Skip to main content

In the Territory of the Devil- or What Would Flannery Think of the Dark Knight?

Flannery O'Connor once said of her own writing, "my subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil."

Some have expressed shock at the sheer evil nature of the Joker. I'm not sure if I'm calloused or if I was brought up in an era when "The Killing Joke" and "Arkham Asylum" were the current renditions of the Batman/Joker mythos but I was not shocked by Heath Ledger's Joker. Perhaps another reason I was not shocked, was because the villain I saw on the screen wasn't all that different than some people I read about in the headlines of the newspapers.

I wonder what Flannery would think of the latest Batman movie- especially the portrayal of the Joker. Some have even called Heath Ledger's performance demonic. I think Flannery would say that Joker shows us that the world we are living in is in the territory of the devil.

I'm in the process of reading O'Connor's lecture notes and essays, collected in a little book called Mystery and Manners. She talks a lot about the use of grotesque characters and distorting things, because her audience didn't see the craziness and distortion already apparent in the world. She said she wrote this way because, "[t]o the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures. "

I'm not sure if Christopher Nolan wrote the script for the Dark Knight to show everyone how bad the world has gotten, but for some reason, I think that if Flannery O'Connor had been given free reign to write a Batman and Joker movie, she might have ended up with a similar story. (After all, she did write one where a Bible salesman steals a wooden leg from a crippled Nihilist girl and runs off screaming "I've been believing in nothing since before you were born!" How is that all that different than the Joker's "I thrive on the chaos"?)

I find it interesting that there are complaints that the Joker is demonic, but no one says anything about the VTech or NIU shootings as being demonic. The only difference behind the Joker and the real world, is that the Joker wears clown make up and eventually is brought to justice.

Once again Flannery would say that we just don't know how to see evil for what it is (or grace either for that matter) "To insure our sense of mystery, we need a sense of evil which sees the devil as a real spirit who must be made to name himself, and not simply to name as vague evil, but to name himself with his specific personality for every occasion."

But I think in light of what I've been reading from Flannery O'Connor, that she would applaud the film for showing evil for what it is. Not only does it make evil look evil (rather than funny like in the old Adam West TV series), but I think Flannery would say that we need the Joker to realize how much we need grace. We need him to wear make up to realize that this kind of person should seem out of place in our world when most of the time we simply think this sort of thing is normal or at least tolerable.

We are either blind or nearsighted to the fact that we are in the devil's territory. O'Connor said, "Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling the nature of the violences which precede and follow them. The devil's greatest wile, Baudelaire has said, is to convince us that he does not exist."

Re: In the Territory of the Devil- or What Would Flannery Think

grantcthomas's picture

Thanks Mr. X!

I just found this great article right after I wrote this post and it reiterated what I felt about the film's way of making it more about just Batman versus Joker, but about everyone's struggle with evil:

"The Joker is no Republic serial villain, ready to blow up the world with missiles launched from the safety of an island hideout. He is a terrorist in the very primal sense of the word -- he doesn't act from any political or ideological position, he just wants to spread fear, mistrust, anarchy. But he can only do as much as you let him." (Windows on the World- Kent M. Beeson)


What Would Flannery Think of the Dark Knight?

Xaviar Xerexes's picture


Great post - I remember that bible salesman story actually; it's a bit infuriating to read as it is pretty dead on in what it says about aspects of human nature (well it shows rather than tells like any good story should).

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.