Heath Ledger probably didn’t care too much about death. Maybe because he knew he was going to be immortalised as one of the best onscreen villains of all time. Maybe he also knew that the world, at some subconscious level, loved and related to Joker more than Batman.
Because, like Joker observes: “You see, insanity is a lot like gravity. All it needs is a little… push.” At some level, Joker as “the agent of chaos” is the alter-ego of the common man stifled by the system.
What makes Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger’s Joker so scary is they make you realise this psychopath actually resides in that darkest corner of your heart. Never has a comic book character become someone so real that it could easily be YOU… if put in a situation and asked to make a difficult choice: Like the people of Gotham are asked to, towards the end.
Sacrificing the back-story of Joker’s origin was probably just what Nolan needed to make Joker that enigmatic villain who people, including Batman himself, do not fully understand.
The Dark Knight is Joker’s movie all the way (watch the cinema hall erupt with applause for every single punch line) and Batman just happens to be in it just to remind us that someone’s got to clean up the streets (Batman gets his due too and earns the applause as a matter of right, taking on an adversary as clever and dangerous as the Joker).
Christopher Nolan makes Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman (arguably the best Batman film before Nolan took his shot) look like child’s play. Why does Burton’s version seem so amateur now? It was awesome when we watched it as kids. Heath Ledger makes Jack Nicholson’s Joker look like a circus clown. Also, Bale’s certainly a better Batman than Keaton for his ability to play Batman as well as he plays Bruce Wayne. Here’s why The Dark Knight may be the best superhero movie ever.
To begin with, the near-flawless ensemble cast — apart from the phenomenally talented Heath Ledger and the charming Bale, there’s Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal (doing OK replacing Katie Holmes), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent) with author-backed roles.
Second, though it derives its characters from comics with two-dimensional depth and simplified differentiation of good and evil, Christopher and his brother Jonathan Nolan have fleshed out these characters to an extent that none of them are monotone. They are all complex characters with relatable issues — the superhero just wants to retire and spend time with the girl he loves, the girl herself may just move on with her life, the psychopath does not want to be the only freak in town, the honest guy is unable to deal with the price he’s had to pay to be good (a nice contrast between Harvey Dent and Gordon when people they love are in trouble) and even the loyalists do not approve of all things the superhero does.
Third, the man who was consumed by the dark side of Joker. Heath Ledger plays the role of his lifetime. If Nicholson’s Joker was all cheese, Heath’s is chalk (yeah, we’re talking about the minimalist make-up too). At no point do you see Heath, it’s always Joker.
Apparently, Heath improvised quite a bit (especially the part where he starts clapping sarcastically in jail) and absolutely seems to relish the part with his drawling dialogue delivery, smacking his lips at his shot at immortality. He’s lived the role, keeping Joker larger than life yet believably relatable. This is something that could’ve easily gone so over the top, the Nicholson way.
Four, the mix between dialogue and action choreography. There’s enough in there for hardcore action buffs and also plenty for those who like their movies layered and deep. It’s not sitting pretty right on top of IMDB’s top 250 (with a 9.5 rating with over a lakh votes) for nothing. In the coming months, it would be interesting to see how it fares with The Godfather considered to be the best movie of all time (currently at No. 2 with a 9.1 rating with almost three lakh votes).
We could go on talking about it but we need a book. Go watch it, again and again and again.
The Dark Knight
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman
Storyline: Batman wants to retire but Joker wants him to play with
Bottomline: The best superhero movie ever