It’s been 11 years since Christopher Nolan’s masterfully crafted comic book blockbuster The Dark Knight hit theaters and wowed audiences across the world; and the superhero movie genre still has yet to produce a villain that’s as memorable as Heath Ledger’s Joker. Ledger drew inspiration from Malcolm McDowell’s haunting portrayal of Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange in constructing a Joker that escaped the confines of a comic book movie and become a truly chilling onscreen presence. His performance was so incredible that it was reported that even his co-stars were scared in scenes with him. Here are the 10 Greatest Quotes By Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Ever since Tim Burton put the Penguin and Catwoman in Batman Returns, it’s become the standard expectation to have two villains in a Batman movie: one primary and one secondary. With The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan did something truly brilliant with this dynamic. He introduced Harvey Dent as the symbol of hope in Gotham — more of a symbol of hope than Batman — and then used his primary villain, the Joker, to prove his point by showing Gotham that with one little push, Dent would become just as evil and depraved as the criminals he puts in jail. That’s how you do a secondary villain.
The interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker is one of the most well-written scenes in the movie, because it exposes a lot about the pair’s dynamic. When Batman fails to get any information out of the Joker regarding Rachel and Dent’s whereabouts with a line of questioning, he starts hitting him, slamming him against the wall, and throwing him across the room. And the Joker just laughs, because he knows that despite Batman’s impressive arsenal, he doesn’t have a single thing that he can seriously threaten the Joker with. All he has is violence, and the Joker isn’t falling for that.
The Joker isn’t afraid of dying, and he’s even less afraid of being killed by Batman, because that’s exactly what he wants to happen. When Batman charges towards the Joker on his motorcycle, the Joker doesn’t move. He says, “Come on, I want you to do it!” The Joker even points out at the end of the movie that what he and Batman are fighting over is “Gotham’s soul.” If the Joker puts Batman in a position where killing him is the only option, it's because that would require Batman to break his only rule. It’s the ideological struggle that makes the Joker an incredible antagonist.
The Dark Knight chronicles the Joker’s crusade to expose the primal urges of “civilized people.” According to the Joker’s thesis, “When the chips are down, these ‘civilized people?’ They’ll eat each other.” The Joker demonstrates this by filling two ferries with explosives — one containing prisoners and the other containing civilians — and giving each of them a detonator to blow the other one up.
Batman is gratified when the prisoners and civilians each decide to throw their detonators out the window, but we saw inside the ferries that at least a few people wanted to press that button, even if they couldn’t actually do it.
As a character, the Joker is more than just an aesthetic; he’s an agent of chaos who thrives on unpredictability and a lack of order. The problem with most screen versions of the character is that this is ignored. Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad perfectly arranged all his guns on the floor — that’s just not the Joker. Heath Ledger’s Joker nails the character, because he’s not only an active agent of chaos, he also outlines exactly what he enjoys so much about chaos. He explains, “I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.”
For Gotham, Batman is a beacon of hope, promising the city’s residents that one day, there might not be so much crime in the city. The ideological opposition presented by the Joker is that he wants Gotham to double down on its seedy crime-ridden depravity and look up to him as the guy who disrupts the order and brings down the establishment. Ethically, Batman and the Joker are polar opposites — they’re chalk and cheese — but they’re also very similar at their core. The moviegoing public deserves a better class of supervillain, and Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan gave it to ‘em.
When the Joker wanders into a gangland “group therapy session,” he points out why they’re meeting during the day: because the Batman has gotten them all afraid to go out at night. They ask him what his solution is, and he simply tells them all they have to do is kill the Batman. The gangsters ask him why he hasn’t done it himself, if it would be so easy, and the Joker counters, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” The meaning behind this quote extends far beyond killing Batman. Later on, the Joker burns a mountain of cash, proving he doesn’t actually care about money at all.
One of the great things about the Joker, and one of the problems with making a whole movie about his origin story, is that we don’t know his backstory. We don’t know anything about him. In The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger’s Joker recounts a few different versions of how he ended up with his scars.
The version he tells Rachel goes that his ex-wife used to tell him to smile more, and then her gambling problem got her into debt with some loan sharks, who cut her face. The Joker and his wife couldn’t afford surgery to fix it, so the Joker gave himself similar scars. Then, she couldn’t stand to look at him, so she left. After that, he could see “the funny side.”
Any villain worth their salt has a personal connection to the hero — contrasting with the hero, but also forcing them to confront truths about themselves. What makes the Joker a truly great villain is his relation to Batman. Batman is meticulous and calculated, whereas the Joker is all about chaos, which is their main contrast. However, the Joker also wants to control the fate of Gotham City, just like Batman, and forces the Caped Crusader to question the moral code he’s always held dear. This quote about “an unstoppable force” meeting “an immovable object” is the perfect metaphor for their timeless dynamic.
While this quote comes up as the Joker tells one of his unreliable stories about where his scars came from, it can be viewed on the whole as the character’s overriding ethos. He sees the world as a place that takes itself too seriously. Humanity has imposed a bunch of rules on itself, and he doesn’t think that’s any way to live. He actually thinks it’s more sensible to live without rules. The way the Joker sees it, the fact that Batman holds himself to a moral code that sometimes prevents him from getting what he wants or saving the day is silly. These three words are the Joker in a nutshell.