In my previous article on the Batman comics (229 Batman: the Killing Joke), I failed to elucidate the complete meaning of Joker becoming mad, leading to an “interesting” misunderstanding that Joker’s madness is just some random and arbitrary “tag”. Before becoming the Joker with which we are familiar, Joker was overwhelmed by some random yet fatal accidents, and the madness is a consequence of that. In fact, Joker explained very clearly his going mad:
“So when you find yourself locked onto an unpleasant train of thought, heading for the places’ in your past where the screaming is unbearable, remember there’s always madness. Madness is the emergency exit. You can just step outside, and close the door on all those dreadful things that happened. You can lock them away … forever.”
This is self-explanatory. Joker’s going mad is a half-conscious act to deal with the reality: instead of changing the world, he changed himself by manipulating his memories. Since the process is a rather conscious act, the interpretation is more close to existentialism rather than psychoanalysis.
The following page in the mentioned in BKJ actually moved me when I first read it:
Once a victim of contingency, Joker is the vanguard of contingency (could be regarded as a philosophical hero or antihero). He is so fanatic about his belief he doesn’t hesitate to risk his life showing (not proving) it. I find Joker very fascinating in this aspect.
Another example of dramatically changing oneself is Leonard Shelby in the movie Memento. (I wrote about this movie before, here) It’s hard to say whether his medical condition, anterograde amnesia, is his conscious choice, which is very unlikely. He does in some sense exploit his condition, his facticity in the terminology of Sartre’s existentialism, to deal with his reality, his profound loss and sense of guilt.
Even the movie Black Swan can be read in this light.
Next time when you think of the motto “Change yourself instead of changing the world”, please think of Joker, who is an excellent speaker for the very motto.