What Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker’ Taught Me About Myself

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Heath Ledger as the Joker

“You just couldn’t let me go could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you, because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.” – the Joker.

I saw The Dark Knight a few weeks ago and fell in love with Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker. He was dark but funny, psychotic yet calculated, perverted yet… perverted. Watching him wreak havoc on the streets of Gothom City was confronting because, in many ways, he reminded me of myself. I’m sure a lot of people felt the same.

Why the Joker reminded me of myself

Let me get this clear. The Joker didn’t remind me of myself because I take pleasure in killing people. I don’t. In fact, my friends will tell you that I am not even that fantastic watching overly violent movies. So it wasn’t the murderer part of him that did it. What about the guy who likes to cause chaos for no reason other than that he likes to see people suffer? Nope. Not that either.

So why did the Joker remind me of myself? When I was sitting in the cinema watching the Joker licking his lips and blowing up the District Attorney I couldn’t help but feel some connection. But why? Maybe it has something to do with this quote:

“Don’t talk like one of them, you’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak–like me. They need you right now. When they don’t…they’ll cast you out. Like a leper. See, their morals, their code: it’s a bad joke. They’re dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. You’ll see, when the chips are down these civilized people will eat each other.”

And I think that’s where the connection came from. I felt a little bit guilty. This crazy madman was speaking words that made sense to me. And the fact that Heath Ledger delivered them in the most amazing piece of “acting” I have seen in a long time made it all the more powerful.

You see, I am a little bit like one of those people he is talking about. It is quite easy to be a nice and kind and compassionate person when it is sunny and warm outside. But when things start to look grey and aren’t going my way I seem to lose that sense of morality. I snap. I am impatient. I am selfish. And that was the Joker’s main ambition in life – to prove that when there is chaos people will “eat each other”.

But what about Batman?

Batman, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. He believed in the good in people. He thought that, when under pressure, people would choose to do the right thing. Whatever you want to call it – divinity, buddha nature, inherent purity, etc. – Batman believed in it and he wanted to embody it. He wanted to be a physical manifestation of that inner goodness to show people that they could do the same.

And that is what I believe. Deep down I know that the basic nature of a human being is goodness. It is not evil.

But that is not what freaked me out about the Joker. As far as I can tell the Joker never said that the basic nature of humans was evil. No. What he said was that when the chips are down they would “eat each other”. And that concerns me.

I often wonder whether I would choose to do the right thing if the chips were down. Would I put other people before myself in a crisis or would I just work to save my own skin? I’d like to think that I would be a “Batman”. But as I sat in that cinema and watched Heath Ledger taunt Batman with these questions a little bit of fear crept in to my mind. I was afraid he was right.

So… the chips are down… are you Batman or are you the Joker?

Batman and Joker

13 thoughts on “What Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker’ Taught Me About Myself

  1. i will first think of my family…if i find that they are safe, i will help the other people. But first i will help my own family.
    What does that make me..a joker or batman?

  2. TDM! again you amaze me with the insights that are parallel to my experiences. It is just funny how the things you are thinking about or writing are concurrently running my mind irrespective of my background, gender, geographic location or culture/religion. But then I believe people who are on same pursuits (and energy) end up on the same path.

    Now coming back to Batman/Joker story. Lately, I have been debating in my mind, body and soul for the existence of jealousy and greed in this world. I could not help finding myself at certain times I feel these two ‘evils’. I started looking for answers and found some clue. But your refreshing analogy from the movie adds to the Aha feeling! At times we may be 90% Batman’s and other times 10% Joker (this % varies among people depending on self awareness). So as long as we do not let the Joker overpower ourselves, it is fine at certain levels and times to be protective and selfish. Conversely, if we inhibit these feelings the effect worsen. So if we accept in other cases that we are jealous and selfish we may uncover our fears or insecurity. I believe there are more Batmans in this world but it is unrecognized Jokers in ourselves that is unaccounted for. To uncover the Joker effect one can explore by meditation, self-reflection and awareness. Thank you again, I believe you are part of the ‘gift’ on my way to attain a higher self 😉

  3. Shivani – I don’t know my friend. I think whether you are a Batman or a Joker depends on your motivation.

    SA – Again with an amazing comment. I always look forward to reading them.

    Firstly, thank you so much for your kind words – they mean
    a lot.

    Secondly, YOU GOT IT. We are not Batman or the Joker. We are a mix of them both. I look at Batman and Joker as symbols of two things:

    1. Our inner selves – the inherent good is Batman and the part of us that is greedy and angry is the Joker.

    2. A symbol of society – remember when the Joker says to Batman “this is what happens when an unstoppable force meets and immovable object”? Well, that, to me, is kind of like the never ending battle between good and bad in society. We see it all the time – democracy vs terrorism, etc.

    Anyway, I loved the movie and I truly loved the way Heath Ledger lost himself in to the Joker. I’m sad he’s gone.


  4. Love this post. It rung true for me as well…. There are times when if things are not going to plan my mental state can start to crumble, and my good characteristics fade away. This is a superb observation… Thanks very much for the knowledge

  5. so I have to say it’s a really nice text. I don’pt know if the basic is good. Maybe it is, but people just cannot see it, so… Most of them are Joker’s I guess..
    but you know sometimes it’s right. When you help someone, when you are good… and then someone kicks your ass instead saying thanks, when noone seems to be good, and you’re the only one, don’t you think”what’s the sense of all this?” It would have sense if ppl would help each other, but since the 99,99999% of people is selfish, this is pretty hard don’t you think?

    Our society sux, and it’s getting worse day by day. In 50 years, the words FRIENSHIP, GOOD,… won’t exist anymore.

  6. Hi TDM! Unfortunately, I experienced it on my own skin…

    When “the chips are down”, everyone puts himself/herself at 1st place…

    It’s sad, but well… truth is (ost of the times) sad…

  7. I must disagree. The Joker IS a ‘Buddha’. The Batman and other “do-gooders” could never be cause of there constant grappling for control over others and the world around them.

    And I didn’t quite see the Joker as taking direct pleasure in either killing or the suffering of others. I remember a few instances where he said something along the line of, ‘…Don’t take this personally”. His destruction, as I saw it, wasn’t out of hate or because the thing being destroyed went against his beliefs(he had no beliefs or ideals-a sign of a true liberated person), no he couldn’t bomb out of dislike for that would be fascist. As an “agent of chaos” he destroyed to set people free from their bonds with control.

    I actually see batman and the rest as “bad guys”, if there is such a thing, as they are the discriminating ones. They are the control freaks.

    Only someone who is truly free could have acted as the Joker did. None the less, I don’t think that the character was intended to have the depth that it actually did.

  8. Batman in the Dark Knight represents the state. A “Law and Order” Authoritarian through and through, who breaks the law in order to save the law. Who tortures and spies to “protect”.

    Joker in a lot of ways represents anarchist thought. He is an anarchist. He represents unintended consequences, he mocks Batman in the interrogation room for Batman’s inability to gain leverage on the Joker, even with the full power of the state (a monopoly on force). Batman had to rely on torture and spying on Gotham’s citizens on a massive scale to find the Joker, he literally turned Gotham City into a panopticon.

    How convenient was that spy machine. The NSA would be quite impressed. If Batman is so concerned about the safety of Gotham’s citizens then he should have kept the machine going. Like Eisenhower said:

    “If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.”

  9. You mention “I snap. I am impatient. I am selfish. And that was the Joker’s main ambition in life – to prove that when there is chaos people will “eat each other””.

    Just as a quibble, I think only the last part of that sentence is what the Joker is talking about. To become impatient, even to ‘snap’ is not inconsistent with losing morality. In fact, it may be a sign of someone that is doing the OPPOSITE of what the Joker refers to.

    It’s the selfishness that comes into it. The Joker in that scene is not talking about frustration with the world. He’s not talking about Harvey Dent or Batman there, though he may — at that moment — think he might be (and they too have to potential to fall under those comments). He’s really talking about everyone besides our protagonists. The people who are most exhibited in this are the cops who sell Dent out.

    When Dent falls, he does not fall to corruption. He does not fall to please himself and decides he likes killing. He falls becuase he cannot deal, in the end, with the world as it is, a world that the Joker forces him to deal with by exhibiting that phrase that most people “are only as good as the world allows them to be”. And in the end it becomes an even greater truth for Dent than it is even for the Joker — there is more than enough evidence I think, in the movie, to suggest that the Joker arrives at this summation only by accident: that he’s a man who likes to watch the world burn and so gives himself excuses as to why that’s not only ok, but he’s no different from anyone else. Dent meanwhile does not want to watch the world burn becase he enjoys watching things burn or resents anyone’s control over something. If he wants to see something burn it’s becuase, in his estimation as Two-Face, THAT WHAT IT DESERVES.

    The Joker meanwhile will burn something if it deserves it or not.

    In the end there is more in common between the Joker, Batman and Dent than most of the other characters becuase those three share the same passion for thier own vision. And they either do not sell that vision out, or in Dent’s case, only abandon it when it is revealed to him that in adhering to his ideals, he is mostly alone. Batman at the end says that “Sometimes people deserve to have thier faith rewarded”.

    Dent is an example of someone whose faith is not rewarded.

  10. I hear that.
    I see this coming to fruition in the Westernized societies, America, the original thirteen colony area, mainly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an American but I see our society is hellbent on becoming total utilitarian and dropping others at the first sign of trouble. Example – “They can’t get me ahead in my position anymore, or, I can’t use them to get rich anymore, or, I’ve got what I needed from them” so, they have no purpose in my life anymore. They become a liability. Until! You’ve got something they desire that is out of reach. That is when you become an asset again.
    On the issue for losing control, Americans, we’ve been trained to think we have control over everything because we’ve been brainwashed to believe we can have everything our way all of the time. It’s all an illusion that MANY people can’t discern from the real world. I think Joker was reality and Batman was fantasy.
    Finally on Dent – He was just a person trying to do good but they wouldn’t allow him

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