The analysis of the Joker that we conduct below is solely based off of Christopher Noland's The Dark Knight.
One of the first things that we noticed about the Joker is the variations that appear in the story of the Joker's facial scars. In his first story, the Joker tells about how his father was a drinker and one night took a knife to his mother and then proceeded to carve up his (the Joker's) face. In his second story, he had a wife. She gambled so much that she lost all their money and then they carved up her face. In order to make her feel better, he carved a smile into his own face in to show her that he doesn't care about her appearance. The variation of these stories shows just how into the sick and twisted the Joker is. He is very aware of the cruelties of the world and embraces them instead of doing the normal thing and being frightened by them. In his first story, the Joker mentions his father. Later on, at Bruce Wayne's endorsement for Harvey Dent, he went up to a man and told the man, "You remind me of my father. I hated my father." (Watch this scene on Youtube here.) It is apparent that the Joker has an Oedipus complex. Although we never get to know the Joker's real background, we can surmise that there is some sort of internal battle going on as indicated by the repetition of the negative portrayal of his father that is reflected through his stories and speech. The lack of a positive role model may have resulted in the Joker's bitter rebellion against the world around him.
It is also notable how the Joker is constantly telling a story. The audience never really gets to know his real past. All we get are glimpses into a fabricated past. He seems to get some sort of sick pleasure out of creating these stories or else why would he alter them? The pleasure he gets can be derived from how he makes each story personal. He tells the gangsters the story of his murderous and abusive father in order to let them know what a crazy person they are dealing with. The emotional implications that this situation would have had on him (had it been true) are great and the gangsters seem to realize that they are not just dealing with some crazy off of the street, but an evil genius. To polish off his story, the Joker then kills the boss, just to make sure his capabilities are understood. His second story is even more personal. He calls Rachel Dawes "beautiful" and then goes on to tell the story of his "beautiful" wife who bit off a little bit more than she could chew. Both women had gotten in over their heads with the wrong kind of people. The terror that he can strike into the hearts of those around him is important for he lives off of the fear.
The Joker is also a master manipulator. He has an abnormally good perception of the human psyche. He knows exactly what to say to get to the people that he is trying to manipulate. There are several instances of his manipulative nature that appear throughout the movie:
- The Joker opts to kill people every day the Batman does not come forward- The Joker is extremely perceptive and knows that Batman would not be able to handle having these people die in his name. As mentioned on the Batman page, Wayne has a Christ Complex and feels that he needs to save everyone. This leads in to our next point about the Joker.
- Batman chose to save Rachel and the police were to save Dent, however, the Joker mixed the addresses in order to ensure that she died and both men (Dent and Batman) were left emotionally scarred.- The Joker is playing a psychological game with the minds of Dent and Batman. He hopes to break both men down, to show that there is no real justice, no real values in the world. In other words, the Joker is a nihilist. He is hoping to be able to break at least one of these men down by his manipulation of the truth (which building Rachel was in). It is the Joker's goal to subvert the values that everyone holds on to because he sees the world through blood red glasses. Dent, his main target, stands for true justice in the film for he is the one whose job it is to put criminals behind bars and he does exactly that. The people of Gotham look up to him. The Joker took into account how scarred Dent would be if his "main squeeze" died and hoped for the worst (the disintegration of Dent's quest for true justice). His hopes were confirmed when Dent killed five people. By breaking down Dent, the Joker knows that the criminals will feel freed from Dent's threats to clean up Gotham and the people will lose their trust of authority figures. This distrust could, in turn, cause a major rebellion against the local government, resulting in the chaos that the Joker enjoys so much.
- The Joker tells Batman that everyone will betray him when they feel they won't need him anymore.- This manipulation is not without a shred of truth. It is a true aspect of human nature for people to be nicer when they want something. Furthermore, the Joker predicts that once Batman is no longer needed, the people will turn on him and hunt him like he is a criminal. The Joker's predictions were right, too. When Commissioner Gordon called in that Batman had been the one who killed the five people, the police did not question and went after him. They never stop to think that it is unreasonable for Batman to kill anyone.
- The Joker also knows that mad people don't always think straight- He tortures the one police officer who is watching him in the interrogation room by telling him that people show their true colors before dying. He continues to ask the police officer if he wants to know which of his friends were cowards. The Joker knew that by pushing just the right buttons he could get the man so infuriated that he would not think straight. Knowing he had the shattered mirror shards, the Joker quickly captured the man and used the shard of glass as a knife to get the other cops to do what he wanted.
So why does the Joker know so much about human nature? Because we have no past we can only surmise that he has learned through intense observation of human subjects. The knowledge could have come from anywhere. Possibly he had been a reader when he was younger and learned about the world that way. Maybe he kidnapped pets and watched the effects it had on their owners. We really do not know but it is obvious that he is a very good judge of human nature.
The only other question that may come to mind is why chaos? What is so appealing about the fear that it causes? We believe that he gets some sort of adrenaline rush from it all. For the Joker, creating an elaborate scheme to steal money from a mob-controlled bank might be the equivalent to riding a rickety, wild rollercoaster or going bungee jumping with a rope that may or may not hold his weight. The fact that his plan could backfire at any moment raises the risk factors and makes the plan all the more exciting.
*We would like to give a round of applause to Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight. He will be missed.