batman's dark psychology

Shadow Control: Batman’s Relationship with Himself Through his Enemies

Many would agree that one of the reasons why Batman is among the more popular superheroes is the ensemble of villains he fights, and that he is defined by these men and women. Practically every single villain is insane to one degree or another. Each is also a reflection of Batman, and the question is often raised whether or not he is the creator of his villains, or whether they created him. Many of these ideas and the symbols associated with them tie into the Jungian archetype of the Shadow. Bruce Wayne has many personal demons to control, much as his alter-ego does with villains like the Joker, or Two Face, and the Shadow archetype is representative of this. In Christopher Nolan’s film version of The Dark Knight he brings this idea to fruition. The Joker and Two Face are used to reflect Batman’s darker side and how close he is to becoming like one of them. They are all, including Batman, part of a Jungian shadow complex that is evident in Bruce Wayne. Wayne not only has to deal with the anti-heroes of Gotham, he has to deal with the possibility that his own split personality is one of them. However, in the film, it becomes evident that Bruce Wayne is able to take responsibility for his actions and turn chaos into order, which is what allows him to control his shadow rather than let it turn him into a villain.

The Jungian definition of the shadow archetype can be seen in the story of The Dark Knight. Jung defines it in the glossary of his book Memories, Dreams, and Reflections.

“Shadow. The inferior part of the personality; sum of all personal and collective psychic elements which, because of their incompatibility with the chosen conscious attitude, are denied expression in life and therefore coalesce into a relatively autonomous “splinter personality” with contrary tendencies in the unconscious…The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly for instance, inferior traits of character and other incompatible tendencies.” (Jung 398-99).

This idea of a splinter personality is all over The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne has his alter-ego of Batman, who is much more aggressive, violent, and intimidating. These personas never mix, making Batman that shadow which Jung would say is the personification of what Bruce Wayne refuses to acknowledge about himself. Other personalities splinter throughout the course of the film, primarily the character of Harvey Dent who is transformed, literally, into a dual personality. Instead of being the “white knight of Gotham” as he begins, Harvey is reduced to chaos, using luck to dictate what his actions are. The name Two Face not only refers to his face, but also to the binary relation of his old and new life, as well as the duality of the luck he creates (heads or tails). There is no longer a gray, only black and white, a splintering. These are good examples of the Shadow archetype at work in the film.

The character of the Joker, is symbolically the opposite of Batman. In The Dark Knight he has no past, no connection to any former life, not even any finger prints. J. M. Tyree comments in his article about this presentation of Joker’s lack of a past: “Heath Ledger’s incarnation [of the Joker] mocks a series of victims throughout the film with bogus explanations of ‘how I got my scars.’ By the end, one feels that he did it to himself to scare people, but we’ll never know, and in this case his clownish greasepaint, mottled and half worn away by sweat in the heat of battle, is at east as frightening as his actual disfigurement” (Tyree 31). In this sense, the Joker is a symbol, just as the Batman is. However, instead of being a symbol of hope, the Joker is an “agent of chaos.” What makes matters worse, is the fact that the Joker points out Batman’s own relation to himself. Batman is trying to inspire hope, but instead he is also stepping outside of the law, causing others to take on the same vigilantism, and stepping further and further away from the established order of the law. In this light, Batman is causing the chaos that the Joker represents.

Even though Batman is a representation of Bruce Wayne’s shadow, the character of the Joker is an extension of it, forcing Bruce to confront his shadow and learn how to either control it or let it break him. Jung remarks on the dangers of confronting the shadow and what it can do to the psyche, much of which we can see happening to Batman. Jung says, “insofar as analytical treatment makes the “shadow” conscious, it causes a cleavage and a tension of opposites which in their turn seek compensation in unity. The adjustment is achieved through symbols. The conflict between the opposites can strain our psyche to the breaking point, if we take them seriously, or if they take us seriously” (Jung 335). Batman is brought to conflict with the Joker who acts as a symbolic opposite of what Batman represents. Opposites are closely related however, and it only takes a small change to make them the same thing. Joker remarks on how Batman ‘completes’ him, like two sides of a coin. He admits that he doesn’t want to kill Batman because this would essentially be like killing a part of himself. Batman on the other hand, would like to kill the Joker, but it is his morality (the Bruce Wayne side of his psyche) that barely stops him. This conflict is part of what brings Batman and Gotham to a near breaking point as Jung predicts. There is even significant collateral damage with the death of Rachel and the breaking of Harvey Dent.

The transformation of Harvey Dent is perhaps the biggest suggestion that Batman is the creator of the villains he fights; he is the product of Bruce Wayne’s conflict with his shadow. Jung point out that in modern society, “Light is followed by shadow, the other side of the Creator. This development reached its peak in the twentieth century. The Christian world is now truly confronted by the principle of evil, by naked injustice, tyranny, lies, slavery, and coercion of conscience” (Jung 328). In this quote, Jung is suggesting that because of the existence of the Christian world, that ‘principles of evil’ are what followed. We see the same relationship with Batman and Harvey Dent. Because of the existence of the dark knight, the white knight became corrupted and slipped into chaos. At the end of the film, when Batman tells Harvey to shoot those responsible for his transformation, the first person Harvey shoots is Batman himself. After Dent dies, Batman is able to take responsibility for the people Dent killed, in a sense repenting of the damage he has caused. This is what allows him to maintain control over his shadow, the fact that he is cleaning up after the mess his conflicts produced.

Despite the many external evidences of Bruce Wayne’s shadow, the conflict is inherently an internal one, since this is where Bruce is able to seize control of his shadow. Andreas Reichstein compares Bruce Wayne to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll. Reichstein uses a number of examples including their daily routines:

“Both figures, Jekyll and Wayne, have a laboratory where they work and conduct scientific experiments, mainly chemical ones. Jekyll does all this in order to find a potion with which he can illustrate the duality of man. Wayne accomplishes his criminological research to find more and better ways to fight crime as well as to improve his armor and fighting equipment. Both men use and need their laboratory to change from one identity into the other” (Reichstein 341).

So there are many similarities in the relationship that Wayne and Jekyll have with their alter-egos. Can we assume therefore, that Wayne will lose control of Batman, and become the chaotic vigilante that the Joker already supports? We could assume that this is exactly what happens when he begins running from the police after taking on the responsibility for Harvey Dent’s murders. However, it is this act of taking responsibility that differentiates him from Dr. Jekyll’s alter-ego. Instead of mindless killing, he keeps himself from that kind of violence and takes on the responsibility of the violence of others. He sacrifices himself, becoming a true hero. Reichstein continues to point this out, “Bruce Wayne can control his evil side. He can turn the light off and become the shadow, but he can also turn the light back on again. The combination of the bat as a symbol of the devil, of evil, and the shadow as an archetype in Jung’s scheme” (Reichstein 347). This ability to ‘turn the light back on’ is what sets Batman apart, causing him to seize control of his shadow, and not let it control him.

Thus we see through several forms of evidence in the film that Bruce Wayne is able to maintain a balance with his shadow (Batman) through his responsibility. Reichstein asserts that this is the true reason that fans find Batman so compelling,

“The fascination with The Batman therefore lies in his ability to control his shadow. In being able to do this, Bruce Wayne/Batman is the embodiment of, as well as at the same time a rather strange “solution” to the Manichean fight between darkness and brightness, between good and evil. Bruce Wayne is the living Manichean duality of men” (Reichstein 349).

This duality of Bruce Wayne is evident in the relationship with his villains. The Joker personifies the chaos that Batman steps perilously close to. Harvey Dent personifies the effect that the conflict of that duality can cause. However, Batman is able to clean up after himself, thus countering the Joker’s chaos, and he is able to take responsibility for his actions and the actions of others, countering the effects of Dent’s murders. It is these same principles that allows Bruce Wayne to maintain a balance with himself and his alter-ego (a.k.a. his shadow). With the balance established Bruce Wayne maintains an active control over his shadow, which is the primary difference between him and the world of crime that he fights.

Works Cited
Byrne, Craig, Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, and David S. Goyer. The Dark Knight: Featuring Production Art and Full Shooting Script. New York: Universe, 2008. Print.

Jung, Carl G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Random House, 1989. Print

Reichstein, Andreas. “Batman — An American Mr. Hyde?” Amerikastudien / American Studies 43.2 (1998): 329-50. Print.

Tyree, J. M. “American Heroes.” Film Quarterly 62.3 (2009): 28-34. Print.

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