One fictional human monster who has been glorified in films over the years is Batman’s nemesis The Joker. The Joker can be portrayed as a monster for many reasons which will be discussed throughout this article. The Joker has been one of the most iconic villains in comic book history and now movie history in my eyes. He has always been a mastermind of killing and causing hell for the superhero trying to stop him Batman. His character has been transformed and adapted into many movies throughout the years, and each actor that has portrayed him has brought something different to what should be defined as a monster. In my opinion “The Dark Knight” with Heath Ledgers is a absolute master piece. There are many different characteristics that make the Joker a monster and fits into the theories that make up a monster. He is considered a psychopath within his story and a challenge for Batman because he shows no empathy for the people he kills nor a motive for his actions other than pure enjoyment. While there has been many different actors that have played the Joker, two of the most popular have been “Batman (1989)” version of the Joker played by Jack Nicholson and “The Dark Knight” version of the Joker played by Heath Ledger. These two versions of the Joker show and describe the perfect villain and monster.
In the 1989 Batman film, the Joker starts off as an regular man named Jack Naiper. Jack works along with crime boss Carl Grissom who is upset at the presence and resilience of Harvey Dent, the new district attorney of Gotham City. Worried that Dent will find out about their connection with the Axis Chemical Plant, Jack suggest that they break in and steal the files that could potentially incriminate them. Carl agrees with Jack and sends him to do the job. During the break in scene at Axis Chemicals, Jack and his man find the safe of the plant files only to discover that all the files are missing. Suspicious of being set up, Jack sends his men to be on watch out, upon the scene, officers and Gordon show up, Gordon orders that Jack be taken into custody alive. However Batman has plans of his own when he corners Jack and catches Jack right before he makes contact with a vat of chemicals. Here comes the big reveal of the transformation of Jack to the Joker! Such a reveal must be a horrific, intense, dark, dramatic and gruesome cliff hanger right? Wrong, Jack falls into a large tank of chemicals that looks like green slime from Nickelodeon, ta-da! Wow, that scene had me at the edge of my seat. Turns out Joker is this sinister, horrifying, mentally unstable person because he fall into green slime- I mean chemicals, that must explain all the malicious mischievous schemes. The cringe worthy scene shows Batman letting go of Jack, allowing him to fall into the chemicals before he rushes away. Gordon orders the officers to not mention what they saw and the next day Jack’s death is ruled as a suicide. Surprise! Jack’s not dead, he just looks like a cheap clown. He goes to see a surgeon to get his face repaired but the chemicals have permanently bleached his skin pale white, his hair green and froze his face so that he has a permanent smile. I get it, Joker is always smiling, everything is comical to him. However, Joker’s smile doesn’t make you want to run and hide in a safe place nor does his smile cause you to tremble in fear, rather his smile looks like he’s had cosmetic surgery or better yet, botox. Now I see the inspiration of every upper class housewife, the Jack Nicholson Joker should be on a poster of every botox advertisement.
The next scene portrays the Joker in action when he returns to the Crime Boss, Carl Grissom’s penthouse, believing that Grissom tipped off the police and set him up to die. He reveals his new face for the first time as he introduces himself as the Joker before killing Grissom. The scene couldn’t be less believable, failing to portray the deranged Joker, he shoots Grissom about three to four times then proceeds to laugh however his laugh isn’t spine chilling, rather it sounds like the hyenas from Lion King. During a meeting with Grissom’s men, Joker tells them that Grissom went away for a while and put him in charge. When the men are not convinced, the Joker “electrocutes” one of them with what looks like a hand buzzer used in childish pranks. In a press conference held soon after, one of the crime bosses announced that Grissom is missing and his associates control the Grissom Empire, excluding Joker. Joker then appears at the conference and seeks revenge. Perhaps he’ll plot some evil well thought out plan or manipulate everyone as he plays puppeteer to a maliciously devised scheme. That sounds like something the Joker would do right? Well I hate to disappoint you but the Joker stabs the crime boss in the throat with a pink feather pen. A feather pen, not really a go to weapon for a criminal but I guess if the city’s most notorious criminal to weapon is a pen then it must be dangerous.
The movie goes on and on showing the Joker perform tedious crimes while still wearing that botox smile and sounding like a hyena laugh. The film fails to capture the psychotic break of the Joker, with only a handful of random laughing and dancing throughout the movie. The monster thesis that Jack Nicholson’s Joker connects with is thesis number seven which states how monsters are our children, these monsters question how we perceive the world. The Joker in the 1989 Batman film was a creation of crime boss Grissom who sent him on the mission to steal the files from the Axis Chemicals where the incident of him falling into the chemicals occurred. Batman himself is also responsible for the creation of the Joker in this movie because Batman let go of Joker which caused Joker to fall into the chemicals and as a result of the chemicals, to transformed him into the Joker; Batman could’ve prevented this from happening had he turned the Joker into custody of the officers. Jeffery Cohen explained this theory in a statement, “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.” (Cohen, 1997.) This quote explains how we are familiar with the darkness, monsters because they are a part of us.
The Batman movie “The Dark Knight” contains one of the most iconic and fan favorite Jokers’ of all time played by the late actor Heath Ledger. His presence is immediately known at the start of the film when it shows criminals robbing a bank and one of them takes off a mask and reveals to be the Joker. He has no cause or background within his story, however, he takes control of the crippling mob that formed in Gotham because the Batman has scared them. He is a pure psychopath and kills for the enjoyment of it throughout the movie, he also has no motives other than to terrorize the city of Gotham, it’s law enforcement, and Batman. He even turns the district attorney for Gotham, Harvey Dent, into a criminal later on in the film because he takes away the love of his life. Throughout the film, the Joker requests that Batman takes off his mask and he will stop his killings, which Batman is pushed to the breaking point to do this while also consider breaking a rule of his which is no killing. Batman eventually stops the Joker from further terrorizing the city, however, is left with taking the blame for the murders that Harvey Dent caused because Batman believed the city needed a hero with a face.
There are many monster theses that connect with this particular Joker and some of them repeat as the other film. It immediately connects with the first two theses of the monster’s body being a cultural body and the monster always escaping because this is a different version of the Joker who is a psychopath and only wants chaos, while being able to escape from imprisonment because of Batman’s moral code of no killing. During the later part of the film, Batman saves Joker from falling with the Joker stating “You won’t kill me because of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you because…you’re just too much fun. I get the feeling that you and I are destined to do this forever.” (The Dark Knight). This Joker also relates to thesis three because he is unpredictable and is always at the center of any drama throughout the film, as if he and the Batman control the film whenever they are in a particular scene. Thesis five states that the monster polices the borders of the possible which the Joker does because there are people in the real world that are psychopaths and kill with no empathy or thought into it, while they may not dress up like the fictional character, they still pose a threat to society. This Joker and film also do a great job at displaying thesis six which is that fear of the monster is really a kind of desire, which in the film, Bruce Wayne shows his addiction to wearing the mask and becoming Batman so much so that Batman is his true identity and his disguise is Bruce Wayne. There is a particular quote in the movie that relates to the last thesis which Batman is interrogating the Joker, the Joker states “I don’t, I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, No! No. You… you… complete me.” (The Dark Knight). This quote clearly explains the importance of Batman to the Joker, which Batman does realize that in some way he created this monster because the Joker gets enjoyment out of terrorizing people and making the Batman chase him.
It has been years since the film “The Dark Knight” and the Joker has reached its peak in fame with fans, and now there have been multiple actors trying to nail the famous villain. While each Joker is unique in their own way, they must still hold true to what the monster is and what they mean to Batman, within the article titled “Joker is still wild years after ‘Knight’”, it explains that there are three current Jokers’ that are being worked on by the actors Jared Leto, Zach Galifianakis, and Joaquin Phoenix. Each of these Jokers’ represent thesis one of the monster thesis which is that they are a cultural body, they all have their own styles and appeal which Jared Leto is going for a gangster Joker that is a crime boss whose look was questioned by fans because of his tattoos and grill in his teeth. Zach Galifianakis portrays his version of the Joker in the popular Lego movie which isn’t as serious and more intended for a younger audience by making kid friendly jokes and basing his story as a relationship with Batman. The newest version to debut as the Joker is Joaquin Phoenix, which his current film has not been released, however, based on the monster thesis we have learned, this villain will in some way fall into the categories that define the Joker as a monster.
Based on the movies and information addressed in this essay, the Joker fits all of the qualities and characteristics that make up a monster. While there have been many editions of this monster, they have all in some way fit the criteria and have grown their own personal fans and critics. The changeability and lack of empathy when he is killing is what makes him unique and a fan favorite within not only comic books, but on film as well. The two different types of this monster that are discussed in this essay are two of the best portrayals of the famous villain and show many of the qualities that have been previously shown throughout the essay. The Joker is a monster and one of the most famous ones within the cinematic genre through proper acting and portrayal of the villain.
Bryan Alexander, and USA TODAY. “Joker Is Still Wild Years after ‘Knight.’” USA Today. EBSCOhost, chaffey.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=J0E374875415118&site=ehost-live. Accessed 2 Nov. 2018.
Batman. Directed by Tim Burton, performances by Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Michael Gough, and Billy Dee Williams, Warner Bros, 1989.
The Dark Night. Directed by Christopher Nolan, performances by Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Micheal Caine, Maggie Gyllenhall, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman, Warner Bros, 2008.
Nolan, Christopher, director. The Dark Knight: Trilogy. Warner Bros Pictures, 2012.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture, University of Minnesota Press, 1997.