[This article contains spoilers for the LEGO Batman Movie (2017).]
You would think it to be another homophobic punchline. The Joker insists that what he and Batman has is something special, that they are each other’s “greatest enemy.” Batman dismisses him, saying that he “doesn’t do ‘ships,’” and he denies that the Joker means anything to him – or that anyone does.
That’s how the movie starts.
You can argue that the movie plays the idea of Batman in a relationship with another man as a joke, and it can be interpreted that way. When Batman explains to Robin that he and Bruce Wayne (“Bruno”) have shared custody of him, you’re certainly expected to laugh. Robin can’t have two dads; Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same person! But that’s exactly it: the joke is that they’re the same person, not that they’re both men.
In the LEGO Batman Movie, Batman struggles with his fear of forming meaningful relationships and losing the ones he’s close to, pushing away everyone he could be close to in the process. He refuses to work with Barbara Gordon, and he adopts Dick Grayson by accident, almost sending him back to the orphanage if Alfred hadn’t intervened. It’s not a subtle movie.
Then the Joker comes into play. When I first was watching the movie, I was fairly certain that the plotline between Batman and the Joker would be just a homophobic joke, and that the characters would comment on the idea of them being in a relationship as weird or gross. There were moments where it sure felt like it was approaching that. It’s difficult to describe how Batman and the Joker’s relationship is framed; Joker calls himself Batman’s “greatest enemy” and there’s a whole thing where they “hate” each other, but it’s hard to interpret it as actual hate when they’re lovingly saying they hate each other in front of the setting sun.
What I’m trying to get at, the reason I’m writing this article, is that the movie doesn’t have a homophobic punchline. It’s true that my standards are low, but seeing the movie, and seeing these lighthearted jokes, seeing Robin being elated at having two dads, that meant a lot to me. It still means a lot to me. And during the climactic moment, the movie makes it clear that Batman’s feelings for the Joker, whatever those feelings may be, are not a joke, but real. The Joker, Batman says to him, is the reason he wakes up every day at four o’clock in the afternoon to pump iron until his chest is “positively sick.” He is the reason Batman has given up a life of Russian ballerinas and lady activewear models – and the implications of that are clear. And if the Joker helps him save Gotham, he’ll help them save them.
Batman, and the Joker.
This #MVPride guest post was contributed by Carter Terry. Thank you!
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