Reflections of a Hierophant: Why So Serious?
I just finished watching "The Dark Knight" for the umpteenth time, and I thought that the time has come for me to properly weigh in on the on-going issue among many "Batman Film" fans: Which Joker was the best between Heath Ledger's dark, brilliantly manipulative, and psychotic Joker, or Jack Nicholson's comical, homicidal, and psychotic Joker? Now, let me be honest. If I was forced to pick a favorite between the two, I would have to choose Heath Ledgers darker take on the iconic villain. But, I will not let my biased interfere with my reasoning for both cases. So, here it is, my argument of who is the better Joker between Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson:
Join me while I reflect upon the ever-present debate on who was the better Joker: Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson?
So, we're going to start with Nicholson's (age before beauty). Jack Nicholson's take on Joker in Tim Burton's "Batman" from 1989 was largely inspired by Steve Englehart's recreation of the iconic villain à la "Detective Comics" #469-476 which was dubbed, at the time, "The Definitive Batman." And, again, reprinted as "Batman: Strange Apparitions." The character was comical, but with an equally maniacal tinge added to it. Particular scenes stick out in my mind, such as the murder of Bob. It really showed the cold-blooded nature of Joker. That he would kill ANYONE if it so suited Joker. Also, when Vicki Vale splashes water in his face, when he uncovers his face... Whoa, that was scary. The make-up that was used to make Jack Nicholson into Joker was some of the scariest effects I've seen. Even including films from today, the make-up was rather impressive. It still stands up as strong today as it did when it was released. There's not a whole lot about the wardrobe you can get wrong, when it comes to Joker. Essentially, it needs to be a purple suit, with bits of green in it. I thought the outfit he wore in the film blended a clown's uniform with that of a gangster's classy suit. Wonderfully pulled off and, again, still as impressive now as it was then. The only thing that I think drug down the character was giving him a face before his accident. I realize that the story told usually entails some sort of petty criminal having a terrible acid-bath, I just think if you shroud a villain in mystery, it makes them that much more threatening, and scarier. Again, I feel, an epic fail goes to Burton for making Joker the killer of Bruce's parents. I think it was a cheap way to give the final confrontation between Batman and Joker more "meaning." There was no need for that, Joker's maniacal tormenting of Gotham could have made him the living representation of what Batman fought against, making the battle personal as well. To me, it just seemed cheap.
Now, we move on to Heath Ledger's, seemingly, smarter version of Joker. A lot of people were a bit shocked at the choice of Heath Ledger to portray Joker (myself included). I always knew that Ledger was an excellent actor, but wasn't entirely positive he could pull this off. But, we were all certainly surprised. It was Ledger who came up with the chaotic version of Joker seen in "The Dark Knight." Nolan agreed with Ledger that this was the best way to present Joker in his Batman films. Heath lived alone in a hotel room for a month, trying to get the posture, voice, and personality right for the role. He also kept a diary during this time, writing down the thoughts that went through Joker's mind. I thoroughly enjoyed the overall look of Ledger's Joker over Nicholson's. I felt the Glasgow Grin was the perfect touch to the character. The lack of a history is what I've always wanted with Joker. It, ironically, made me really curious to know how he actually received the scars. Much to the annoyance of my wife, I would walk around our house (or anywhere we were at) repeating, in my best Joker voice, the first story of how he got the scars. What a fantastic piece of cinema that was, and, easily, my favorite part of the movie. I've heard that Ledger also came up with these stories, but I can't find the source where I heard it. I do enjoy that the final battle between Joker and Batman was very personal. While some say it was because of the death of Rachael Dawes, I feel that it was because the Joker, easily, took everything that Gordon, Batman, and Dent worked for, and twisted it on itself (along with the death of Dawes, but not as much as some may think).
Those who say that if Batman can't handle Joker and a couple of dogs, how could he possibly handle fighting Bane, have missed the point of Batman, essentially, losing that battle. The point was that he was so wrought-up with emotion, he failed to use his training. He fought with too much emotion, and only when he slowed his roll, and cleared his head, did he overtake Joker.
So, that's it. In my opinion, you can't compare the two. They are two completely different takes on the same character. And both are excellent, in there own way. And, for those who say Ledger received an Oscar for his performance, while Nicholson fell short, I have an argument for that, too. Ledger did a magnificent job. Do I feel that he deserved that Oscar? No, that should have went to Josh Brolin that particular year. The nomination, on the other hand, he did deserve that. Sadly, if Ledger hadn't died, the role probably would have been overlooked by the Academy, and he definitely wouldn't have won without his tragic death. To be perfectly honest, I think "The Dark Knight" deserved far more nominations from the Academy than it received (Best Picture and Best Director were surely deserved). But, I feel that "Batman Begins" was equally great, and deserved just as much praise and attention (particularly Liam Neeson). But, after hearing my argument for both, you be the judge. Thank you for reading, and weigh-in in the usual place.
Until then, take care, and I'll see you in the future...
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