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DusanMicovic

ProfessorTijanaMamula

COM210­IntroductionToCinema

28/11/2013

Joker(Batman,1989)vs.Joker(TheDarkKnight,2008)

WasHeathLedger’sJokerareactionoraninterpretation?

28/11/2013 Joker( Batman ,1989)vs.Joker( TheDarkKnight ,2008) WasHeathLedger’sJokerareactionoraninterpretation?

Incomicbookuniverse,ofalltheevildoers,thereisonethatstandsalone.Itisquiteimpossibletofinda

characterthatwouldreceivemoreattentionthanthehomicidalnemesis,simplyknownastheJoker.A

superheroisonlyasinterestingasthebadguyhe’sfightingagainst,andtheClownPrinceofCrimestands

outasonethemostcomplex,disturbed,morallyambiguousvillainstoeverappearinacomicbookpageor

moviescreen.Asamatteroffact,in2006,WizardmagazineproclaimedtheJokerasthenumberone

comicvillainofallthetime.AlthoughthecreationoftheJoker’scharacterremainsanongoingdebate,

mostcomichistoriansbelievethatitwasJerryRobinson,whomodeledhimafterConradVeidtinthesilent

Germanmoviefrom1928,TheManWhoLaughs.Cometothinkofit,ifthismanwascapableof

designingasuchcharacter,hemusthavehadatwistedpersonalityindeed.However,noone,noteven

BobKane,couldhaveimaginedhowfarwouldHollywoodtaketheBatman­letalonetheJoker.With

seeminglyendlesspossibilitiesattheirhands,comiccreatorssuchasDaveMcKean,FrankMillerandof

courseAlanMooreshowedthegreatversatilityoftheclown.Overtime,asaresult,Joker’scharacter

keptmaturingandthecharacter’sback­storykeptchanging.Andthen,inthesummerof1989,TimBurton

revealedthenewBatman,castingashadowonallthepreviousversions,andsettingabarhighforallthe

futureones.Forgeneralaudience,allofthiswasalarmingandelectrifyingbecausenothinginmovies

couldhavepreparedthemforBurton’sradicalre­assessmentofthecharacter,cartoonishdarknessand

thedense,oppressiveproductiondesign.TimBurton’sdistinctcandy­coated,expressionistictechniques

heightensthesets,propsandcharacterstoapointofdisbelief.Forinstance,GothamCitydoesn’tremind

muchofNewYorkorChicagometropolis,butratherresemblestheMetropolisfromFritzLang’ssilent

sci­fimasterpieceMetropolis;andthearchitectureisdark,tiltedandcrookedinnature.Thecharacters

arepresentedjustascartoonishasthetoneofthemovie.Byperfectlybalancingbetweenthegoofy/action

styleofthecomicsandhistraditionaldrama/darknessstyle,Burtoncreatescharacterswhoaregothicin

nature(butlessthanSweeneyTodd)andcomicalinstyle(yetlessthaninBeetlejuice);andthesetwo

elementscompensateforoneanother,withoutoutweighingoneanotherfortoolong.

ButthemostmemorablepartofthemoviewasundoubtedlyJackNicholson’sgothic/psycho/pop­art

interpretation,thatshowedtheworld,onceforall,thetruenatureoftheJoker;andmadehimseem

untouchable.Ifsomeonewastodaretousethischaracterinamovieeveragain,hewouldhavenochoice

buttocompletelyre­inventhim.Andso,almosttwodecadeslater,ChristopherNolanreleasedBatman

Begins(2005)andTheDarkKnight(2008),takingusonayetanotherjourneyintotheworldwethought

weknew.ButNolan’sresolutepsychoanalyticrevisionisttakeisdarkerandmorereal,makingitclear

fromthebeginningthatthistrilogywon’tbearemake.ThetrilogytakesplaceinGothamCity,butthis

time,Gothamistherealworld,whererealdangerlurksunderitssurface.Themobsterswhohideinthe

sleazyunderbellykindofresembletheguysfromtheGoodfellas,asopposedtotheromanticized

mobstersfromtheBatmanuniverse,whoseemmorecomparabletoTheGodfather.GothamCity

acquiresagainthelookofNewYorkandChicago,introducingdarkneorealism­thekindofrealism

recognizable(amongnumerouselements)eveninthewaythepoliceandthegovernmentaresetup.Soon,

youforgetyou’reinGothamCity.ChristopherNolangiveshisprotagonistsareasontolive.Hisleadsin

Following,Memento,andInsomniadealwithseriousinnerconflicts,thatmakehismoviesdarkerand

captivatetheaudienceevenfurther.TheoriginstorythatNolanestablishedforBruceWayneandthe

Batmanisdeeperandstrongerthanmostofthepreviousoriginstoriesthathaveappearedonthescreen.

Nolan’sapproachispsychoanalyticandmorbid,givingthecharacterrealistic,tangiblefearsandincentives

forBruceWaynetobecometheDarkKnightofGothamCity.Thistime,muchmorethanbefore,the

dialoguehasthesamestrengthastheaction,andtheactioncarriesthesameemotionalweightasthe

dialogue.Thecharactersandthetonepossesanequalimportance.Butdespitethedifferenceintimeand

style,themoviesbothhavetheirmerits.TimBurton’stwomoviesBatman(1989)andBatmanReturns

(1992)weremajorsuccess,justaswereChristopherNolan’stwomoviesBatmanBegins(2005)andThe

DarkKnight(2008).Theirstyle,thematicapproachandthecontentdrasticallydiffer,eachonesuitinga

particularmindset.

Aboveall,TheDarkKnightpridesitselfonHeathLedger’sJoker,whowasportrayedathisdarkestand

mostmalevolentyet.Overtheyears,theHarlequinofHatehasbeenmaturingandgraduallygrowing

moredisturbedandnihilistic,whichiswhytheonly,rationalmoveincharacter’shistoricalevolution,was

forHeathLedgertotakethecharactertoitsabsoluteextreme.Andsohedid;creatingoneofthebiggest

clashesbetweennewschoolandoldschool.Thisraisesthemajorquestion:wasHeathLedger’sJokera

reactionoraninterpretation?Therefore,IwillattempttoprovethatJack’Nicholson’sJokerwasbetter,

groundingmyargumentsonacomparisonofvariouselements,suchasthebackgroundstory,appearance

andpersonality.

ThestoryoftheTimBurton’sJokestartsoffwithJackNapier,Atroubledandemotionallyunstablekid,

butshowingtalentforart,scienceandchemistry.Asayoungman,heshotBruceWayne’sparents,Dr.

ThomasWayneandhiswifeMartha.Aftercold­bloodedlykillingthem,hepointedagunatyoungBruce

andaskedalegendaryphrase:“Tellme,kid,youeverdancedwiththeDevilbythepalemoonlight?”.

Thephrasemeanshaveyoueverfoundyourselfinadeadlock;lookingyourdeathstraightintheeyes,

withnoonearoundtohelp.Butbeforehecouldpullthetrigger,hispartnerincrimeurgedhimtoleaveso

hedecidedtosparetheboy.Hesaid“Seeyouaround,kid”,smiledmaliciously,anddisappearedinto

darkness.Workinghiswayupinthemafiaranks,JackNapiereventuallybecametherighthandofBoss

CarlGrissom.WhenconfrontedBatmanatAxisChemicals,JackNapierfallsintothevatofchemicals,

drasticallydamagingandpermanentlyalteringhisface.Napiersurvives,buthisfaceishorriblydisfigured.

HeacceptshisbizarrenewappearanceandassumesthenewidentityoftheJoker,losingwhatevermental

stabilityhehadleft­perhapsacliché,butitstillmakesthecharacterappearmorecompleteand

interesting.So,afterrealizingthatGrissomsethimup,heclaimshisrevengebykillinghimandlaterother

bosses.UponbecomingacrimelordofGothamCity,Jokerengagesinachaotic,yetartistic,crimespree,

withamotiveto“outdo”Batman,feelingthathehasbeengettingtoomuchpress.

Jokerrepresentstherandomnessofcrime.KillingyoungBruce’sparents,hecreatesBatman.Andthe

factthatyoungBrucelosthisparentsduetoanactofrandomcrime,Jokerthenrepresentseverythingthat

Batmandespisesandvigorouslyfightsagainst.Thestorytakesanironicturnbecauseitwouldbethe

BatmanwhoalsocreatestheJoker.Thesecretpasttheyshare,madethemthegreatestenemies.InThe

DarkKnight,nooneownsconfirmedinformationregardingJoker’searlylifebeforeventuringinthe

worldofcrime.Despitehiscapture,GCPDhasn’tfoundanytracesofhisDNA,fingerprintsordental

records,initsdatabases.Duringthecourseofthemovie,Jokerrecallsincompatible,conflictingstories,

involvingchildabuseandself­mutilation,abouthowhegotthescars(a.k.a.Glasgowsmile);raisingthe

possibilitythattheJokerhimselfisunsureabouttimeandplacewhereitallbegan.WhileJack’sJokerhas

abackstory,advancement,climaxandtheend,Heath’sJokerlacksanysenseofjourneyorprogression.

Instead,heappearsasanalreadyformedcharacter,withnotransformationoroscillations;stuckinthe

limbo.

Visually,JackNicholson’sJokerwasa100%perfectcomicbookvillainreflection.JackNapier'schemical

exposureparalyzedhisfacialnerves,makinghimappearasconstantlygrinning(a.k.a“rictusgrin”).His

hairchangedfromgraytoemeraldgreen,hisskinwasbleachedchalk­white,andhislipsturnedruby­red;

"Jack?Jackisdead,myfriend.Youcancallme Joker!Andasyoucansee,I'malothappier!"

­TheJokertoCarlGrissom,lastsecondsbeforekillinghim.ThisJokercomespreparedwithaheavy

arsenalofmischievousanddeadlytoys:electrichandbuzzer,wind­upteeth,acid­squirtingflower,

breakawayhands,propguns,poisongasandmore.Nicholson’sJokercaredverymuchindeedabouthis

publicimage.Perfectappearance,quick­wittedretorts,theatrical,flamboyantpostureanddandy

mannerism.Heworeaperfectlyfitting,customtailoredsuit(finestmaterialsandbrightcolors).Helooks

likea1950’smobsterwithsomeoftheBeetlejuicefeatures;grotesquelookanddarktwistedhumour.

JackNicholsonhadasecretweapon­hisownbad­boypersona.Jackwasalwayswell­knownforbeinga

hedonistic,troublemakingCasanova,withanexceptionallyrichlifeexperience,andgreatsuccessinhis

actingcareer(themostAcademyAwardnominationsinthehistoryofOscars),sohisJokerisbasicallya

productofgeniustransferofthosedevilish,humorousqualities,fromJackthemanintoJacktheJoker.

NicholsonstronglybelievedthatplayingtheJokerbigwasn’tenough.Hethoughtitwasabsolutely

necessarytocreatethecraziest,weirdest,psychoticbadguyeverseen;aforceofnaturelargergreater

thanthefilmandtheactorplayinghim.Acomic­bookvillain;asJackoncesaidinEsquiremagazine:

“apieceofPopArt”.Buthonestly,haveyouactuallyexpectedanythinglessthanperfection,fromthe

originalHollywoodbadboywhoonceproudlydeclared::“I’vedatedallthewomen,I’vedoneallthedrugs

andI’vedrunkeverydrink”.

Onthecontrary,HeathLedgerwasknownasareservedandshy‘’prettyboy”;anactorofnotmuch

depth.Foryearshe’sbeendesperatelylookingforamovierolethatwillallowhimtochangehispublic

image,onceforall.Intheendthisturnedouttobeadouble­edgedsword.Famousforimmersingwithhis

roles,inordertoprepareforthisone,Ledgerlockedhimselfinahotelroomforamonth,forgingthe

character’spersonality,postureandthevoice(atfirstdifficult,buteventually,hemanagedtoproduce

uniquevoice,nothinglikeJackNicholson’scharacter).Healsokeptadiary,recordingJoker’sthoughtsand

feelings.Duringthemonthofpreparationfortherole,HeathLedgerlivedontheboundarybetweenreality

andimagination,barelyeatingandsleepinganaverageoftwohoursanight."Icouldn'tstopthinking.

Mybodywasexhausted,andmymindwasstillgoing.”UponcompletingthefilmingofTheDark

Knight,onJanuary22,2008,HeathLedgerdiedof,apparently,anaccidentalprescriptiondrugoverdose.

LindyHemming,acostumedesigner,explainedthatJoker’sappearancereflectshispersonality:“he

doesn’tcareabouthimselfatall”.Heisdressedinacustomtailoredpurplesuit,matchingpin­stripepants;

suspenders,lightbluejacket,greenvestandlightpurplepatternedshirt.Heiswearingwhitemake­up,

blackenedeyesandredlipsticksmearedoverhisgruesomeGlasgowsmile.

Hishairisgreen,unkemptandgreasy.Hislookshowsthathehasnointeresttoimpress,butrather

intimidate.Throughoutthemovie,hisoutfitandmakeupgetprogressivelywornoutanddisheveled,

additionallyimplyinghisunstablepsyche,carelessnesstowardsprettymucheverything.Hemming

designedhimtoappearshabbyandmessy,sothat“whenyouseehimmove,he’sslightlytwitchieror

edgy”.Nolannoted,“WegaveaFrancisBaconspintohisface.Thiscorruption,thisdecayinthetexture

ofthelookitself.It'sgrubby.Youcanalmostimaginewhathesmellslike.Increatingthe"anarchical"look

oftheJoker,HemmingdrewinspirationfromsuchcounterculturalpopcultureartistsasPeteDoherty,

IggyPopandJohnnyRotten.

Aninterestingdifferencebetweenthetwocharactersisthat,unlikeJack’s,Heath’sJokershowsno

interestforwomenwhatsoever;whichdirectlydegradeshismasculinity.Ontheotherhand,Jack

Nicholsonsimplypouredhisrichexperienceasagreatlothario(“lady­killer),intotheroleofJoker,

displayingmaledominancethroughoutthewholemovie.ThereisascenefromBatmaninwhichJoker

forcesreporterVickiValetohavedinnerwithhim.WhenValeasked:“Whatdoyouwantfromme?”,

Jokerreplied:“Oh,littlesong,littledance,Batman’sheadonalance.”.TheJokerisperfectlyaware

thatValewillnotagreetohelphim,buthestillinterrogateshereforthesakeoffeelingcontrolandproving

hisdominance.

Inadditiontothecharactercomparison,onthegroundsofappearance;JackNicholson’slinessuchas:

“Neverrubanotherman’srhubarb!”,“Wheredoeshegetthosewonderfultoys?”and,ofcourse,

“Youeverdancewiththedevilinthepalemoonlight?”, beatthebestofLedger’squotes(i.e.”Why

soserious?”and“Ibelievewhateverdoesn’tkillyousimplymakesyou…stranger”).

TimBurton’sideaofJokerwastostayasfaithfulaspossibletothecomicbookcharacter;thereforeJack

Nicholson’s“DaffyDuckprankster”wasabullseye.Jack’sJokeriscampy,andthefactthatJoker

himselfisawareofhowcampyheis,makeshimthatmuchmoreinsane.Hispersonalityisaweird

mixtureofCesarRomero’s(JokerinBatmanTVseries,1966­1968)campinessandDr.Cagliari’s

(TheCabinetofDr.Caligari,Germansilenthorrormovie,1920)darknessandinsanity.InBatman

(1989),thecontrastbetweentheJokerandhisenvironmentisbeautifullydepicted.Everythingisdark,

blackandgrey;buthe’ssocolorful,howeverstillmorerevoltingthananythingthatsurroundshim.

AlthoughbeinganexceptionallytrustworthyrepresentationofcomicbookJoker,therewerehowevertwo

profoundadditionstohispersonality.Narcissismandpassionforart;specifically,artofdeath.Jokerhada

thingfordecayingbodies,andsawitasart.JackNicholsonwowedtheaudiencearoundtheworldwithhis

terrificallydeliveredperformance,becomingthemainobjectofworshipbymedia,fansandcasual

viewers.Atthattime,superheromovies,butalsoSci­Figenreasawhole,wereneverbeentaken

seriouslyenoughtocandidateforanyawards.Despitethat,Jackstillmanagedtobenominatedfora

GoldenGlobe,whichwasconsideredabigsuccessforthatgenre,forthosetimes.

Inadvancedsociety,easyaccesstoinformationthroughmedia,theJokerhadtobetakeninthedirection

hehadneverbeentakenbefore.ThistimeBatman’suniverseisthereflectionofouruniverse­entirely

soakedinrealism.Thischangedirectlytriggeredthechangeofgenre­fromFantasy/Sci­Fito

Crime/Action/Drama.Fromtheearlycreationofthemovie,itwasclearthatJackNicholson’sJokerwas

portrayedwithperfectaccuracysotherewasnopointinattemptingtoout­joketheJoker.Afterall,Heath

Ledgerhimselfadmitsitatonepoint:“Youknow,IwasabigfanofJackNicholson­stillam­his

portrayaloftheJokerwasperfectforTimBurton'sworldandifTimBurtonhadcometomeandhe

wasdoingthesequelandheaskedmetoplaytheJokerinhismovie,Iwouldn'tdoit.Icouldn't.

Becauseyoucouldn'ttouchwhatJackNicholsondid.Itwouldbeacrime.WhenChriscametome,

I'dalreadyseenBatmanBeginsandIreallylikedit.BecauseI'dalreadyseenit,Ialreadyknewthe

world,whichhehadcreated.Iinstantlyknewofanangle.Iinstantlyknewawayintothis

character.Awaytocreateacharactertofitintothisworldandsoitwasfairlyimmediate.”

ThedecisionwastogiveJokeratotalmakeoverandre­imagination,asortofahorrortreatment,

eventuallyconstructingaversionreferredas“TheGrungeversion”.ChristopherNolangrantedHeath

Ledgerwith“freereign”tocreatetherole,whichhefound“fun,becausetherearenorealboundariesto

whattheJokerwouldsayordo.Nothingintimidateshim,andeverythingisabigjoke.Theresultof

unlimitedartisticfreedomandobsessivededicationtoperfectionwas,asHeathLedgersaidforTheNew

YorkTimes,a“psychopathic,massmurdering,schizophrenicclownwithzeroempathy”.Christopher

NolanandHeathLedgerdrewmostoftheirinspirationfromBatman:TheKillingJokeand

InTheDarkKnighttheJokerrepresents

BothHeathLedgerandChristopherNolanadmittedthatBatman:TheKillingJokewasthemajor

inspirationforthepersonification[alsoArkhamAsylum:ASeriousHouseonSeriousEarth,aswellas

AClockworkOrangeandSidVicious(EnglishbassguitaristandvocalistfromtheSexPistols)].

ThefirstdifferencefromTheBatman(1989),thatjumpsatyouisthattheJokerhimselfisconfused

abouthispast.HollywoodPsychologyprofilesofTheJoker,suggestthat“ heisinsanetosuchan

extentthatheliterallyreinventsbothhisownpsycheandhistoryonadailybasis.”Onedayhe

couldbeinnocuousprankster,buttheverynextahomicidalmaniac.Histendencyforrepeated

self­reinventionstributesthehighlydiverseversionsofthecharacter,appearedoverthecourseofyears.

AshesaysinTheKillingJoke:"SometimesIrememberitoneway,sometimesanother ifI'mgoing

tohaveapast,Ipreferittobemultiplechoice!"

SomedoctorssuggestatheoryforJoker’scomplexmindset,callingit“SuperSanity”.Thetheoryimplies

thatheactually“suffers”fromtheunprecedented,absolutereality.Therefore,beingtoosane,hemocks

theworld,societyandpeoplewhocreatedit;seeingitasonebigjoke.TheJokerfunctionsasaterrorist

promotinganarchy(one­maninsurgency);depictingthesocietyasthepoliticalproductofBush’sAmerica

after9/11.Heshowsnointerestinanythingexceptforchaos,andcausesitjustforthesakeofcausingit.

“I’mlikeadogchasingcars,Iwouldn’tknowwhattodoifIcaughtone,youknow,I’djust

do…things.”;“Somemenjustwanttowatchtheworldburn.”

Jokerlikestoseehimselfasthe“comedy”toBatman’s“tragedy”.Hewantstoabolishcurrentsystem,

andprovetoprovetoBatmanthatsituationdoesmakeaman;andthatitonlytakesonebaddaytosend

anyoneintotheinsanity(“SuperSanity”)thatheliveseveryday.Batmangivesaphilosophical

observation,explainingthatinordertoacknowledgeanimperfectworld,youmuststepoutsideofsocial

norms;however,thatdoesn’tmakethesocialnormsmeaningless.Jokerhasadiffernt“thepresenceof

randomjustice,meansthatthereisnojustice”.“Thefactthatinnocencecanbedestroyed,means

thereisnoinnocence”.JokerstheoryofchaosandinsanityforcesBatmantochallengehisown

existenceandbeliefs.

Don’ttalklikeoneofthem,you’renot!Evenifyou’dliketobe.Tothemyou’rejustafreak,like

me.Theyneedyourightnow.Butwhentheydon’t,they’llcastyouout,likealeper.See,their

morals,theircode:it’sabadjoke.They’redroppedatthefirstsignoftrouble.They’reonlyas

goodastheworldallowsthemtobe.You’llsee,whenthechipsaredownthesecivilizedpeoplewill

eateachother.YaseeI’mnotamonster,Iwasjustaheadofthecurve.”

Intheend,despiteBatman’sundisputedarch­nemesis,theJokerdemonstratesacertainrespectfor

Batman;acknowledgingthattheydependoneachother,andwillneverdestroyeachother;therefore

destinedtofightforever.

Batman:“Thenwhydoyouwanttokillme?”

Joker:“Idon’twanttokillyou!WhatwouldIdowithoutyou?Gobacktorippingoffmob

dealers?No,no,NO!No.You…you…completeme.”

Joker:“Oh,you.Youjustcouldn’tletmego,couldyou?Thisiswhathappenswhenan

unstoppableforcemeetsanimmovableobject.Youaretrulyincorruptible,aren’tyou?Huh?You

won’tkillmeoutofsomemisplacedsenseofself­righteousness.AndIwon’tkillyoubecause

you’rejusttoomuchfun.IthinkyouandIaredestinedtodothisforever.”

Theaudienceisnowleftwith(maybe)thetwomostmemorableperformances,andthesamepredicament

likein1989.IfanyoneeverattemptstousetheJokerinamovieagain,hewouldhavenochoicebutto,

totallyreinventthecharacter.HeathLedger’sJokerisamasterpiecethatmadehimimmortal.Hewill

alwaysberememberedforthedeepestexplorationsofthecharacter’spsyche,stunningtransformation

andrevolutionaryreinventionof“psychopathic,massmurdering,schizophrenicclownwithzero

empathy”.Ledger’sJokermightbedarkerandmorerealistic,butitlackstheremarkableencounterof

realityandfantasy,thatmakesJack’sJoker“apieceofpopart”.Beingafarmorereservedandmodest

individual,LedgercouldonlyimaginethecharacteristicsthatcametoNicholsonnaturally.Jack

Nicholson’sJokeristhecriterionbywhichallcomic­bookvillainymustbejudged.Hecannotbereplaced

orimitated,justasHannibalLectercannotberepresentedinamorewickedwaythanAnthonyHopkins

didit.Toconclude,HeathLedger’sJokerwasneitherareactionnoraninterpretation,butrathera

magnificentrevisionistreincarnation.ButtherecanbeonlyoneJoker,andhedanceswiththedevilinthe

palemoonlight.

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