#5- The Dark Knight (2008)

Click here for Commenting Rules and how GOI's final list came together

Who's List Was This On
- Adam Kaplan: #2
- Dan Bennett: #2
- David "MVP" Eckstein: #2

Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Written By: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Morgan Freeman.

The Plot

In Batman Begins Bruce Wayne (Bale) attempts to get rid of the mob and corruption that riddles the streets of Gotham by creating a superhero alter ego- Batman. Batman has greatly affected the city as hope and change to start to flourish. The city elects a great District Attorney Harvey Dent (Eckhart) who starts to make legitimate changes cleaning up the streets of Gotham. The mob, who is none to thrilled with the changes that are occurring and seem powerless to stop it, turn to a no-named terrorist who calls himself The Joker (Ledger) to help stop the Batman. The Joker's antics and mayhem however go out of control as he turns the city of Gotham into a state of fear and panic and leaves Batman helpless to do anything about it.

The Dark Knight is all about escalation. The mob controls the city. Bruce Wayne then comes into town- as a masked and costumed vigilante- and starts to quell the mob's power. In response to a greater threat, the mob creates the greatest threat of them all- The Joker- in attempt to get rid of Batman. This film follows the tale of what happens when things spiral out of control and cause a city to turn on Batman and forces Bruce Wayne to do nothing about it.

Why This Movie Is Great

Heath Ledger and The Joker. It's that plain and simple.

The Dark Knight is an amazing film made brilliant not only because of how the Nolans wrote the character but because how Ledger played the character. Think about it. If either Ledger didn't play The Joker or if that character was even 75% of the awesomeness it is, this movie is just another Batman Begins. I'm a big fan of Batman Begins but it (nor really many other films) touch a candle to the greatness that is The Dark Knight. Without this amazing character, this movie dangerously borders into the X-Men category.

I could write a book on why The Dark Knight is so amazing (Seriously, if any publisher out there wants me to I would be willing to write you a treatment. I mean this without hyperbole that I could literally write a book on how great this film is). However, this post will only be dedicated to The Joker. I'm not even going to touch Harvey Dent, how he is the White Knight in comparison to how Batman is the Dark Knight, how everything the character Harvey says is brilliant, the moral and ethical dilemmas that Lucius Fox (Freeman) and Alfred (Caine) must face, or even about the mob and its head (Eric Roberts) deal with Batman. No, all I will focus on in this post is The Joker.

In my opinion, there is no greater acting job in the history of cinema that what Heath Ledger did with The Joker. Even despite all the hype and infamy that surrounded Ledger and his performance before the film was released (Ledger killed himself before the movie was released) you could not tell me that was Heath Ledger playing The Joker. I just watched the film again a few days ago and I still see no traces of Heath in there. He does such a fantastic job. His mannerisms, his voice, his look, everything is The Joker.

What is first and foremost great about The Joker is that you don't get a back story on him. There is no origin story on The Joker and frankly you don't care. In two different situations, he tells the audience of how he received his signature scars and both times he tells a different story. All you need to know is that this man is crazy. He is pure evil. After many viewings here is what I can gather on his background. I do believe his father messed him up. The first story we hear about The Joker's scars is how his father was a drunk and how one night his father struck him. Next, when The Joker crashes Bruce Wayne's party for Harvey Dent, before he tells Rachael that version of scar story, he meets an elderly gentlemen and he says, "You remind me of my father, and I *hate* my father." Although, one could make the argument that he tells a different story and says different things to different people based on who his audience is. He'll tell Rachael he got the scars about his wife because the person who he's talking to a PYT and he'll tell Gambol and an elderly party guest a story about his father because they're male. Either way, point is, the film never gives The Joker a back story and its better that it doesn't. The one true thing I think The Joker gives away is that he's been called "crazy" before and that's something that truly irks him. He doesn't mind being called a freak, in fact he constantly calls himself a freak, but what he does mind is being called crazy. When we first truly meet The Joker when he interrupts the mob's meeting in the kitchen, Gambol calls The Joker "crazy". The Joker responds by saying, "I'm not. No, I'm No*T*" Ledger plays that line like The Joker takes a huge personal offense to being called "crazy". It makes sense considering The Joker attracts mental unstable people and I'm sure he does have a diagnosable mental disorder.

Nolan did a fantastic job of not only writing the character of The Joker but also working with Ledger to bring the character to life. Heath Ledger's Joker is by far and away the darkest the character has ever been and is a cold-hearted, sadistic, terrorist through and through. This is why I ranked The Joker as the most evil movie villain in movie cinema of all time.

Nolan helped shape this evil character by helping shape the characters physical appearance. Nolan looked at the creepiest paintings throughout the art world to help shape where this character was going. The Joker's hair is purposefully grimey and stringy and even without the green hair coloring would just look gross. Heath Ledger insisted that he apply his own make up because he wanted to keep the authenticity of the character alive. Ledger also perfected The Joker's voice and does this very creepy lizard-like thing with his tongue. As if the character wasn't written evil enough Nolan and Ledger made great physical strides with The Joker to help enhance the movie character's awesomeness.

What's so great about the character of The Joker is that he's not just in it for the money, he's just a crazy person looking to perform social experiments on the city of Gotham. Alfred says to Bruce Wayne in the movie:
Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn
The Joker burns a huge pile of cash just because, he convinces a city to kill Reese and when they fail to he blows up a hospital, and what's "best" of all is that he kills a person everyday Batman does not reveal himself (and follows through on his plan) and as a result causes an entire metropolis not to turn on him but to turn on the city's savior instead. Truly there is no doubt that The Joker just wants to watch the world burn.

Heath Ledger rightfully won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor but it's an interesting debate I had with my roommate at the time- Why was Ledger only up for Best Supporting and not Best Actor? At the time my response was that this film is all about Batman and Joker is the supporting character in how he changes Batman. But over time, I've come to agree with my former roommate. The Joker admits to Batman that he doesn't want to kill him. I believe when the mob first enlists The Joker's help he had true intentions to carry out his original plan. But then he had so much fun killing people and bringing Gotham to its knees that he means it when he says to Batman:
I don't want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, you... complete me.
Batman changes but he does so because that's what Gotham needs him to do. The Joker changes because of Batman himself. Plus, as mentioned at the top of this post, this movie would be nothing without Heath Ledger's portrayal of the iconic character. Either way, I'm pleased Ledger was rewarded with the Oscar statute at the end of the day.

I think Nolan originally intended for The Joker to show up in the sequel. At the very end of the film when he says to Batman, "I think you and I are destined to this forever". Not only is it a shame that Heath Ledger died because it's a shame when any human life is taken but it's also a shame that Ledger can not be in The Dark Knight Rises. I loved the character as The Joker and I want to see Round Two between him and Batman.

FUN FACT: When the Mayor appoints Jim Gordon (Oldman) as the new police commissioner in the jail after capturing The Joker, Ledger ad-libed his sardonic clap while everyone else was clapping. Christopher Nolan loved it so much he decided to add it to the film.

ONE FINAL NOTE: I think it's a severe under-simplification to say that Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker killed him. I understand that he spent long hours in a room by himself to perfect his character and the voice but the man was a professional. I do think his preparation for this role was a factor in his death but not the sole cause. I never met Ledger and I am just speculating based on media reports but it sounded like Ledger had a mental problem or a mental disorder before he started filming and the role amplified his disorder. That being said I still wish Michelle Williams and everyone in The Ledger family my deepest condolences for their loss.