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“The Commissioner is an excellent cop—but, I think, a poor judge of character.”


Pinocchio helped me figure out something about Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Weird, huh?

See, I just watched Pinocchio (Walt Disney’s version) for a film theory class I’m taking this semester. In the course of a discussion on the class’s message board, I said:

Talking animals show up at crises in Pinocchio’s narrative. Jiminy Cricket is the first character Pinocchio meets after the Blue Fairy, and of course is present for Pinocchio’s first lesson about conscience and morality. The fox and the cat arrive to escort Pinocchio into his acting career and later to Pleasure Island. Even the poor donkey boys serve a similar function, as the appearance of Pinocchio’s donkey ears and tail come at the moment when he finally starts to get the picture–being a bad boy is a bad idea! So making these characters talking animals distinguishes them clearly from the human characters and the non-talking animal characters, and also keeps them within the cartoon world of the movie–they’re not realistic like the Blue Fairy.

Then, just a few minutes ago, I was thinking about DKR, trying to decide what to write about tonight. Recall that last time I ended with a question: “If politicians and psychologists are impotent to judge or do anything about Batman, is there anybody who isn’t impotent?”

First of all, let’s deal with some liminally potent characters: Commissioners Jim Gordon and Ellen Yindel. Both eventually come to the same conclusion about Batman. In Commissioner Gordon’s words: “I realized I couldn’t judge it. It was too big. He was too big…” (p. 56) Commissioner Yindel later echoes: “No. No. He’s too big…” (p. 176) In admitting their inability to judge Batman, they are allowed to judge him. Note that both these characters are part of the political world, but apart from it. Gordon is a rogue, unafraid to ignore political expediences, forced from his job by politicians. Yindel sides with the politicians who want to get rid of Batman (at first, anyway), but unlike them she’s ready to take action.

Back to Pinocchio. I was trying to figure out what role the Joker and Harvey Dent play in DKR, and then… The talking animals, who appear in Pinocchio’s life as catalysts for crises in the narrative—that’s the Joker and Harvey Dent! Well, they’re not talking animals, no—but they have similar narrative roles, don’t they? Harvey Dent returns to a life of crime just before Batman comes out of retirement, the Joker just after. Batman’s encounter with Harvey brings up a problem for Batman that Dr. Wolper also brings up several times (not that it matters what Wolper thinks): as Wolper puts it, “Batman’s psychotic sublimative/psychoerotic behavior pattern is like a net. Weak-egoed neurotics, like Harvey, are drawn into corresponding intersticing patterns” (p. 47). “I see… a reflection, Harvey” (p. 55), Batman says. Get it? Harvey Dent, Two-Face, reflections, Harvey is Batman’s narcissistic mirror slave, as Batman and Harvey work in their adverserial relationship to validate each other’s existence.

I still have the Joker and Robin to talk about here, but I think that’ll have to wait till tomorrow.


  1. LB says:

    If your theme is “potency”, then you musn’t forget to include Superman and the missile-deflection incident. Even Superman isn’t potent enough to counteract the missile, which would seem to represent the ultimate evil from mankind; only his devotion to an objective standard of righteousness (i.e., recognition, deference to, and gratitude for the power of nature, as expressed by what looks like some sort of Mum) gives him sufficient potency to survive the nuclear blast. (Also, can’t stop myself, must note the symbolism of Batman’s horse during the nuclear-pulse blackout.)

    — 11 February 2004 at 10:47 pm (Permalink)