At one point in the film The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth leans in toward Wayne with an analysis of The Joker, delivered in Michael Caine’s trademark Cockney accent. “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” he says.
Consider the scene. A noisy pub filled with 18 to mid 20-somethings on a Friday night. The sound level is up to the rafters, so that the stereo system behind the bar which is already near max is drowned out by the shouted murmur as people try to talk over the music.
There are far more people in the bar than the fire code allow, so people jostle carrying pints from the bar to their spots. Beer spills as people have to wedge between other people. The overriding smell of the place is beer, perfumes, and sweat. It’s a bit late, so enough alcohol have doused the inhibitions for things to be relaxed.
It’s too early for people to sit in the gutter with Mascara smeared over their faces from crying, or pissing against the walls, or vomiting between their own legs. It’s too late for shirts to stay tucked in, and for manners to remain maintained. This is the in-between zone where things are still fun and interesting; after the shyness, and before the dramas.
For now, the atmosphere hums with bravado as people try to do dares, or with condescension for those who don’t succeed with the dares. For now, people are still inside, happy, and talking. The pretty single girls swat away the hopefuls with tired effort and sardonic eye-rolls, and hopeful lads try to look unphased by the bitter rejections.
This is where Mark, I, Stephen, Ben, Abbie, and three other people from university sit, watching. Stephen is one of the hopefuls, but doesn’t have any luck tonight, so he’s joined us at the table again. His blond hair perfectly done into an unruly fuss, and the blue eyes moping into his beer despite putting on the brave, unconcerned face.
The table has pint glasses and shot tumblers on every inch of the surface. We’re eight people squished around a table suited for five, and we’ve been there a while. Mark and I have sipped our drinks, but others have drunk deep. Mark and I can sit there and observe, because talking is too much of an effort. One has to lean over the table and shout to be heard here. But one can see, watch. Study.
In the film, when Pennyworth says what he says, he is talking about the Joker. But he could as well be talking about me, because it is fascinating to watch these people play the social game. The dating game. It is interesting to try to create causation for why the pretty girl rejected the once cute neighbour, and then build scenes in my head about how things could have developed differently. With enough cause, and enough effect, something interesting can happen.
I think that if I understand people, I’ll one day be a better writer. Or maybe if I become good at creating plausible explanations for motivations and action, I will be, even if I don’t understand them. Or maybe I really am like Pennyworth said to Bruce Wayne. Maybe I just like to see the world burn. But what would that say about me?