Is The Joker More Interesting Than Batman?

Critics have widely praised Heath Ledger's interpretation of the role of "The Joker" in the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight. Washington Post staff writer Hank Stuever goes so far as to argue that Ledger has redefined the green-haired, clown-like villain to create a character more compelling and relevant than Batman himself. In his article The Joker's Onto Us Stuever writes, "Batman, the vigilante: so yesterday. Joker, unhinged, bringing death: so today."

'The Dark Knight': Through Shadows And Hype

Heath Ledger and Christian Bale in 'The Dark Knight' i i

Arch-nemeses Batman (Christian Bale) and the Joker (Heath Ledger) are opposing forces of order and chaos in Gotham City. Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros. hide caption

itoggle caption Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.
Heath Ledger and Christian Bale in 'The Dark Knight'

Arch-nemeses Batman (Christian Bale) and the Joker (Heath Ledger) are opposing forces of order and chaos in Gotham City.

Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.

The Dark Knight

  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Genre: Action
  • Running Time: 142 minutes

Rated PG-13: Aesthetic violence and enough "menace" to cut to the bone.

Aaron Eckhart in 'The Dark Knight' i i

District attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) experiences his own inner turmoil while trying to lock up Gotham City's seasoned criminals. Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros. hide caption

itoggle caption Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.
Aaron Eckhart in 'The Dark Knight'

District attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) experiences his own inner turmoil while trying to lock up Gotham City's seasoned criminals.

Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.

The Dark Knight, the new Batman film with Christian Bale in the title role, may be the most hopeless, despairing comic-book movie in memory. It creates a world where being a superhero is at best a double-edged sword and any triumph is likely to be short-lived.

Because superhero movies are only as strong as their villains, a good part of the credit for the film's success goes to the late Heath Ledger. He gives a transfixing performance as Batman's arch-nemesis The Joker, a god of chaos whose hardcore nihilism is bone-chilling. He is a different kind of evil than we're used to — very different.

With Christopher Nolan as director, The Dark Knight moves briskly even at 2 hours and 32 minutes. Nolan has increased the intensity by shooting several of the film's action sequences — including the flipping of an 18-wheel, 40-foot tractor-trailer — with a large-frame IMAX camera, giving them an extra sharpness.

The Joker's first official words on screen are "What doesn't kill you makes you stranger." With his disfigured face, white makeup, coal-black eyes and smeared red lips, he's as strange and sadistic as it gets.

It's what he represents, not what he looks like, that conveys the horror of The Joker. He has no scruples, no morals, no goal except anarchy, no plan except the end of planning. As the movie carefully explains, some men aren't looking for anything logical; some men just want to watch the world burn. That's quite a challenge for Batman, and for us.

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