Here is an interesting interview with Robert Arp and Mark D. White, authors of Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul.
This is the best part of the exchange (If only because I can imagine the reporter getting really angry here):
“IDEAS: Is Batman a relativist or does he believe in some kind of universal ethic?
ARP: Yes, he believes in some kind of universal ethics, no doubt. Batman thinks there’s an objective reality no matter what the situation is. When all is said and done he is still an American superhero, and in that sense he can be black and white. Almost all superheroes are going to be black-and-white objectivists. I can’t think of any superhero who champions relativism.
IDEAS: Doesn’t this make Batman come across as authoritarian?
WHITE: Batman believes wholeheartedly in his mission, but it’s his mission alone, and he very hesitantly involves other people in it. I think he knows his ideas of right and wrong may seem fairly extreme, but he’s not asking anybody else to believe in them.”
Personally I really enjoyed the movie. Even more than I did the previous one. It does a great job in mixing up moral questions (on an over simplified and cartoonish way but clear and interesting nonetheless) and pure action.
The character I think people understand less is the Joker. He represents pure evil, the destructive force that has no purpose or reasoning besides proving that he is there. You can see that right after he is captured, the police men are puzzled by the fact that he has no history: no address, no criminal antecedents. When he says that “He is an agent of chaos – a dog that chases cars but that doesn’t know what to do when he catches one” I thought – wow, if only people understood this concept we wouldn’t be arguing whether terrorism is something you need to fight a war against or not.
He tries to explain all of this when he tells Batman about how people cling to “expectations” (i.e. the rule of law) and that he can only exist because of him. Now, I can see people (and I really mean liberals here) misunderstanding the meaning of this with “Ah ha! We only have Evil because people like Batman try to ‘impose’ their ways on other people”. That of course is the wrong answer. The Joker only exists because society exists. Batman tries to make society better, and the joker wants to prove him wrong. The Joker is the nihilist, the one that thinks he doesn’t have to follow any orders just because he didn’t make them.
Harvey Dent on the other hand, is a divided character (no pun). He begins as an ideologue and becomes a relativist once his ideology is not able to deal with reality (which also makes that reporter’s question about Batman being a relativist even more interesting). It is great how they tie his ‘demise’ with Batman’s decision (which was the right one, by the way). The whole thing about basing his reality on luck resonates on current political discourse and the media’s obsession with the bad consequences of correct actions.
Batman himself reminds me a lot of the role played nowadays by the US. He fights the scum but still people want to blame him. So much so that, in the end, he understands that this is one of his basic purposes – be the scapegoat to keep hope of a better world (the one without the need for Batman) alive in people. I thought it was really cool how they made Alfred the realist behind the scenes (the one that reminds Batman that doing good is not as clean as one wishes) and Lucius the naive scientist who enables Batman but “just that one time”.