"And here we go."
It’s difficult to do Heath Ledger’s astounding performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight justice. It has to be seen to be fully appreciated but as one of modern cinema’s most breathtaking achivements I’m going out on a limb and assuming that most people have witnessed the Caped Crusader stand up to Gotham’s biggest threat.
Christopher Nolan set himself a monumental task. The ultimate question, how to reinvent The Dark Knight for the modern cinema goer? Before the omnipresent age of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe Christian Bale donned the black cape in Batman Begins and went toe-to-toe with Ra’s Al Ghul and Scarecrow, two of the franchise’s most recognised villains.
We have to thank Bob Kane and Bill Finger for their collaborative creative genius in bringing Batman into the world way back in 1939. I’m no Batman expert so I won’t go into too much detail through fear of infuriating the comic book universe but Batman has been around for a long time. Batman’s longevity has been accredited with a number of nicknames, The Caped Crusader, Winged Avenger, Detective, The Bat, The Dark Knight. It’s the latter that concerns this post, but Batman takes a back seat in our discussion on one of cinema’s greatest villains.
I say cinema because, although The Joker has his origins in the DC Universe and has been played countless times by varying degree of actor and voice actor, Heath Ledger’s performance reinvented the way audiences connect with villains. There’s nothing really frightening about Marvel’s latest line of villains, just fist fodder for the universe’s superheroes. DC are better at bringing comic book lovers a darker representation of superheroes and villains alike what with Watchmen, The Dark Knight trilogy, even Man of Steel. So when The Dark Knight was announced as the sequel to Batman Begins there was huge anticipation to see what Heath Ledger could bring to the most recognised Batman villain of all time, The Joker.
“I’m an agent of chaos.”
There is no logic to The Joker. Manic, anarchical, self-destructive. Each scene is dominated by an air of unease, a sense of dread fills the room to the point where nobody else matters, even Batman plays second fiddle. It’s no wonder Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded the academy award for Best Supporting Actor.
The Joker is more than just a maniacal voice of irrationality, psychopathic tendencies and a pocket full of grenades. What Ledger was able to bring to the role will never be matched, certainly not by Jared Leto in next year’s Suicide Squad. Ledger brought a slimy, unpredictability to The Joker. The tongue, hand gestures, and existential soliloquies frequented by moments of madness all add to an unnerving aura that puts us on edge. But not out of nervousness, we’re captivated, we’re on the edge of our seats awaiting his next move. What makes him special is his frightening realism. While the performance from Ledger should be revered as one of cinema’s greatest Alfred serves a potent philosophical reminder that “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
“Why so serious?”
Ledger brings an eerie reality to The Joker as a character. Each scar origin story, improvisation, and shrill of sinister enjoyment ensures a nocuous tone is maintained. Despite The Joker’s psychopathy he stills embraces an underlying sense of vulnerability, taking offense to labels such as, freak, and crazy. His magic trick has the potential to make us laugh but out of nervousness, to the point where the normal villains, Maroni or Chechen for example, become victims of The Joker’s crazed persona. His ability to make the world burn is beautifully framed in front of his flaming stack of immeasurable cash.
“Do I really look like a guy with a plan?”
Despite his insistence to Harvey Dent on his hospital bed The Joker does have a plan, but he doesn’t have an end goal. He hatches various violent villainous schemes to ensure his demonstrably destructive persona is anything but pernicious and yet there is no end to his noxious means.
The incisive poignancy when The Joker is hanging upside down, wearing his anarchical grin, and trademark purple threads with an erratic green barnet to suit, closes out The Joker’s role in The Dark Knight franchise respectfully.
“You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”
The Joker will never be seen in this raw capacity again. It truly is a timeless performance that raises The Joker’s profile even higher as Batman’s archenemy in a silver screen comic universe that has no end in sight.