Sunday, August 10, 2008

Order and Mayhem

Yesterday I finally saw The Dark Knight, apparently one of the last people to do so since its release just a couple of weeks ago. The media coverage of the film, along with the tragically real Heath Ledger connection, reached new heights of absurdity, but in this case I surprise myself by finding it warranted. This is the first comic book movie I've seen in which the niftiness factor and the visual artistry took a back seat to the sheer evil of the villain; it is the first one I've seen that transcended camp and succeeded in being genuinely disturbing. This Joker is a reasonable pop psychological depiction of true psychopathy, as opposed to more conventional forms of villainy stemming from ambition, greed, or even the lust for domination. This Joker desires mayhem for its own sake and revels in the infliction of pain; as he convincingly states, the one thing human beings cannot tolerate in their interpersonal understanding is chaos, which is the ultimate inscrutability. What we cannot stand above all is an absence of pattern. This Joker is all surface and no core, and we are given no traumatic biography to account for his nature: it just is. As in the case of Iago, we are deprived of the comfort of (supposed) explanation.

Is psychopathy, like suicide, one of the unique risks of consciousness? Do other primate species have anything corresponding to psychopathy? No celebrity watcher, I know nothing about Heath Ledger (I never even saw Brokeback Mountain), but one can't help but speculate that playing that Joker could prove the last straw for someone laboring under a particular psychological burden.

Back in the real world, in China, chaos erupted on an individual scale despite unprecedented measures to ensure total order and predictability. I have no idea why the Chinese man in question, described as a 47-year-old factory worker who was divorced and apparently without a current permanent address, fatally stabbed an American (the father-in-law of the men's volleyball coach) and then leaped to his own death. Was he depressed and angry, or disgruntled, or paranoid and delusional? It goes to show that the potential for chaos, however remote, is the price of freedom. Certainly cultures, as much as individuals, vary in their tolerance of chaos.

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