"Dark Knight" movie review by stephanie pope for mythopoetry.com
myth and poetry


"Dark Knight"

from Part IV: The Death of the Hero Myth as Muse/ Death As Muse Series
by -stephanie pope

Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman-a rope over an abyss
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zaruthustra/Prologue, 1891

Dark KnightThere has awakened in each of us an inner world, caught
as we have been by the spectacle of 911 in the outer life through an image held apart but not separate both in psyche and cosmos in whom we are being when pretending ourselves throughout all we are.

The image is evident in the movie poster for Batman’s “Dark Knight” which hit the box office mid August, 2008 in my locale. The movie poster shows a tower ablaze; the blaze itself appears as a firebird in the form of a bat. In the foreground is the dark figure of the man-bird. If this were not enough to suggest what troubles the outer enters from the imaginal point of view and is at work deep within the grievances of our bereavements, I note the fictional movie-city, Gotham is a term first used by Washington Irving in 1807 in a short-lived magazine, “Salamagundi” as a nick name for New York City which suggests itself synonymous with a ‘community of fools’.

One of the other things I notice when I go to see this movie is how the very made-up smile of the Joker (played by Heath Ledger) is cosmetically arranged ‘just so’ to resemble the fiery batwings the movie poster depicts; not to mention throughout the movie, the gesture the actor, Ledger makes with his mouth when speaking is reptilian. The Joker as the archetypal, sublunary foolish trickster is speaking to us in serpent tongue. Such ‘fools’ guide us into the Underworld as soon we shall see.

A growing layer of resemblances shine forth. As if somehow sequenced in a long, evolutionary yet transitional chain, much like those existing throughout the chains in reptilian phylogenes, among which are a transitional series between reptilian forms and mammalian ones called 'reptilian synapsids', the movie poster’s fire-bird is to bat, is to serpent power, is to fictional storyline, is to loss of life since 911, is to human bereavement, is to the grave of the hero, is to the imaginal point of view, a statement that the end of life nowhere means an end to soul. It is as if to say what animates life in the soul of our bereavements are not just images of our dead but also forebodingly deadly images such as 911. The images of our dead are not themselves dead. It is as if to say even deadly images, and deadened images, images such as the numbing effect broken images have on us, belong to life’s creative powers of soul-making.

This imaginal view of the mourning process is contemplated by Greg Mogenson in the introduction to Greeting The Angels. Somehow the movie’s imagination has suggested to me the “Dark Knight” has assembled the soul of America’s bereavement and that the 911 mourning and morning ever after parades the way Mogenson suggests the soul of the dead parade “…at work, making themselves into religion and culture, imagining themselves into soul…” whereas “the more precisely we imagine our losses, the more psychological we become.” (xi)

This notion works as well in the mind of the fictional Bruce Wayne like a storytelling device. It announces the involuntary creation of the “Dark Knight” image; it is not a hero we are told, as we are told how the death of Gotham’s hero, Harvey Dent will come to be retold in the mythical story of the death of the hero shortly before the end of this movie.

Death and myth conflate to both preserve and destory our ‘dead’ hero/culture hero image—but not to destroy it! The story seems to, if unwittingly, yield the sense of a new level of creation.  It seems almost epic yet goes beyond the hero’s epic tale by going between the story of evil and the myth of the hero. It is muse to the creation of the legend of the “Dark Knight” suggesting to me man’s soul contains the very lowest instinctual elements of the human psyche leading to the very highest elements. The instinctual elements would be the base, primordial material that the psyche needs in order to evolve and grow but it is not chthonic.

The Chth┼Źn in myth is depicted as an Underworld, a hell, an inferno or Hades. According to James Hillman some classicists distinguish this realm freeing it psychologically from the psychic realm of nature as not referring to the same region, nor will it invoke the same felt-senses. JH specifies chthonic senses as referencing the cold, dead depths and as ephithets belong to Hermes, Dionysos and even Zeus. Love, too comes from the House of Death and is Death’s brother he declares “and will not save us from it… but fulfills itself…in the intangible bodies of psychic images.” (33) The image of the superman, the batman, then, may just suggest the soul of the ‘superman’ bridges the instinctual life and man’s relationship to divinity, a turning between beasts and gods that is down-going.

It is now noted the imaginal life or fantasies the dead are subject to belong to chthonic mythologies of the afterlife. The Greek term suggests something both dark and mysterious. The word brings together the image of the mournful Bruce Wayne suffering the loss of his parents and the notion of the transmigrating animal soul of the deeper making “higher” self of which the bat represents. Jung’s work suggests the serpent image is an ancient representation of the lower worlds of the instinctual life and also of cycles of rebirth. (374) JH notes certain deities are guides between the regions of emptiness that stretch between the worlds of the living and the dead. The image complex Death/Joker/Clown suggests the trickster, Hermes. But, it is Homer who gives us the important passage showing Hermes guiding the bat-like soul of the dead suitors past the Land of Dreams and into the Asphodel Fields of the Underworld.

Now Cyllenian Hermes called away the suitor’s ghosts,
holding firm in his hand the wand of fine pure gold
that enchants the eyes of men whenever Hermes wants
or wakes us up from sleep.

With a wave of this he stirred and led them on
and the ghosts trailed after with high thin cries
as bats cry in the depths of a dark haunted cavern,
shrilling, flittering, wild when one drops from the chain—
slipped from the rock face, while the rest cling tight…
So with their high thin cries the ghosts flocked now
and Hermes the Healer led them on, and down the dank
mouldering paths and past the Ocean’s streams they went
and past the White Rock and the Sun’s Western Gates and past
the Land of Dreams, and they soon reached the fields of asphodel
where the dead, the burnt-out wraiths of mortals make their home.

                                    -Homer, Odyssey, Book 24
(Fagels Translation)

“As bats cry in the depths of a dark haunted cavern, shrilling, flittering, wild when one drops from the chain”, (or rope!) mimes to mind one more haunting yet important movie scene. It is, at least, haunting to me! It is the scene where the Joker is suspended over the abyssal Gotham night hanging onto the end of a rope held secure by the Batman overhead him. The scene unites in the person of the snake-tongued Joker the archetypal image of the hanging or “hanged” man. Odin, the Norse god is a hanged man. He transforms himself into a serpent, comes to earth and hangs on the tree of life in order to attain the “mead” or “muse” of inspiration. Christ on his tree is a hanged man, too. Moreover, clowns often present themselves as twins, a warring pair, or döppelganger or “doubles”.  Their role is to shepherd our imperfections with humor, even dark humor. (Miller, Christs, 47-48) There are many such comic pairs. I noted in Part 3 one of the shepherding comic pairs in the essay on the psychic image “the death of god” as muse is Burns and Allen. Burns is the straightman. He’s got the tricky eye for seeing between the monstrous nature of life and the hermetic transforming nature in laughter.

The Joker in this scene is going to talk a talk psychologically important and Batman #663boon bestowing.The scene for the movie is taken from Batman #663 which also provides the image of the Joker’s “Glasgow” grin. It joins the image of the red, fiery “chthonic” nature of the serpent-tongued, clownish fool-figure with the black-humored soul dreaming through psyche’s Chthön. The movie’s line, “You (Batman) need me, as much as I (Joker) need you!” is not identical to the comic book line which inspires it.

…the Joker slobbers incoherently, “I could never kill you…where would the act be without my straightman!” 

One would have overlooked in this scene, the rope. Friedrich Nietzsche didn’t. He
likened man to this very image stretched between the animal and the Superman; stretched, a rope over an abyss.

 Thus began Zarathustra's down-going…

When Zarathustra arrived at the nearest town which adjoineth the forest, he found many people assembled in the market-place; for it had been announced that a rope-dancer would give a performance. And Zarathustra spake thus unto the people: I teach you the Superman. Man is something that is to be surpassed. What have ye done to surpass man?...

Zarathustra, however, looked at the people and wondered. Then he spake thus:
Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman- a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going.

Today the genre of imaginal or archetypal psychology presents new possibilities inherent within the imaginal dimension of our psychological depths. Henrich Zimmer credits such discontinuity of reality as represented well through the world creation of the Hindu myths of the East. He notes of the ‘involuntary creation’ such interpretation will have been rejected as a pessimistic view of life by former generations of Americans; and yet today, not so.

 “Calamity is the normal circumstance,” he scribes, “supporting both our struggle for order and our heartening illusion of a possible ultimate security.” Even in the disorderliness of natural, unpredictable occurrence Zimmer suggests a secret safety is understood by the myth of the involuntary creation, an ironical interdependency of powers and oft surprising paradoxes of their effects upon each other and upon themselves. Such creation proceeds unceasingly and is of itself. The self-creation comes “by surprises, involuntary acts and abrupt reversals…creates surprising balances” in which destiny is lived, neither overturned nor undone. Even the divine incarnations accept the profound revelation of the depths in the surprising fact concerning their own natures in being. There is that part of ourselves, unknown to us and unforeseen which will, from within, arise out of us.  Thusly, there is no act complete in seven days. Creation does not go always right nor does the self-transport by which this world moves render living less hair-raising or less precarious. (239-253)

Work Cited

Dark Knight. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman. Warner Bros, 2008.

Hillman, James. Dream and the Underworld. New York: harper & Row, 1998.

Homer. The Odyssey. Robert Fagels, trans.. New York: Penguin, 1996.

Jung, C.G.. Symbols of Transformation, C.W. vol 5. R.F.C. Hull, trans. New Jersey: Bollingen, 1990.

Miller, David L. Christs:Meditations on Archetypal Images in Christian Theology. New York: Seabury, 1981.

Mogenson, Greg. Greeting The Angels: An Imaginal View of the Mourning Process. New York: Baywood, 1992.

Morrison, Grant. The Clown At Midnight: Batman #663. Art by John Van Fleet, 32pp..
DC Comics, February 14, 2007.

Zimmer, Heinrich. The King and the Corpse. Joseph Campbell, ed. New Jersey: Bollingen, 1993.

******************* Read The Odyssey by Homer here!

Death As Muse

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Poetry (retired October, 2009)

Sorrow, Too
Ad Mortuous
The Gnarl Inn

Scenes from "Dark Knight"/ You Tube

Primary Excerpts
Dark Knight Preview: A closer look

IMAX Featurette
Christian Bale (talks on the soul of the dark knight and the white knight / 4min)

Video Trailer
Chicago Press Conference Excerpt

Remembering Heath Ledger (Death as Muse!)
Heath Ledger (talks about the role of "Joker")
Joker vs. Joker (Heath Ledger/Jack Nickolson contrast)
Dark Knight/Joker Video Trailer

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