The Dark Knight, The Joker and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson – Power of Excitement

ledger-joker ETB ScreenwritingThis weekend, I saw two films that explore the Dark Side of the Power of Excitement Character Type:  Gonzo:  The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and The Joker (brilliantly played by Heath Ledger) in Dark Knight .  Let’s  take a look at the underbelly of this fascinating Character Type.

Hunter S. Thompson was a writer who straddled the Dark Side of the Power of Excitement.  Although real people are, of course, more complex than fictional characters, they still have a core or essence that can be traced back to one type.

Self-described “gonzo” journalist ,Hunter S. Thompson, became famous in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine for his sense of wild adventure, drug use and love of chaos and anarchy.  He ran a campaign for Sheriff in Aspen in the 1970’s based on those principles.  All these basic elements were a part of his unique writing style.

Bill Cardoso, editor of the Boston Globe magazine, claimed “gonzo” was South Boston Irish slang describing the last man standing after an all night drinking marathon.  In other contexts, gonzo has come to mean “with reckless abandon,” “out of control “or “extreme.”

Thompson committed suicide when he decided life wasn’t fun any more. He did, however, maintain an explosive personality to the end.  At his funeral, he requested his ashes be shot out of a canon from a tower he designed personally (in the shape of of a double thumbed fist holding a peyote button) as Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” blared over loudspeakers.  Thompson’s funeral was a fitting send off for a man hell-bent on the next wild escapade.  One of his favorite sayings was: “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

In Dark Knight, the Joker pushes the Dark Side to its furthest extreme.  He says to Harvey Dent (Two-Face):  “Do I really look like a man with a plan, Harvey? I don’t have a plan. The mob has plans, the cops have plans. You know what I am, Harvey? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one. I just do things. I’m a wrench in the gears. I hate plans. Yours, theirs, everyone’s. Maroni has plans. Gordon has plans. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I am not a schemer. I show schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are…  It’s a schemer who put you where you are. You were a schemer. You had plans. Look where it got you. I just did what I do best– I took your plan and turned it in on itself.”

The Joker’s words aptly sums up Thompson’s approach to journalism.  Throw a wrench in the gears, turn things in on themselves and expose how pathetic politicians’ attempts to control things really are.

The Joker elaborates to Dent/Two Face:  “I am an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? It’s fear.”

Thompson was also an agent of chaos.  His “fear and loathing” books were about what happens when chaos ensues.  Sadly, in the end, he was as trapped by his wild persona as if he were a meek and mild drone working a nine to five job.  He became a caricature of himself, satirized as “Duke” in the comic strip Doonsbury.

Her lover tells Holly Golightly (a female Power of Excitement character) in Breakfast at Tiffany’s: “You say you are a wild thing… (Y)ou’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”  However hard or fast you try to escape– there you still are.

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