in the past thousands of years! Sure, there are some highs and lows, but who can deny that civilization today is much more moral than it was in Roman times? Even in the middle ages? Who can deny this constant progress towards a better world? Look how the Divine hidden hand orchestrated events in history to ensure that the Jewish people would return to the land of Israel and rebuild their homeland.

Rav Kook writes that the redemption from Egypt will forever stay the hope of the entire world. The whole entire world can get hope from the fact that Jewish slaves were saved from persecution in Egypt. This redemption showed the world that injustice does not last in this world. This is a world which grows towards justice. It will ultimately be good.

Judaism sides with Batman. This world is not fundamentally bad; it is not hurtling towards chaos. It is our mission to fix this world. We need to realize that even during the hardest of times, the Almighty is still leading us towards the greatest of times. We cannot always understand why through these specific means or how it is done, but every day we are slowly moving closer to complete redemption, every day is one of hope and optimism.

This is an edited version of a longer article that appears on

August 2, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 15

(15) Kwaku Minta, April 27, 2012 12:35 AM

Batman vs. The Joker: Order vs. Chaos

The Joker, if I understand him correctly, views life as a cruel and pointless joke. Hence, the Joker believes that the only natural response to this is to embrace death and mayhem. Batman, however, sees life as having a purpose and not meaningless. Bruce Wayne, like many of us, had something terrible happen to him (The murder of his parents.) But instead of succumbing to hate and despair, he turned his own personal tragedy into something very good and triumphant. The Joker, if the comic book tale of his origin is true, did the exact opposite. So in retrospect, Batman and Joker are mirror reflections of each other but with one key difference, which I just mentioned.

(14) mindfvuck, June 29, 2010 8:07 PM

the joker is more chaos than destruction

(13) devilthunder, May 5, 2010 6:41 AM

money for a good reason

I'm not jewish, but there has to be a reason why controversial themes like this makes money, because there is intrinsic value in knowledge and seeking the truth and discussing them. it may be selling-out, but not making money out of it only makes it priceless, which means it is kept for selfish gains. i would pay to watch the dark knight and the creators of dark knight deserves the material compensation for sacrifising their time to make it

(12) Daniel, December 9, 2008 10:09 PM

Not just money

Mark, I have to disagree. Movies are not just made for money period. That's like saying any job or work that anyone does is just for money and nothing more. To say that those who make good movies that spark this kind of controversy and discussion are simply doing it to make money is a cheap insult and completely discounts any intelligent discussion that might come from a movie such as this. Also, if that's how you see it, you should really be asking yourself why you do the work that you do.

(11), September 5, 2008 8:11 PM

if we are naturally good, do we need to teach people? do we need to preach to people?

see what others have to say on the dark knight on my blogspot on 29 sept 08. :-D

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