KingLear, written by William Shakespeare, depicts a man named Lear who as theKing of England decides to make a quick decision to split his kingdom for histhree daughters. This decision, which Lear did not think thoroughly about, causeschaos to ensue throughout the rest of the play. Similarly, in the 2008 film The Dark Knight, directed, co-produced,and co-written by Christopher Nolan, the main antagonist of the film, the Joker,forces passengers on two separate ships to make a quick decision when he claimsa detonator is placed in each ship. My creative project illustrates connectionsto King Lear because in the film The Dark Knight and in WilliamShakespeare’s King Lear, there areoccasions in which haste decisions cause both ethical and unethical decisionsto occur.
Firstly, the unethical decisions of the crew and passengers arerevealed when they are faced with a fatal proposition during a moment oftension and confusion. In the scene, the Joker explains that he has plantedexplosives on two separate ships, one with normal citizens of Gotham and theother carrying prisoners from the Gotham City Jail and that each boat has theother boat’s detonator. They are then instructed that they have a time limit toblow the other ship, and if the task was not met then their own ship wouldexplode. The unethical decision takes place when a man, who is a passenger ofthe boat with normal citizens, says, “Those men on the boat made their choices.They chose to murder and steal. It makes no sense for us to die too”. Withoutthoroughly thinking about his decision, the man states that the other boatshould be detonated due to the fact they are prisoners. By doing so, he doesnot consider the lives of the police officers and the ship’s crew who areaccompanying the prisoners.
In King Lear,Lear banishes his youngest daughter, Cordelia, without question when sherefuses to flatter him, an unethical decision caused by his affected mentalstate. Another instance in which Lear’s affected mental state causes him tomake an unethical decision is when Kent, a loyal follower of Lear, attempts tocalm Lear down after Cordelia’s refusal, but Lear angrily replies to Kent sayingthat, “The bow is bent and drawn. / Make from the shaft” (1.1.148). AlthoughLear does not have any conflicts with Kent, the moment of stress he isexperiencing causes Lear to make decisions he would not make under normalcircumstances, in this case a verbal attack. In both the film and the play, whencharacters’ morals are substantially compromised due to intense situations andmoments of panic, it can result in unethical decisions.
Moreover, amidst panicand chaos, there is evidence of good morals made by either the same or adifferent character that can result in ethical decisions. Going back to thescene from the film, the boat with carrying the prisoners are seen rioting inpanic, leading to warning shots from officer. The camera then pans on to an oddman out, a prisoner who is just sitting there. He goes up to the officer andinstructs him to give him the detonator, telling the officer to “give it to me,and I’ll do what you should have done ten minutes ago”.
The prisoner thenthrows the detonator out a window, showing the audience that even though peoplehave made decisions they have regretted in the past, they are still able tomake moral decisions during moments of panic and confusion. Similarly in King Lear, Lear’s outrage afterCordelia’s refusal to flatter him leads to not only Cordelia being banished butKent too. Before Kent is officially banished, he pleads with Lear to retracthis decision by telling him to “See Better Lear, and let me still remain / Thetrue blank of thine eye” (1.1.165-166). During this moment of confusion, Kentis begging Lear to realize the severe nature of banishing Cordelia, and pleadswith Lear to remain in the kingdom to help him make future decisions.
Eventhough characters in both the film and the play are placed in circumstanceswith rising tensions, there is always that one character that is still able tomorally do what is right. In conclusion, both The Dark Knight and King Learshow us how intense, confusing, and chaotic moments are able to test themorals of each character, and how both ethical and unethical choices are madewhen this setting occurs.