A couple of weeks ago I started to get excited about the release of The Dark Knight. Whilst scouring the media for reviews, something caught my eye. A number of commentators were interested in the film?s engagement with 9/11.

Jeff Dawson (?Has the new Batman plundered its plot from 9/11??, The Sunday Times, July 20, 2008) found imagery of ?smouldering rubble? and ?bound hostages? to be ?blatant? allusions to contemporary terrorism. Dawson also reminds us of the recent monster flick Cloverfield?s debt to ?the video footage of Ground Zero witnesses?.
If viewers are being encouraged to find their images of terrorism in the Joker or rampaging creatures then something quite dangerous is happening. Monsters are inexplicable, unmotivated and can only be met with extreme force. If terrorists are like the Joker it justifies politicians being like Batman: violent, heroic, unaccountable.
Batman might let the Joker live, but there is no doubt that he and his cronies need to be beaten to a pulp. InĂ¥ The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne?s trusted butler insists the Joker cannot be negotiated with, and simply wants to watch the world burn. It would be a mistake ? practical as much as ethical ? to imagine that terrorism is simply an aesthetic of destruction. The hatred visited on the west has manifested itself in unjustifiable atrocities but it arises from complicated political, economic and ideological friction and not simply the desire of a madman to come out and play. The stories the Joker tells about his scars are mere fantasy; those driven to terrorism have real grievances and stories to express.
Having seen The Dark Knight I am inclined to agree with Manohla Dargis (?Showdown in Gotham Town?, The New York Times, July 18, 2008) that the Joker, who ?isn?t fighting for anything or anyone?, ?isn?t a terrorist, just terrifying?. However, the Joker does have something to tell us about the mindset behind a War on Terror. The Joker calls himself an agent of chaos and professes to hate the schemers ? mobsters as much as police ? with their plans. Really though, he craves order and meaning. A lover of cruel games (small time criminals are given shattered pool cues to compete for a place in his gang), the Joker seeks the meaning that comes from pitting yourself against an opponent and defining yourself through antagonism. The Joker tells Batman he doesn?t want to kill him, that his adversary completes him. When the Joker says he believes they are destined to keep fighting forever, he is expressing a fantasy of Manichean order ? of perpetual ?us and them? ? which exposes the kind of mind that wants to reduce world politics to monsters and grinning clowns. This is why the Joker, not himself a terrorist, might help us avoid dangerous ways of thinking about terrorism.

words| Simon Milner