Heath Ledger’s Joker famously had no origin story in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. But that hasn’t stopped fans from filling in the gaps on their own. Comedian and actor Patton Oswalt in 2018 presented a theory about the Joker’s origins that impressed one and all.
“I’ve always liked the theory that Heath Ledger’s Joker in Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT is a war veteran suffering PTSD,” Oswalt wrote in a lengthy Facebook post. “But I just re-watched THE DARK KNIGHT, and another wrinkle came to mind about The Joker. What if he’s not only ex-military, but ex-military intelligence? Specifically — interrogation?”
Oswalt wrote that Joker’s “referencing a truckload of soldiers getting blown up, his ease with military hardware, and his tactical ingenuity and precision planning all feel like an ex-Special Forces soldier returned stateside and dishing out payback.”
He continued, “He seems to be very good at the kind of mind-f***ery that sustained, professional interrogation requires. His boast about how ‘I know the squealers’ when he sees one. The way he adjusts his personality and methods depending on who he’s talking to, and knowing EXACTLY the reaction he’ll get: mocking Gamble’s manhood; invoking terror to Brian, the ‘false’ Batman; teasing the policeman’s sense of loyalty to his fallen, fellow cops; digging into Gordon’s isolation; appealing to Harvey Dent’s hunger for ‘fairness.’ He even conducts a ‘reverse interrogation’ with Batman when he’s in the box at the police station — wanting to see how ‘far’ Batman will go, trying to make him break his ‘one rule.’”
Oswalt ends his post with, “In the end, he ends up trying to mind-f*ck an entire city – and the city calls his bluff. Or is that what he wanted all along? He plummets to his seeming death, laughing like a child. And when he’s rescued by Batman, the one individual he couldn’t manipulate or break, he’s blissful and relieved (and, visually, turned on his head). Even the language he uses when saying goodbye to Batman – describing their relationship as an irresistible force meeting an immovable object – is the kind of thing an interrogator would say, ruefully, about a fruitless session.”
Earlier this week, the film’s co-writer David S Goyer wrote that Warner Bros was very concerned about the character not having any backstory. But Nolan in a 2012 interview to Empire had explained why it was necessary. He’d said, “What makes him terrifying is to not humanize him in narrative terms. Heath found all kinds of fantastic ways to humanize him in terms of simply being real and being a real person, but in narrative terms we didn’t want to humanize him, we didn’t want to show his origins, show what made him do the things he’s doing because then he becomes less threatening.”
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