II/ A purple Dionysus
I must say that Dionysus was Nietzsche’s favourite greek god. The crazy german philosopher often used him as a symbol in order to illustrate his own philosophical concepts, such as the will to power, and everytime he needed to explain that life must not be contained nor despised by any kind of morals (especially the judeo-christian one) to his potential readers. He also wrote 9 wonderful poems about him entitled Dionysian-Dithyrambs (1888). When he started to be really mad, that is to say blurting out loads of incoherent things around, he thought that he was the embodiment of the Greek god himself ! He even signed up ‘ Dionysos ‘ the letters that he had sent to his dearest friends, more or less at the end of the year 1889 ! But let’s get back to Dionysus himself! Who is he exactly, according to our favourite moustached german philosopher? Not only the deity of the grape harvest and drunkenness. Dionysus represents mankind, especially a certain step and a certain period of mankind: the most primitive one, during which human beings were neither rational nor civilised beings but completely impulsive and wild ones. This specific characteristic can be easily noticed if we refer to the type of feast that the Greek deity was fond of organising, which has been wonderfully described by Nietzsche in the dionysiac vision of the world (1870). During dionysiac feasts the ancient Greeks expressed all their primitive instincts together, after having been bewitched by the frenetic and the faithful servants of Dionysus. Then they all sung and danced with each other and also with any type of beast who could stand by them, and melting themselves into Nature.
The Joker could have done that all as well! The Joker does not appear on all the episodes of Nolan’s trilogy but only on the 2nd one entitled the dark knight (2008). In this movie Heath Ledger unquestionably played him well. His interpretation was aesthetically and psychologically dark, which makes this character more human and closer to us, compared to the Joker played by Jack Nicholson (who was pretty good though as a funny and a frenzied criminal, and as an elegant and a purple dandy). Here again I am going to compare these two characters through the same perspectives (see the previous article): aesthetic, psychological, and ethical.
1) From an aesthetic perspective, both the Joker and Dionysus wear purple clothes. Purple. A common color between the unhinged god and the most famous frenzied Batman’s enemy. Purple, or rather dark purple. The color of grapes which hang from Dionysus’ head. The color of the Joker’s outfit. The color of the Dionysus’ outfit as well. The color of the wine. The color of the drunkenness. And almost the color of the blood. Sometimes the blood turns out to be slightly blue, slightly red, almost purple. And the blood is the life itself, the most primitive aspect of it. Without blood there will be no life. And both Dionysus and the Joker are looking for it: during dionysiac feasts some people could be torn away by his crazy and faithful servants, and during the dark knight (2008) the Joker of course kills many human beings. Moreover, the purple color was often mixed with elements of magic and religious: it was essentially power and, as such, instrument and witness of consecration. The priests and kings wore robes of purple, so being the color of the highest dignities. In Byzantium, the color was the exclusive use of emperors. And we can find all these characteristics, magic and religious, and this idea that purple must be worn only by valuable persons such as gods, emperors, etc. inside Dionysus and the Joker’s own psychological worlds.
2) From an psychological perspective, both characters are completely and blithely mad. There is always something awfully gay or let’s rather say festive about the way they try to bring out chaos to the worlds in which they lived: Dionysus sings and dances before tearing apart with his servants some human beings which have joined them all, his servants and followers (his potential victims haha!) and the Joker either makes awful jokes or keeps laughing out loud before attacking or killing someone in particular. Moreover, there is something which is definitely divine, or linked to the religion deeply inside them: Dionysus was of course a god, with his own cult, his own servants and so forth. And the Joker is not a simple psychopath but rather a person who tries to be like a god, in a sense that he thinks of himself as a superior being who has the right to do whatever he wishes, and to kill whoever he wants. We can even say that the Joker is also some type of religious leader, or a prophet, who has got a holy or a very important mission to achieve in Gotham City: bringing you chaos and creating a new type of criminal, who will not care at all about money but will be only preoccupied by ruining the whole city. Besides, he has his own followers, just like Dionysos, who wear typical clown masks.
3) From an ethical perspective, hum…Let me think for a minute or so…We cannot say that there is no ethics at all inside Dionysus and the Joker’s own worlds. There is no ‘civilised’ or precise rules, which allow people to give some respect to each other and which forbid them to kill the other one. There is one ethics, which can be defined this way: let the chaos live, let the chaos itself (full of different, unknown and unexpected forces) take over people and cities (greek ones for Dionysus, Gotham City for the Joker). In other words the only rule which does exist is the following: there are no rules at all…Only chaos and chance rule! Values such as good and evil does not exist anymore, and the respect of life itself does not mean anything. Dionysos often killed mortals in his life, and he also died himself many times (for example when his mother was stricken by a lightning bolt sent by Zeus himself). The Joker often killed people as well and did not even care to be seriously injured or killed three times in the dark knight (2008):
– Batman interrogated him about the double kidnapping (related to Harvey and Rachel) he had organised. But the Joker did not completely and sincerely reply to him. Instead he slowly gave him some clues in order to make Batman very angry, to push him to seriously injure him, almost to kill him.
– When the Joker came to the Gotham General Hospital visiting Harvey Dent and drove him crazier by explaining that he was not the responsible of the death of his girlfriend. After having done so he pronounced in front of Harvey the following words: ‘ introduce a little anarchy…Upset the established order…And everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair. ‘ Then he gave a gun to the district attorney, and let him decide if he deserves to live or not after having given a gun to Harvey Dent…
– At the end of the movie, he tried to put a smile on Batman’s face with his knife near the edge of a scaffolding. However the dark knight swiftly took over the Joker: first he pushed him back then he threw the purple Dionysus above him straight into the emptiness. But Batman unlike the Joker cannot kill anyone, therefore he got him back by his ankles with his special gear, and that even slightly disappointed the Joker, who cannot help telling Batman at that moment: ‘ oh you. You just couldn’t let me go, could you? ‘
However having explained that all we cannot deny that some rules exist anyway, in both Dionysus and the Joker’s own worlds. But these rules are just basic ones, almost irrelevant: gathering some people, making them faithful, coordinating them in order to achieve some specific missions: Dionysus did so when he wanted to organise his famous dionysiac feasts, and so did the Joker, when he wanted to kidnap Harvey Dent the district attorney and his girlfriend, Rachel Dawes.