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FLASHBACK: Batman The Dark Knight - Should We Fear Imitation of the Joker?

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By John-Henry Westen

Editor’s Note: In light of last night’s horrific Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre by a young man imitating the Joker character in the movie, Batman The Dark Knight, we are re-publishing this 2008 LifeSiteNews commentary by John-Henry Westen on that movie. We publish this not to exploit last night’s tragedy, but to add to the credibility of warnings that these types of intense, morally and psychologically chaotic movies, of which there are currently even more being produced, may be socially unhealthy and dangerous.

August 14, 2008, ( – I finally saw the movie which has grossed $400 million in its first 18 days - well on its way to overtaking Titanic as box-office champ. The movie was visually and viscerally stunning but deeply disturbing, even diabolic.

My concerns were confirmed when co-founder Steve Jalsevac told me he had also just seen the film and shared my unease.

Some have pointed to the extreme violence in the film, but my concerns go well beyond that. In a Canwest News Service review Jay Stone refers to Joker as a “psychotic butcher”; Jenny McCarthy in her August 2 review in the London Telegraph wrote, “The greatest surprise of all - even for me, after eight years spent working as a film critic - has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film.” One reviewer even called the film “torture porn.”

The story’s focus is the Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger of Brokeback Mountain fame. The Joker is portrayed as a man engaging in a purity of evil rarely seen. An anti-Christ type figure, he engages in evil for evil’s sake and not for any material motive, and is totally unconcerned about his own well-being.

So youth seeing the film will see the evil of the Joker, be repulsed by it and turn away from it, right? Wrong.

There are two supermen in this film - Batman and the Joker.

One problem, however, is that while Batman is a somewhat distant figure - a multi-billionaire whose money is largely the source of his being a superhero - the common man can relate more to the Joker who is a man dealing, in his own intensely cruel way, with a rough past.

In one scene the Joker describes the way he got his ‘smile’ - the two obvious scars which run up from both corners of his mouth. He describes domestic violence in his home where his father attacked his mother and then turned on him as a child, saying, “Why so serious? Let’s put a smile on that face,” and carved one in. As sick and scary as that scenario is, it is nevertheless one with which a great many of today’s youth - deeply scarred internally - will easily identify as they too have been subjected to domestic violence.

And if that’s not enough, Joker changes the scenario half-way through the film. He explains that his ‘smile’ is the result of an incident stemming from a disagreement with his wife who would thereafter have nothing to do with him. Hence, Joker’s psychosis is portrayed as being a response to the all-too-common experience of domestic turbulence, whether involving one’s parents or one’s spouse.

The Joker and Batman are both presented as virtually invincible; indeed, if anything, the Joker is presented as being more powerful in many respects. He is completely unrestricted in terms of his actions, while the film clearly portrays Batman as hampered by his conscience. Batman The Dark Knight could easily be seen to portray good as a weakness which is used and repeatedly exploited by evil - the Joker. The corruption of the good in people is one of his main aims - it is in fact the only purpose which can be discerned in the Joker’s otherwise completely chaotic acts.

But for all the power of this anti-Christ portrayal, there is no portrayal of an equally pure Christ figure. An heroic man in public power, one of the main characters, is eventually corrupted by the Joker’s devices, and the only two good guys left - Commissioner Gordon and Batman himself - are themselves corrupted in that they must foster and live with a lie to maintain the illusion that the one who thoroughly succumbed to evil was actually the hero of the day.

Batman, meant to be the hero of the film, is far less morally consistent in his pursuits than is the Joker. As Bruce Wayne the billionaire, he is portrayed as a jealous, spiteful ex-lover, insulting his rival and using other women (even three at a time) to inspire jealousy in his ex-lover. The portrayal of Batman is weak and conflicted compared to that of the Joker. The Joker’s character dominates the screen and the brilliance of Ledger’s performance in this role serves to highlight this difference.

It should also be noted that many have pointed to Ledger’s Joker role as possibly having a role in the 28-year-old’s death by an overdose of drugs including sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication shortly after filming of the movie was completed.

The suspicions are not unfounded as his final interviews indicate Ledger was very troubled during and after the filming. A New York Times interview which took place during the filming noted that Ledger’s Joker role was “physically and mentally draining”. Ledger described the Joker as a “psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy”. He also revealed he was having trouble sleeping and the reporter noted his bizarre restless behaviour.

Reported the New York Times:

“Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night,” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” One night he took an Ambien, which failed to work. He took a second one and fell into a stupor, only to wake up an hour later, his mind still racing.

Even as he spoke, Mr. Ledger was hard-pressed to keep still. He got up and poured more coffee. He stepped outside into the courtyard and smoked a cigarette. He shook his hair out from under its hood, put a rubber band around it, took out the rubber band, put on a hat, took off the hat, put the hood back up. He went outside and had another cigarette. (see the full Times interview)

A video interview, which took place just after the filming finished and is billed as one of the last interviews before Ledger’s death, visually demonstrates that bizarre restlessness.

Are there going to be imitators of the Joker portrayed in The Dark Knight? There already are. Just look on YouTube for the number of videos where teens are dressing up as and imitating the lines of the Joker. Even more seriously, however, there have been crimes committed since the film’s release where the criminals have dressed in Joker makeup.

The film would likely not be dangerous for those well-grounded in morality; but for the many in today’s world who have not received the moral training that would allow them to clearly distinguish between good and evil, Joker character and philosophy of “anything goes” presents an all-too-appealing alternative way of attaining power and recognition.

Seeing the film only a few days after the very disturbing and unexplainable beheading of a passenger on a Canadian bus, I could not help wonder if the perpetrator had seen the Batman film. The description of the killing and decapitation as having been carried out in a calm manner, entirely without emotion, and the killer taking the head of the man and glibly showing it to horrified witnesses, seemed to fit with the Joker’s character. Media screen shots of the film showing the Joker holding up his “calling card” (a Joker playing card with a decapitated head dripping blood) added powerfully to the association.

Superheroes in films normally generate imitation. Joker is every bit a superhero in The Dark Knight - but a super-evil one.

If your children have seen the film, talk to them about it. If they have not yet seen it I would tactfully discourage it.

For a parental review of the film see Screenit’s very detailed information (the Internet’s most useful movie information website for those concerned about ethical content)

See other reviews noted above here:
“This is a movie that turns its heroes into villains and its villains into immortals. It’s a haunting mess.” A ‘psychotic butcher’

Torture Porn Aimed At The Kids by Jenny McCartney National Post, August 2, 2008

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Pope Francis attacks ‘fundamentalist’ Catholics, dismisses condom ban as unimportant

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By John-Henry Westen

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, November 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- On the plane returning from his journey to Africa today Pope Francis made his clearest remarks in condemnation of ‘fundamentalist’ Catholics.

"Fundamentalism is a sickness that is in all religions," Francis said, as reported by the National Catholic Reporter’s Vatican correspondent, Joshua McElwee, and similarly by other journalists on the plane.  "We Catholics have some -- and not some, many -- who believe in the absolute truth and go ahead dirtying the other with calumny, with disinformation, and doing evil."

"They do evil," said the pope. "I say this because it is my church."

"We have to combat it," he said. "Religious fundamentalism is not religious, because it lacks God. It is idolatry, like the idolatry of money."

Turning to Islam, the pope spoke of his friendship with a Muslim, adding, “You cannot cancel out a religion because there are some groups, or many groups in a certain point of history, of fundamentalists.”

"Like everything, there are religious people with values and those without," he said. "But how many wars … have Christians made? The sacking of Rome was not done by Muslims, eh?"

STORY: Vatican’s liturgy chief contradicts Pope Francis on Communion for non-Catholics

On the same flight a journalist asked about the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS and if it was time for the Church to change its position.

The pope acknowledged that condoms are one method of prevention, saying that the Church was faced with a perplexity of whether to follow the fifth commandment (Thou shalt not kill) “or that sexual relations are open to life.” 

He dismissed this however as ‘not the problem’ and said it reminded him of the question asked Jesus, “Tell me, teacher, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Is it obligatory to heal?’

Catholic News Agency carries the fullest rendition of the pope’s quotes on the matter, relating his words thus:

“Let’s not talk about if one can use this type of patch or that for a small wound, the serious wound is social injustice, environmental injustice,” Pope Francis continued. “I don’t like to go down to reflections on such case studies when people die due to a lack of water, hunger, environment...when all are cured, when there aren’t these illnesses, tragedies, that man makes, whether for social injustice or to earn more money – I think of the trafficking of arms – when these problems are no longer there, I think we can ask the question ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’”

 “Because, if the trafficking of arms continues, wars are the biggest cause of mortality...I would say not to think about whether it’s lawful or not to heal on the Sabbath, I would say to humanity: ‘make justice,’ and when all are cured, when there is no more injustice, we can talk about the Sabbath.”

While in Africa the pope used very strong language to promote the climate change agreement at the Paris climate summit that started today. He said it would be a “catastrophe” if it did not achieve acceptance in Paris in the coming days and added that the decision came down to the choice “either to improve or to destroy the environment.”

Speaking at the United Nations center in Nairobi on November 26, Pope Francis said, “In a few days an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris, where the international community as such will once again confront these issues. It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects.”

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Ben Carson on Colorado shooting: pro-lifers need to ‘tone down’ ‘hateful rhetoric’

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By Ben Johnson

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, November 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - After a string of verbal gaffes and controversies over the depth of his pro-life convictions, Dr. Ben Carson has implied that the pro-life movement needs to "tone down" its "hateful rhetoric" and "become more mature."

The doctor was asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" about abortion supporters' claims that pro-life speech led to Robert Lewis Dear's shooting inside a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

"There is no question that hateful rhetoric, no matter which side it comes from, Right or Left, is something that is detrimental to our society," Dr. Carson said. "This has been a big problem."

"No question the hateful rhetoric exacerbates the situation," Carson affirmed.

Lamenting that social discourse had become less civil, he said modern political "rhetoric is extremely immature, divisive, and is not helpful."

“I think both sides should tone down their rhetoric and engage in civil discussion," Dr. Carson said.

Pro-life leaders were quick to rebut his charges that they engage in extreme or immature rhetoric. (See related story.)

After briefly leading rival Donald Trump in a series of national polls, Carson's presidential hopes have crumpled amidst a series of misstatements and retractions that have led national commentators to question whether the political novice is ready to be president of the United States. Last Sunday, talk show host Rush Limbaugh told Fox News that Ben Carson is "probably not" fully "equipped to be president."

The statement apparently condemning pro-life rhetoric comes after Carson, a famed neurosurgeon, told a Florida reporter that attempts to save the life of Terri Schiavo were "much ado about nothing."

Dr. Carson told LifeSiteNews exclusively that his remarks had been taken out of context by a Tampa Bay Times reporter. The reporter later posted the full transcript of his question, and Dr. Carson's answer to provide context.

Full transcript of the "Face the Nation" segment:

Dickerson: OK. I would like to ask you about a domestic political event or what some people see has a political element to it, and that's the shooting at a Planned Parenthood location in Colorado Springs.

Some abortion rights supporters have said that the rhetoric has led to that kind of violence. What's your view on that?

Carson: There is no question that hateful rhetoric, no matter which side it comes from, Right or Left, is something that is detrimental to our society.

This has been a big problem. Our strength in this country has traditionally been in our unity. And we are allowing all kinds of circumstances to divide us and make us hateful toward each other. And the rhetoric is extremely immature, divisive, and is not helpful.

When you have outside forces, global Islamic radical jihadists who want to destroy us, why would we be doing that to ourselves? We, at some point, have got to become more mature. No question the hateful rhetoric exacerbates the situation, and we should be doing all we can to engage an intelligence, civil discussion about our differences.

That's how we solve problems. We don't ever solve them with hateful rhetoric.

Dickerson: Should abortion rights -- excuse me -- should those who oppose abortion rights tone down their rhetoric?

Carson: I think both sides should tone down their rhetoric and engage in civil discussion.

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Robert Lewis Dear
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The Planned Parenthood shooter: not who you think he is

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By John Jalsevac
Robert Dear's shanty in North Carolina where he spent part of his time.

November 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - Planned Parenthood, and supporters of abortion rights, have pointed to Friday's shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility as evidence that the pro-life movement is responsible for encouraging violence through its "hateful rhetoric." Planned Parenthood of Rocky Mountains has declared that the shooter himself "was motivated by opposition to Planned Parenthood and access to abortion," although police have not officially released any information about his motives.

Meanwhile, the picture emerging of the man who allegedly opened fire at a Planned Parenthood facility Friday is one of a deeply disturbed recluse with little known interest in and no history of active involvement in the abortion debate, a long spate of run-ins with the law and a pattern of bizarre behavior that left some of those who encountered him fearful for their safety, and many convinced that he wasn't in his right mind.

On Saturday morning Colorado Springs police identified Robert Lewis Dear, 57, of North Carolina, as the suspect in the shooting that left three dead, and another nine injured. Dear allegedly began shooting outside the Planned Parenthood facility just before noon, Mountain Time, Friday, before retreating into the facility for a five hour stand-off with police.

Planned Parenthood has confirmed that none of its staff were injured in the shooting. Both of the civilians killed were reportedly accompanying friends to appointments.

The New York Daily News reports that an online dating profile that appears to have been posted by Dear in the early 2000s has Dear asking for "discreet" sadomasochistic sex, as well as pot-smoking companions. Other posts on by someone with a username associated with Dear, include what the Daily News describes as "paranoid Biblical rants." reports that Dear was arrested and charged in 2002 on "animal cruelty," eavesdropping and "peeping tom" charges. He was acquitted of the animal cruelty charges after a bench trial, while the latter charges were dismissed.

The animal cruelty charge was apparently related to an incident in which Dear allegedly shot a neighbor's dog in the leg with a pellet gun.

USA Today reports that a 2004 police report shows Dear threatened to "do bodily harm" to a neighbor.

He also has numerous previous convictions for various traffic violations. These include seat belt violations, driver’s license violations, operating a vehicle in an unsafe mechanical condition and driving a non-registered vehicle.

ABC reports that Dear spent some of his time living in a cabin in the woods in North Carolina, without running water or electricity. Neighbors say he was a quiet man who seemed "off." They said that when he did speak, he tended to ramble on a disconnected series of topics.

One neighbor, James Russell, said that two topics they never heard Dear speak about were religion and abortion. Russell also said that Dear tended to avoid eye contact. "Nothing with him was very cognitive," said Russell about Dear.

RELATED: Police officer killed at Planned Parenthood was pro-life, Christian pastor

James Howie, who lived close to one of Dear's remote properties in North Carolina, told USA Today that Dear once asked him to do some foundation work on his shack. After accompanying Dear to the job site, Howie declined the job. "I was just glad to get home," he said about the experience, adding that in his view Dear seemed crazy, although not dangerous.

Another neighbor told the Washington Post that Dear "was the kind of person you had to watch out for. He was a very weird individual. It's hard to explain, but he had a weird look in his eye most of the time."

Another neighbor told the Post, "He complained about everything. He said he worked with the government, and everybody was out to get him, and he knew the secrets of the USA. He said, 'Nobody touch me, because I've got enough information to put the whole U.S. of A in danger.' It was very crazy."

Another neighbor said that she and her family "kept out of his way." "He wouldn't really speak to anybody, he wouldn't wave," Mallory Nicoletti, 29, told the Citizen-Times.

John Hood, another neighbor, told NBCNews that Dear rarely spoke with him, but when he did, it was to offer bizarre advice. On one occasion, said Hood, Dear urged him to get a metal roof installed on his house, so the US government couldn't spy on him. Hood also said he erected a fence between their properties, because Dear had a habit of skinny dipping. 

RELATED: This one shot from the latest PP sting video might be the most disturbing thing you see all year

Those living in the North Carolina community where Dear had his shack said they were frustrated by the fact that Dear would leave for days at a time, leaving behind two dogs with no food or water, who would start to get aggressive.

“We’re not isolationists,” one resident said. “You know how whenever someone goes crazy, the neighbors say he was so quiet and normal. That wasn’t the case here. He was weird. Everyone kept an eye on him.”

"He was really tightly wound," said another resident. "You could see that from the stress on his face, from the way he acted.”

Still another went even further, telling the Post, "He was just always saying, ‘I know the U.S. is trying to kill everybody’ and do this and do that. He [said he] was an undercover [agent]. Just craziness. Just pure, right-out craziness all the time.

“I’m kind of glad he’s put away now."

The Gateway Pundit also reports that, bizarrely, Dear was registered to vote as a woman, although it is unclear whether this is simply a clerical error or has any deeper significance. His party was listed as "unaffiliated."

One anonymous source, reportedly with the police, told the Washington Post that in a confusing rant following his arrest Dear did make mention of "baby body parts," suggesting some connection with the recent series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood staffers harvesting and selling the body parts of aborted babies.

However, the source added that this was but one topic among many mentioned by Dear in a speech that left investigators unclear as to his specific motivation.

Planned Parenthood has issued a statement saying that based upon eyewitnesses they believe Dear "was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion." 

Dear's ex-wife, Pamela Ross, told the New York Times he was a Bible-believing Christian, and that he opposed abortion, but that it "was never really a topic of conversation" in their house.

RELATED: Planned Parenthood shooting suspect surrenders, is in custody: police

Ross and Dear divorced in 2000. The picture that Ross paints of her ex-husband as a physically healthy man who lifted weights, took good care of himself, enjoyed listening to U2 and riding motorcycles, clashes markedly with the accounts of those who lived near him in the years since their parting. 

Ross said she was shocked at the man she saw on TV following his arrest this weekend.

“Something must have happened to him when he moved away, that’s all I know," she said. “Me and our whole family are extremely devastated and heartbroken by the victims of these families, and we have no words that can ever comfort them other than to say we’re sorry for what he did.”

However, Ross admits that she did call police on Dear in 1997, after a case of domestic violence. She didn't press charges at the time.

Dear reportedly brought several "items" with him into the Planned Parenthood facility, which police had said they were concerned could be explosives. Early Saturday morning police tweeted that those items have been "secured" and are "no longer a threat."

Subsequent reports have suggested those items were propane tanks that Dear may have been trying to shoot in order to cause an explosion.

After a five-hour standoff with police, during which Dear repeatedly exchanged gunfire with them, police were able to establish voice contact with the suspect by shouting. At that point they were able to convince him to surrender.

While some reports have indicated that the shooting actually began outside a nearby Chase Bank, and may have been related to a robbery, Springfield police spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley said at a press conference Friday evening that the shooting appears to have begun at the Planned Parenthood. 

While Dear's motive is still unknown, pro-life groups have issued statements condemning the violence, and urging caution in jumping to conclusions.

"Information is very sketchy about the currently active shooting situation in Colorado Springs," said Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. "The Planned Parenthood was the address given in the initial call to the police, but we still do not know what connection, if any, the shooting has to do with Planned Parenthood or abortion."

"As leaders in the pro-life movement, we call for calm and pray for a peaceful resolution of this situation."

Troy Newman of Operation Rescue and Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, also issued statements.

"Operation Rescue unequivocally deplores and denounces all violence at abortion clinics and has a long history of working through peaceful channels to advocate on behalf of women and their babies," said Newman. "We express deep concern for everyone involved and are praying for the safety of those at the Planned Parenthood office and for law enforcement personnel. We pray this tragic situation can be quickly resolved without further injury to anyone."

"Although we don't know the reasons for the shooting near the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs today, the pro-life movement is praying for the safety of all involved and as a movement we have always unequivocally condemned all forms of violence at abortion clinics. We must continually as a nation stand against violence on all levels," said Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, based in Washington, D.C.


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