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“Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough.” And neither is a cliché. Postmodern Hybridization in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight

Melanie Benford March 15, 2013

Postmodern Hybridization Neo Noir • revivalism • hybridization • complexity

“Ah, the good cop, bad cop routine?” –the Joker. Here we have the her o, Batman, ready take down the villain, the Joker as they come face-to-face. The Joker still has some tricks up his sleeves in this complex narrative.

“Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough,

The Guardian’s David Cox writes that the characterization, plot, and themes (specifically the destruction of moral authority of The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) are lost through Hollywood clichés. I see where Cox is coming from. For example, the plot of The Dark Knight is about the rise and fall of a superhero (Christian Bale), a conventional good versus evil story. Moreover, as the Joker, Heath Ledger plays the typical villain who looks for revenge and finds pleasure in causing mayhem. Finally, a common theme of self-reflection presents itself in

this movie when the superhero and Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) discovers things about themselves due to the life or death situations they are put it in. said, I would argue that all of these Hollywood clichés in The Dark Knight actually reinforce the film’s status as a postmodern, hybrid neo noir.

sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded…” Batman

Hybrid? What’s That? “Two basic tendencies are at work in postmodern noir, revivalism, which attempts to retain the mood and atmosphere of classical noir, and hybridization where elements of noir are reconfigured in a complex generic mix,” (Andrew Spicer, 150). Although Cox might argue that this movie lacks complexity and depth due to clichés, The Dark Knight is truly composed of elements such as plot, characterization, and theme that are from noir which makes up a hybrid.

Batman (Christian Bale) looks over a corrupt Gotham City. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight came out in 2008. This is the movie poster for it. Page 2

The Hero versus The Villain First, let’s focus on the story line of this movie. Is it about good versus evil? Yes, it is. However, the “cliché” good versus evil, hero versus villain story has actually been a part of classical noir for some time now. Chinatown, Touch of Evil, and Maltese Falcon are just a few classic noirs that are based on the “good guys” versus the “bad guys”.

The Hero is Batman and the Villain is the Joker. Postmodern noir would argue this story isn’t cliché but complex

The Dark Knight makes references to classical noir both in story and style which makes up one part of this postmodern, hybrid neo noir. Postmodern noirs are about the conception of a corrupt city along with feelings of paranoia and complex narratives that become intensified (157). The superhero, Batman, is known to audiences for his crime fighting and saving the world

antics. In the movie, the story goes deeper than just the hero. It shows the fall of a superhero and makes the audience question what is right and what is wrong. In the “5 Days of Batman: The Dark Knight Revisited” by Umar Shameem, he states: “Since this is a more realistic depiction of Batman, each of the questions of morality is far more complex than what would ordinarily be shown in movies or comics.” For example, Batman (Bale) wants to stop the Joker (Ledger) and his mob from corrupting Gotham City, like any good versus evil story, but Batman must go to extreme lengths to stop him. The Joker requires that the Batman reveals himself to the townspeople. The secret identity of the Batman is what makes him just that…the Batman.

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Christian Bale outside of his Batman suit.

The Hero


The Villain

“Why so serious?

This is just one of the complex obstacles the superhero must face in dealing with the Joker. The plot also can be categorized as a postmodern hybrid by focusing on the end of the movie. The ending is not your typical Hollywood happy ending. Harvey Dent (Eckhart) becomes corrupt and dies yet Batman takes the fall for Dent wanting the townspeople to still think highly of him. Meanwhile, the Joker doesn’t die and is put into mental institution while the image of the superhero becomes tarnished. The way this story is told through cinematic style is even intensified to make this become a postmodern hybrid. The awkward and enclosed angles, the shadows, low lighting, vertical lines, excess, and fast action sequences all work in unison to create an unconventional plot in neo noir, not to be confused with a Hollywood cliché.

“Alright, so listen why don’t you give me a call when you want to start taking things a little more seriously…Here’s my card.” -Joker

Characterization of the Joker in Neo Noir Heath Ledger does a superb job in bringing the Joker alive in this movie. The Joker is the typical villain who corrupts the city with his evil ways and causes paranoia amongst the townspeople. However, referring to film noir, his character can be viewed as a serial killer and psychopath.

The Joker is about to partake in the bank robbery. Page 4

Characterization of the Joker in Neo Noir

“This interest in amoral, disturbed personalities has been most fully developed in a distinct subgenre of noir-horror that depicts the serial killer, the ultimate transgressor, a mythical figure composed of Gothic elements together with the deviant criminal and noir psychopath. All of these facets are condensed in serial killer narratives which are themselves hybrids of Gothic romance, police procedural, murder mystery, horror story, and noir thriller,� (162). In agreement with this statement, it can also be considered that The Dark Knight is a psychological noir thriller as well as Heath Ledger’s character possesses the characteristics of a Page 5 deviant criminal, conscienceless killer, and a mastermind. For instance, within in first ten minutes of the movie the Joker (Ledger) arranged a bank robbery with the intentions of keeping the money he steals for himself. In arranging the robbery, it is clear that he instructs every man who is a part of this robbery to kill one another which would leave the Joker the last one standing. He kills people with no remorse or conscience.

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The Joker walking towards Batman.

The Joker shows his cards displaying how complex he is.


Want to know How I got These scars


The Joker is a mastermind and is very strategic on who he kills and how he constructs his mayhem. It is understandable that Cox would believe this character is cliché because he gets caught and goes to jail, however while in jail the Joker is still able to cause chaos by kidnapping and planting bombs in different areas causing a psychological twist to the audience which is not very cliché.

My father was A drunk and A fiend.”

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They may have got him in jail, but the Joker has another plan to cause mayhem in Gotham City. Page 7

Batman determined to save Harvey Dent and Rachael Dawes’ lives.

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There is a common theme that presents itself in The Dark Knight and it is self-reflection. How common or typical is this theme though? In modern and postmodern noirs, selfreflexivity is used to draw the audience in as well as illustrate stories that circle back on themselves (148). Batman is faced to deal with his true identity and whether he will reveal himself to the world since the Joker is killing people until he does so. Also, Harvey Dent is an advocate for keeping the peace in Gotham City, but he is placed in a life or death situation by the Joker who ends up killing his girlfriend. After, he survives Dent becomes corrupt and heartless. Dent is in the hospital when he reflects on what has happened to him and his girlfriend and decides he want to be “Two Face.� He is deceiving to his fellow peers as he kills two people and ends up dead. Again,which is not a typical Hollywood happy ending. Self reflection is used to make the audience think and relate to what the character may be going through and question what is being shown to them.

After losing his girlfriend, Harvey Dent starts to become corrupt in Gotham City.

Harvey Dent wanting peace in Gotham City before the Joker puts him in a threatening situation.

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Postmodern Hybridization What exactly is a Hollywood cliché? Is it something audiences see too much of? Or in postmodern noir’s case, it is a strategic cinematic element called a hybrid, used to make audiences wonder, relate, and become interested in a particular movie. David Cox, a writer for The Guardian believes the movie, The Dark Knight, was lost through Hollywood clichés and it was not possible for audiences to get a message through the plot, characterization, and theme. I understand how he might view these elements as clichés however; I would like to argue that The Dark Knight actually reinforces a postmodern, hybrid neo noir. In modern and postmodern noirs, self-reflexivity is used to draw the audience in as well as illustrate stories that circle back on themselves. Harvey Dent and Batman had to make decisions and reflect on who they were and what they wanted to become because of what the Joker did to them and audiences can relate to this. The typical villain in this movie, the Joker, can be considered a serial killer in postmodern noir. Last, the way this movie is presented through story and style creates an intensified, unconventional, and complex story which makes up a neo noir hybrid.

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Cox, David. "Why the Dark Knight is so dim." Between the Lines. (2008): n. page. Print. <>. Shameem , Umar. "5 Days of Batman: The Dark Knight Revisted." 07 17 2012: n. page. Print. Spicer, Andrew. Film Noir. London: Pearson Education Limited, 2012. 1245. Print. "The Dark Knight Memorable Quotes." Memorable Quotes. IMDb, n.d. Web. 15 Mar 2013. <>.

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"Sometimes the truth isn't good enough." And neither is a cliche.  

Postmodern hybridization in The Dark Knight. A Digital Essay for Film Noir.