Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why So Serious? Part 1

In this and the upcoming post, there will be SPOILERS for "Batman Begins", "The Dark Knight", "The Dark Knight Rises", and several other films. I suggest reading only if you have watched those movies or if you don't mind having them spoiled.

A few weeks ago, my brother finally managed to coerce me into watching the Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy. They were FANTASTIC! I thoroughly enjoyed all three of them, but "The Dark Knight" in particular stood out to me. Something about it just made it seem superior compared to the other two. And I LOVED the other two.

It did not have any slow or boring parts like "The Dark Knight Rises." (My brother and parents say they did not find Rises boring, so maybe I'm just strange. However, there were a few times that I found myself rather bored. Just being honest.) And it just seemed like a larger story than "Batman Begins." All three movies are incredibly made, but I just had to know what made "The Dark Knight" better in my opinion.

It took all of two seconds for me to figure it out. If you've seen the movie and read the post's title, you probably already know where I'm going with this. And in all likelihood, you probably agree.

It's the Joker. The Joker made that movie. Oh, not entirely by himself of course. We need Batman, we need a good plot, a good theme, good supporting characters, and good character arcs; all of which the movie has and more. But in the middle of ALL of those entwining ideas and subjects, you have the Joker.

It seemed so simple, then, why The Dark Knight was the best of the trilogy. It was Heath Ledger. It was the Joker. Yet, my writing half just had to go and make life difficult. Why is the Joker more compelling than the other Batman villains? Why was the Joker so much more of a struggle to Batman than Bane or Crane? Why is the Joker so incredibly demented, yet he, at times, feels incredibly sane? Why is he so much more fascinating and real, yet more twisted and evil than other villains?

Typically, the eviler you make a villain, the harder it gets to create a compelling and complex character. I believe people are born inherently bad, but it takes either a brain deficiency or something seriously traumatic or dramatic to turn you into a murderous killer. When writers need to create a villain capable of mass and emotionless murder, we tend to (and rightly so) find a way to "justify" the villain's actions. Oh, not to the reader; a villain is a villain for a reason. But the villain needs to feel justified in what he is doing.

I started with that theory in mind and came to an immediate and surprising conclusion. The writers didn't even go that route. Oh, The Joker feels justified in what he's doing, but it's not because of anything in his backstory. I'll get to why he feels justified later.

The writers completely broke the knee-jerk reaction all writers with any training subconsciously know. They didn't create a backstory for the Joker's evilness. They addressed it in the film; the Joker practically mocks the backstory trope.

The first time, he is confronting a few mob dealers. He asks the famous "Do you wanna know how I got these scars?" and then launches into a detailed and traumatic backstory. He claims that his father was a drinker, killed his mother, and then sliced him, giving him the famous Glasgow smile. Like the postmodernists we are, anyone watching the movie and unfamiliar with the Batman comics instantly feels sorry for the poor Joker. "With a father like that, it's no wonder he is so demented!" (Ahem...this is exactly what I did...)

So we continue to watch, waiting to see how his horribly traumatic backstory will affect the story. We watch, riveted, as the Joker crashes Bruce Wayne's party. Personally, I cringed when the Joker asked Rachel if she wanted to know about his scars. I didn't want to hear the story again.

But then of course, the Joker launches into another story, complete with details and apparent emotions, about how his wife was a gambler, got in with some bad people and got her face cut up, they couldn't afford surgery, so good ol' Mr. J cuts his own face to let her know that he doesn't care about the scars. And then she despises him and leaves him.

Equally heartbreaking, except now we're confused. Which story is true? Is either story true? Why does he take the time to invent these awful backstories?

Took me awhile to sort through this one. There are a lot of different theories on the Joker. One is that he has a brain deficiency that causes him, everyday, to "remake" who he is. He doesn't remember his true backstory, but he honestly believes that the stories he is telling are true. Personally, I think this is wishful thinking on the part of Joker fangirls (Yes, they exist. I know, weird. But then again, I do like Loki, sooo...).

Another theory is that the Joker has an abnormally high intelligence, allowing him to sort through problems and create strategies way faster than the average human being. This might be true, it would explain how he pulled off that absolutely flawless bank heist at the beginning (not to mention the rest of the movie...), but it still doesn't answer the question as to why he tells false stories about the scars, and why he brings the scars up at all.

The Joker hates humanity. At the end of the movie, it doesn't seem like the Joker hates much. He laughs a lot, he smiles a lot. We never see any scenes of him pacing, brooding on his hatred of Batman. We never see him lash out in anger. Yes, he explodes hospitals, steals cars, murders people, and attempts to force people to commit mass murder, but he doesn't seem angry as he does it. He seems to find the whole thing hilarious.

Alfred's line at the beginning kept coming back to me. "Some men just want to watch the world burn." It takes an entire movie to convince Bruce, and the audience, that this is true. (Alfred is always right people!). Some people don't need a scarring backstory (pun totally intended), or a motive, or a terrible childhood. Sometimes, people just like watching others suffer.

I love that such a famous movie was willing to try a risky villain like this. Sympathetic villains work. Totally evil ones don't. And yet the Joker more than worked, he made that movie!

Why do I think the Joker hates humanity? Several reasons.

I actually believe the theory about the Joker having an abnormal intelligence. Since Batman has an abnormal strength and fighting ability, it would make sense for the Joker to be extremely smart. The classic brain versus brawn scenario. I think the Joker hates humanity because he sees himself as above them, higher than them, better than them. He knows he's different, and he is proud of it. Shockingly enough, Bruce Wayne feels the same way. He shows a disdain for the average peeps too. (See: The beginning of the movie where Batman stops the copy Batman. Copy Batman 'Brian' asks "What's so different between you and me?" Real Batman arrogantly replies, "I'm not wearing hockey pads.")

Anyway, both of them separate themselves from the rest of humanity. Batman dresses as a bat, stays in the shadows, and doesn't deign to speak or affiliate himself with anyone unless they are useful to him. (Gordon, Harvey Dent, etc.) The Joker smears extreme make-up on himself, making him look like a hideous, gothic clown. Clowns themselves wear extreme make-up to mock the funny side of humans; how we all will try to cram into one car instead of take two, oversized shoes, baggy pants, falling on ourselves, etc. So in a sense, the Joker is mocking, not only the funny side of humanity like a clown, but he is also mocking clowns who mock the funny side of humans, thus mocking every aspect of humanity.

Don't follow? There's more. With his extremely high intelligence, I believe the Joker could string together eloquent sentences without all the "umms" and "ahhs" and pauses. His peculiarly awkward way of speaking gave me the feeling that he was purposefully inserting the pauses and stammers to mock humans even farther.

I'm sure you see where I am going with this. I think the Joker invents the backstories to mock the compassionate side of every human being. He believes humans are gullible and stupid, and he knows that they will attempt to, at least partially, excuse his evilness because of his terrible past. Not that the Joker is trying to get himself excused. He is simply mocking humanity because he finds his own jokes at their expense funny. He likes watching humans scurry about, trying to fix things, trying to understand him, trying to live in Gotham, but ultimately finding themselves more backwards than a truck flipped over by Batman. He likes watching the world burn. It amuses him.

I find it interesting that the Joker invented backstories that would be more likely to tug at the person he is telling them too. The first story about his abusive father he told to mob dealers. Statistically, most felons have been found to have daddy issues. Even though he was telling his backstory to heartless mobsters, an evil father would probably be the most likely story to tug at their souls.

To Rachel on the other hand, the Joker told about his wife who never appreciated him and hung out with gamblers, then got herself hurt, and then left the Joker when he tried to show her that he didn't care about the scars. Rachel, being a woman, would probably be slightly more appalled at this and would ask herself if she would be capable of doing that to someone. It's a fascinating power-play.

So why does the Joker feel justified in plummeting Gotham into chaos? He knows he is more intelligent than the average human being, and he, like Batman, is arrogant enough to believe that he is correct about everything. Since he sees humanity as a self-shackled community of weaklings, then it must be true. And since he thinks the solution to this problem is a survival of the fittest/anarchic society, then that must be the solution. He even tells Batman, "I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve."

In the next post, I'm going to talk about why I believe the Joker chose "The Joker" to be his pseudonym. :)

P.S. Sorry it has been SO long. School is killing me, 'Ember Flame' is killing me, and I'm a lazy bum. Those are my top three excuses for everything. I need to make up some new ones...


  1. Welcome back :) I really enjoyed this post.

    What do you think of the theory that Batman created the Joker? Obviously, the Joker as a person existed for some time before he comes to light in this movie, but he doesn't start leaving calling cards until after Batman arrives on the scene and stops Ras al'Ghoul in "Batman Begins." Was the Joker some sort of Moriarty-type character, living in a highly-intelligent depression, until he saw in Batman a worthy opponent of his intelligence?

    I'm thinking specifically of this quote by Joker: "Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just... *do* things."

  2. Thanks! :) Glad to be back!

    Hmm...partially yes. The Joker even said, "Kill you! No, I don't wanna kill you! What would I do without you, go back to ripping off mob dealers? No. You complete me."

    (I love the dog chasing car quote. One of my favorites! XD)

    Anyway, have you ever heard of "The Killing Joke"? It is one of the more famous Batman comics that centers on the Joker. I've never actually read it, but I read the summary of it. It's the comic that comes the closest to explaining the Joker's backstory...even though it implies that the backstory is not true.

    The comic has two parts, present and flashback, kinda like a LOST or Once Upon a Time episode. In the present, The Joker captures Gordon and tries to break him by giving him "One Bad Day." He claims that 'one bad day' is all it takes to turn someone into the Joker.

    The flashback show the Joker's one bad day. He's a normal guy (doesn't have scars) named Jack Napier. He lives with his pregnant wife. He quit his job at a chemical factory to pursue his dream of being a comedian, but nobody laughs at his jokes so they slowly become poorer and poorer. In desperation, Jack agrees to help some mob dealers break into the factory he used to work at. Bad thing after bad thing happens, and in the end his wife ends up blowing up, the mob dealers set him up, and he falls into a tank of chemicals that make his face paler and (it's implied) make him crazy.

    At the end of the comic, the Joker says that he doesn't know why everyone has "one past." He says that he prefers his past to be multiple choice. So in the end, the reader doesn't know if the backstory was real or just one of his multiple choice pasts. And we still don't know how he got the scars.

    "The Killing Joke" was one of the comics sent to Heath Ledger to help him design his Joker. So in the end...I think Batman pushed the Joker to completely reveal himself, but I think the Joker was already a really bad, obsessed dude before Batman. In the quote I mentioned above, the Joker implies that he had been ripping off mob dealers for awhile pre-Batman.

    Haha, sorry for the long comment! I've been reading so much about the Joker recently trying to figure him out. I think my mom is starting to get worried about my sanity lol... XD