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mygif

I didn’t think Ledger would even get nominated a while back. TDK just seemed like something the Academy would consider “beneath” them concerning the major awards. (I.E. Picture, acting & screenplays.)

Then he won the Globe and got this nomination. And now I think he’s gonna win. If only do to a combination of a tribute and a lack of other strong supporting male performances. Really, none of the other noms jump out at me. Maybe Downey, who I do agree was fantastic, because of his past work and the fact that the Academy likes to reward comedies with Supporting Actor awards. And it’s a movie about a movie, and they like that stuff too.

Any other year, I’d say it’s Robert’s, but I think Heath’s gonna win it.

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I thought Ledger did a good job with the Joker, but even as I was watching it for the first time in the theater, I couldn’t help but think he was just channeling Tyler Durden, and let’s face it, Brad Pitt already NAILED that. Hell, the scene in the jail where Batman’s beating the Joker and the Joker keeps laughing and laughing… ripped straight from the basement of the bar in Fight Club. “You don’t know where I’ve been, Lou!”

Ledger will most likely win it. I don’t really think he should, though.

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After seeing American Psycho again. I must agree.

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@rwe: it does seem to be a tough year for movies. There’s so much out there that works in weird ways. Like WALL-E versus Bolt. But yeah, I think you’re right on the noms.

@Karellan and Ithidet: okay, I never put this movie in that context, nor made the Ledger/Durden connection, and you both just totally blew my mind. I say both because I’ve been thinking about masculinity in literature, from Gatsby to American Psycho and Fight Club, and this just ties them all together in a neat little bow. I totally have to reread American Psycho now. And rewatch Fight Club.

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Illuyankas said on February 4th, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Joker spends the entire film lying his ass off to everyone, and manipulating events and people to fit his very deliberate plan. His talk with Harvey was specifically tailored to dick him over, and wasn’t true in the slightest. A weird thing to get annoyed about, I know, but people thinking that he meant the speech about being an agent of chaos really missed stuff.

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i just want to take the opportunity and ask everyone: is it just me, or did iron man and the dark knight suck action-wise? because i think they pretty much did. suck action-wise. the end battle in iron man was just boring. and batman seemed to knock everyone out by just pounding his fists on other people’s heads bud spencer style.

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Reading your criticisms, I’m confused by your assessment. A lot of the things you cite as deficiencies, I see as assets to the movie, and a lot of the commenters are using a pretty limited frame of pop-cultural reference to judge Ledger’s performance.

What’s the difference between a “good crime movie” and a “good movie overall?” It’s my opinion that some of the greatest movies ever made were “crime movies,” “caper flcks,” “film noir” or “thrillers” or whatever. Night And The City, Touch of Evil, The Maltese Falcon, The Taking Of The Pelham 1-2-3, Band Of Outsiders, The Big Lebowski (and The Big Sleep upon which it riffs), are all great capital-F Films that could all be potentially marginalized as just “crime movies.” Cutting something down for being able to be classified, really doesn’t make any sense.

I didn’t time my watching of TDK to catch the plot beats, largely because I’ve been far too immersed in every watching to detach myself in that way. Maybe it helped that my first viewing was in IMAX, six stories of visuals and 2k watts of surround sound, but that essential sense of transportation, belief in fiction, is what made the film great to me. Iron Man was entertaining to be sure, but I never once considered Tony Stark to be anything more than Robert Downey Jr., whose most entertaining roles tend to rely on his natural slippery charm (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and even Chaplin to a certain degree).

And Will, when you say “The Joker seemed wall-to-wall Id,” and “that he’s merely the foil or the anti-self or the whatever-opposite of Batman.” Well yes, that’s pretty much the point of the character entirely. Whether in the comics or the movies, all of Batman’s villains are resonant because of what they reflect in the lead hero. But what makes Batman’s rogues more memorable than say the Flash (whose rogues are officially The Rogues), is that beyond mirroring the main hero’s psychology, they’ve transcended their gimmicks to become interesting characters in their own right.

And I think you’re really discounting the effort it takes to be “crazy-villain guy,” maybe you didn’t ultimately buy in, and find any genuine dread or horror in his performance– maybe you thought it was just o-kay. But to me, Ledger carved a truly unique character in a medium that’s full of underwhelming villains. While I’d argue that he isn’t of the type, for argument’s sake “creepy drugged-out rockstar” villains in movies are certainly ubiquitous, what’s different about Ledger is that’s his performance is memorable and unique amidst all the Crow sequels, Rob Zombie movies, Luc Besson productions, et al. The year before Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men) and Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood) were those sorts of villains, villains who had characters

Ledger to me, became something/someone else. Different than other Jokers, and different from other villains. To the various commenters: Brad Pitt is hardly the first actor to play a masochist on film, and I think Ledger’s Joker is more an amalgamation of Robert Mitchum, Richard Nixon, Marlon Brando and Daffy Duck. Where you see limits, I see all kinds of references and spins on other films and characters.

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My long-winded comment got partially cut off (and probably should’ve been shorter period) but that last sentence in the second to last paragraph should’ve read:
“The year before Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men) and Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood) were those sorts of villains, villains who had characters who had autonomy and compelling motives beyond antagonizing any hero.”

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I still wish Nolan had cast Christian Bale as the Joker, too, because I think that would have been awesome.

This is what I said. Strictly, I said “They should cast the guy from The Machinist as the Joker!”, was told that he was already playing Batman, and said “That makes it EVEN BETTER!”

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I would imagine that Joker Bale would sound like a chain smoker.

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I find it interesting a lot of people thought that Dark Knight went too long, because that last scene with Batman, Two Face and Gordon is my most favourite scene of the movie. I’ve seen Dark Knight a lot of times now, so I tend to skip some scenes when watching lately, but I always have to watch that one.

Everything about it I love, it’s truly both horrific and beautiful. The music, the lighting and the performances particularly from Oldman and Eckart gives me goosebumps every time.

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While I did enjoy Ledger’s Joker, it was mostly because it did an utterly brilliant job of being a bastard. I never thought there was anything deep about the character — Ledger just had magnificent showmanship. It might just be because I’m slightly more pretentiously read than your average movie-goer. Of course, my favorite part of The Dark Knight was actually the hostage scene in the abandoned building — because it so perfectly recreated the essential Batman scene and yet did it without being contrived. You have Commissioner Gordon surrounding the building, you have the Joker in his garish purple suit holding court at the top of the building, you have Batman warning that “with the Joker, you have to except the unexpected” — it could be ripped from any one of thousands of campy Batman stories and yet, the movie arrived there with legitimate realism and legitimate tension. I thought that was Nolan’s masterstroke; never mind any messages about good and evil.

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Ledger’s Joker was entertaining, but he’s no Mark Hamill. I am unrepentant on this point.

The Dark Knight was a pretty good comic book movie, but I don’t know. It dragged in places, and I got bored, and the callous disregard for all of the female characters really bothered me. Plot elements like Gordon’s fakeout and the entire trip to Hong Kong, while I understood that they did serve story purposes, made the whole movie seem unnecessarily complicated (as opposed to complex)–for example, can anyone explain to me why Cillian Murphy was in this movie? And at the same time, things that should have been in there (some kind of in-story acknowledgment of the Joker’s lie about Harvey and Rachel’s respective locations, or a third scar story) were missing, making the movie feel… hurried, I suppose.

Plus, all of the Joker’s BRILLIANT PLOT TWISTS (omg! he wanted to get arrested! omg! The guy has a bomb in his stomach! omg! the clowns are the hostages!) were so obvious so far ahead of time that they had me thinking ‘geez, Batman and the police are pretty fucking dumb, aren’t they?’ rather than ‘wow, that Joker… he sure is devious and unpredictable! how do you fight a foe like that??’ And I just don’t think that was the intent.

But I had a lot of similar problems with Batman Begins. I’ve just got to figure I’m not the target demographic I thought I was.

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Illuyankas made the point that I was going to make. I see people missing this even when talking about Joker’s origin story – either they didn’t hear or forgot about one of the origins, and take the one the remember as a generic Freudian Excuse, or take the contradiction as an error in the script.

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I think Dark Knight was something of a let down, action wise. But then, Batman Begins wasn’t really a movie I’d say delivered in the action deparment either. Maybe it’s being spoiled by seeing Tony Jaa do his thing. Iron Man I’m kind of on the fence about. I’ll agree the final showdown between Iron Man and Iron Monger was a little disappointing, but the rest was good, I think.

I’ll agree with Dark Knight being too long, but the thing is that I don’t think neccessarily that the solution would be to just hack off the last 30 minutes and call it a day. I agree that the end worked, and think it’s a lot of the stuff at the beginning that could get scuttled since I thought the movie took to long to get in gear.

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The only thing I think TDK was guilty of was not planning Two-Face well enough. This is evident near the end of the film when Gordon claimed he killed five guys including two cops.. which two cops? He killed one cop in a bar, but he let the other live. And how did Gordon know about or even connect Marconi’s death to Harvey Dent?

Two-Face was just rushed.

Claiming the Joker was without a plan to commit his brand of chaos is naive. Remember, the only time he actually claimed this was when he was trying to convince Harvey that schemers were pointless. The Joker is a total sociopath and a masterful tactician. Its when people deal with only one side of this equation that they underestimate the Joker and allow themselves to be caught off guard by him. To the Joker, Chaos has as little value as Order – he’ll use either one to accomplish his goals.

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Sage Freehaven said on February 5th, 2009 at 6:34 am

@Zenrage – I’ve seen a lot of criticism about that “killed five people” bit; at that point, Gordon didn’t know about the murders that Harvey had committed (he was busy with the Joker situation before Harvey made the call) or the death of Lau at Joker’s, and he may have been commenting on the other five people that had died during Harvey’s tenure as DA in the movie (the fake Batman, Commissioner Loeb, Judge Surillo, and the two police officers that tipped the police and Batman off that Joker was going to target the mayor). All five of those people died while Harvey was in charge of the investigation into the Gotham City crime syndicates — and all thanks to Joker. Of course, then there’s still the bit about how Harvey was responsible for those deaths (which Batman said he’d take the heat for to keep Harvey’s investigation alive), but hey, I never said I could explain that.

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Reading this essay, Will, it seems to me that there might be something you’re missing when you watch the film. Not to be critical or rude, or anything; I know you’re smart and very capable of critically viewing a film to get its subtexts, but I do think you might have made a tiny oversight. So here’s what you have to understand in order to really get ‘The Dark Knight’. Ready?

It’s an adaptation of ‘The Killing Joke’.

Once you understand that, a lot of the things you point to as flaws suddenly make a lot more sense. The Joker’s goal isn’t to convince people that the world is all about chaos–that’s what he says to Harvey, but actions speak louder than words. The Joker’s goal is to prove that under the right circumstances, with the right stimuli, anyone at all will become just as nuts as he is. His speech to Harvey is designed to be the last little nudge to push him over the edge and turn a straight-edged defender of law and order into a madman who flips a coin to decide whether he’s going to kill the son of the police commissioner.

At every point, at every turn, his plans are designed to turn everyday people into murderers. “Kill this man or I’ll blow up a hospital.” “Fight to the death, or I’ll kill both of you.” “Blow up the other boat, or I’ll blow up both.” Anyone could be the Joker. That’s his belief, that’s his ethos, that’s the ideal he’s trying to inflict on Gotham. Alan Moore described it as “All it takes is one bad day,” and although it’s never laid that bare here, that’s what Nolan’s doing.

And that’s why the use of Harvey Dent is so brilliant, and (sorry to contradict you) important and integral to the film. Harvey’s transformation into Two-Face isn’t an afterthought, something to be worked in because they needed a second villain–it’s the heart of the movie, an absolutely perfect change that turns the clever-but-flawed ‘Killing Joke’ into a chilling masterpiece. Because in ‘Joke’, the Joker was wrong. Gordon shrugs off the psychological strong-arm tactics, even the assault on his daughter, downright effortlessly. But ‘Dark Knight’ suggests that deep down, at least some of the time, the Joker is right. All it really does take is one bad day to turn Harvey Dent into Two-Face. Dent’s descent into madness is the core of the film, and the shadow of Two-Face hangs over his every appearance even if he’s only “present” right at the end.

The Joker isn’t “merely the foil of Batman”; he’s not the foil of Batman at all, in fact. He’s the foil of Harvey Dent, an anti-authoritarian Id in the face of a clean-cut Super-Ego, and the Id wins. That’s what works so well about ‘The Dark Knight’; underneath the text of “Hooray, the good guys won and the bad guy went to Arkham,” there’s this subtext of, “The Joker may be crazy…but he’s not wrong.”

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mygif

Yikes. I never thought about it before, but Christian Bale WOULD make an excellent Joker, wouldn’t he?

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I think Nolan should have cast Hugh Jackman as the Joker. In fact, I think every movie should have Jackman and Bale locked in a life-or-death struggle for dominance of whatever they’re trying to dominate–Gotham, stage magic, lawsuits, wine tasting, road trips, you name it.

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What eventually sold me on Ledger’s performance containing subtelty and being more than just spectacular craziness was the hospital scene with Harvey, specifically because the Joker not only tricks him into believing whole “Do I look like a guy with a plan?” thing, but the audience as well. His lie had me going for a minute … despite the fact that the movie *opens* with an elaborate bank robbery the Joker has successfully timed out to the split second.

In answer to Rachel’s comment above, I suggest this is why Batman and the police keep falling for the Joker’s reversals — the purpose and the brilliance of the performance is that it serves to make the characters (and you) *underestimate* the Joker. You think “Oh, he’s just a crazy guy” and meanwhile he’s able to make everybody do exactly what he wants throughout the movie. He’s not a crazy guy in makeup with knives in his pocket, he’s *disguised* as a crazy guy in makeup with knives in his pocket.

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mygif

A lot of great points, especially re: the Joker/agent of chaos thing. It’s at this point I want to note I may well have missed quite a bit, but in terms of what I think of the Joker (and what he wants or who he is), I’m not really just going by the Dent-hospital scene. I realize I can’t take anything the Joker says at face value, especially given (as mentioned up above) the no-less-than-two scar stories (I think as has also been mentioned that there should have been three, for some reason I can pinpoint but at least partly for balance).

Really, I try to go by the movie. I’m thinking about Alfred and “Some people just want to watch the world burn.” Considering John Seavey’s comment: I like that element, this pushing people to prove that everyone else has the potential to be him (and no, I’ve never read The Killing Joke. I have nothing against comics but tend, taste-wise, toward novels. Not saying comics can’t be every bit as good, mind you).

Thing is, though . . . I mean, I guess that’s some motivation, but I still miss a reason for it. Sure, I’ll go with he just wants to push everyone a little further, just hopes to make everyone break whatever rule they have (that, at least, is a recurring motif in his actions/speeches), but: why? One thing I do take at made-up face value is that he doesn’t believe he himself is crazy (in the scene when he first talks to the mob bosses). Of course, it’s one of the surest signs he is sociopathic, but isn’t it also a big indication that . . . consider:

I’m the Joker. I don’t believe I’m insane, which means I can easily believe anyone would do what I do, because it’s not insanity. I believe I have clarity, in fact. That I’m a step ahead of the curve, in many ways.

I mean, I guess it could be that he wants to reveal to the whole world how crazy everyone is, but still, it feels like there’s some motivation, some why, missing. Also: if revelation is his goal, the comments concerning Tyler Durden-who did it all first, and did it all better-seem closer to spot on than ever.

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Wow, and here I thought I was the only person alive who would’ve loved to see Bale as the Joker, which would have been 20 different kinds of awesome.

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given 3-act structure

The Dark Knight has a four-act structure. Not unheard of in Hollywood, but rarely done as well as it is here.

Read this guy’s analysis of The Dark Knight (and all the other Batman films, if you page through his journal) for some insightful analysis. I understand that the hype of The Dark Knight is larger than what the movie actually delivers, and that gets some people angry, but the film should be noted for how many difficult things it manages to do well.

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I echo the sentiments that say TDK was too long. The final act was brilliant (Oldman OWNED the entire coda), but its impact upon repeat viewings is watered down because you finally realize how often the movie beats you over the head with the same message. It would have improved vastly with cuts earlier on.

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“I mean, I guess it could be that he wants to reveal to the whole world how crazy everyone is, but still, it feels like there’s some motivation, some why, missing. Also: if revelation is his goal, the comments concerning Tyler Durden-who did it all first, and did it all better-seem closer to spot on than ever.”

This makes me think of No Country For Old Men, where Tommy Lee Jones’ character essentially admits that the movie’s villain is less a character than a force of nature. That victory in the traditional “catching the bad guy” sense isn’t possible, and that any closure in the conflict would be pyrrhic at best.

The Joker is presented similarly, and your interest in defining a clear motivation for the character is self-defeating, b/c of his nature as a liar, trickster, and corrupter. He’s less interested in making everyone insane as he is in chipping away at moral certainty and absolutes. In some ways the Joker is trying to justify his own existence, but as his multiple origin stories illustrate, the “why” is a red herring as to the “what” is happening in the story.

And again, I really think the comparisons to Fight Club are highlighting shallow similarities. Tyler Durden had a deliberate anti-consumer/anti-capitalist agenda (with a subtext about the duplicity of misogyny and masculinity) whereas the Joker could be seen as a nihilist or a relativist, he’s mostly engaging in “terror for terror’s sake.” One could argue in this same way that Durden is derivative of Holden Caulfield in his attempts to unmask the phoniness and illusions of modern life and the lies that trap adolescent men, so really Fight Club is just a poor man’s Catcher In The Rye, rather than a work unto itself.

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> (which, too, would have solved the problem Warner Bros. now faces, because, sorry to be callous about it, but who’s going to play the Joker now?)

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Lister Sage said on February 5th, 2009 at 4:42 pm

To those saying “Who should play the Joker?” I say give it to Adrian Brody. He’s expressed interest in it already and with make-up could look scarily accurate to the comic book version.

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“(which, too, would have solved the problem Warner Bros. now faces, because, sorry to be callous about it, but who’s going to play the Joker now?)”

Michael Keaton.

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Hmmmm. Read Alcott’s description/analysis. Disagree. At least on the 3-act/4-act thing. Also read his assessment that Jaws has a 4-act structure, too. I’m wondering if he doesn’t read into things what he hopes/wants too. Because in both instances, he’s considering the mid-point of the movie a plot break, which it’s not.

Seems like this would make good fodder for another post. As would Christopher’s comments about genre up the way, in which he notes my calling The Dark Knight a good crime movie. Genre’s a tough bitch to crack.

But hey, I’ve been wanting to take more advantage of the “guest contributor” thing, anyway.

I can’t go with the comparison of Ledger’s Joker to Bardem’s No Country for Old Men villain. Because Bardem wanted something. He wanted the money. He wanted to complete the job for which he had been hired. He had very clear, very specific motivation.

I don’t care if you want a sandwich. You’ve still got to want something.

Maybe Joker did just want to push everyone’s buttons. To make people break their own rules.

But if so: why?

I mean, here’s the thing: if you just sat down with the Joker and said, “Dude, you’re right. There’s no such thing as moral certainty, nor absolutism. We’re all just trying to do the best we can, and we do that because we care about other people and about the world,” does he just stop? Does he say, “Thank you for validating my beliefs” and walk away?

People bring up the fact that he’s a liar and a trickster, but even those characters (especially tricksters) do things because they want them. Even if all they want is a coconut (as in many trickster myths).

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I came to taht conclusion on my own a week ago, that Christian Bale was just crazy enough (have you heard his meltdown on Terminator Salvation?) to play not only batman, but the joker as well.

And I am in no way reccomending this, but…in my head I always imagined Gary Busey as the joker. While I am absolutely not advocating that, he’d make a good supervillain for something else, even if its not in the franchise.

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I think that the motivation that Will is searching for is simply that the Joker enjoys destroying things. Not because it creates chaos, but because destruction plain feels good to him. He kills people, blows up buildings, sets stuff on fire, shatters people’s sense of security, and so on. While one could plausibly argue that he’s trying to prove a point, the only motive he truly needs for pushing people to abandon their principles and/or sense of self is that character is yet another thing to destroy.

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I mean, here’s the thing: if you just sat down with the Joker and said, “Dude, you’re right. There’s no such thing as moral certainty, nor absolutism. We’re all just trying to do the best we can, and we do that because we care about other people and about the world,” does he just stop? Does he say, “Thank you for validating my beliefs” and walk away?

I think he’d say, “Good. Now go burn down a hospital. Spread the philosophy.”

In this perspective, the Joker is a virus. :)

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Man, all this discussion and I just wanted to say woo, Eulogy!

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Yeah, Remus nailed it there. :) The Joker wouldn’t be satisfied with just words; he’d want to see some action.

But yes, if he drove everyone else in the world crazy, he might be satisfied. (Or he might find out that having gotten what he wanted, it’s not as much fun as he imagined it would be–with everyone crazy, there aren’t any sane people to drive mad. Luckily, he’s always going to have Batman as a bastion of (relative) sanity to keep from getting bored.)

Oh, and Will: You’re totally right about there needing to be a third pretend origin. I’m sure Nolan thought that having a third that he starts to tell Batman was good enough, but there needed to be a third that the audience hears, to hammer home that the guy is just making them up as he goes along. (Because otherwise, you might think that the “child abuse” one is real, then you might post about it on your blog, then when people pointed out the other origin, you might get defensive to the point where you claim that everyone’s just a DC fanboy who’s trying to suppress your freedom of speech by expressing contrary opinions and pointing out your factual inaccuracies, then when people point out that doing those things doesn’t actually suppress your freedom of speech, you might lock off comments for the thread and go on an epic sulk that finally culminates months later with your publicly swearing to never express an opinion ever again because people are mean to you. Um, you know, hypothetically speaking. :) )

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A possible motivation for the Joker: He’s just lonely.

There’s all that “You complete me”/”We could do this forever” business with Batman. He’s trying to make ordinary people go insane, so he’ll have company in his madness. He even paints/carves a Joker face on the faux Batman (the comic book Joker takes this even further with his Joker toxin that leaves people dead with a huge grin on their faces). His solution to loneliness is to make everybody just like him.

I’m not sure that was Ledger’s/Nolan’s/Goyer’s intent, but it’s my own personal interpretation, and watching the movie with this motivation in mind seems to work.

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Justin: see the pseudo-sexual aspect of the Joker in The Dark Knight Returns, the blatantly sexual aspect of the new Joker in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, a goofy Joker wanting to defile Batman’s corpse in Batman Cacophony, etc. (I think The Killing Joke had something about Batman being the only other real person to him, but I haven’t read it in awhile. Maybe that was Arkham Asylum?) Ledger’s and Hammil’s are my favorite portrayals of the character so far.

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NB: There is a third pretend origin. We just don’t get to hear it because Batman doesn’t take the time to listen to it.

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Also, I’m surprised that no one’s mentioned Arkham Asylum here yet, because I know that’s one of the books Ledger read to prepare for the role and is one of if — if not the — seminal Joker/Batman stories.

The basic point that Arkham establishes is that Batman is, in some sense, as crazy as the Joker — he’s a grown man who dresses in a bat suit and jumps around on rooftops at night. He’s doing this because of psychological trauma he suffered as a result of witnessing his parents’ murders.

The Joker is a necessary foil for Batman — he exists (as Frank Miller put it in TDKR) as the result of The Batman. As the Joker says in TDK, life without the Batman would be “boring.” And that’s the point — the Joker would be bored if he just had to go back to ripping off mob dealers. That’s why he’s so thrilled that Batman can’t just walk away — it lets the hilarious game of explosions and murder and high drama continue.

The way I’ve always understood the Joker’s motivation is that he understands that *he’s a supervillain* and he loves it. He not a Bond villain — he doesn’t really care about money or justice or control — all he wants to do is kill and burn and play in the hilarious high drama of it all. He’s not serial-killer redux, either; he doesn’t get off on pain or sex — what he enjoys is the game. To the extent he wants to drive other people over the edge, that, too, is a fun game.

The way to see the Joker is as a kid poking at an anthill and laughing as he watches all the little ants scurry about not knowing what’s going on. And humans are even better, because they can be manipulated in more interesting ways.

The Joker is like the main character in his own little personal game of Grand Theft Auto and he loves every minute of it. And that’s the point of Batman, too — how much less fun would GTA be if there was no Army to chase after you at 5 stars?

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