Hair- Brown, Dyed Light Green
|Portrayed by:||Heath Ledger|
|Appearances:||Batman Begins (mentioned)|
- "Do you know how I got these scars?"
- ―The Joker [src]
In The Dark Knight, the Joker is depicted as a maniacal criminal mastermind who terrorizes Gotham City and whose goal is to plunge it into anarchy. The Joker has been described as a "psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy." He was portrayed by the late Heath Ledger, in the role that won him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Origin and Early Life
- "You can't rely on anyone these days. You gotta do everything yourself. Don't we? That's okay. I came prepared. It's a funny world that we live in. Speaking of which, you know how I got these scars?"
- ―The Joker[src]
No one knows who the Joker really is. Little can be confirmed regarding his early life before he turned to a life of crime. Despite his capture, no traces could be found on his fingerprints, dental records, or DNA matches against the GCPD's databases.
The Joker's own testimony, while normally quite true when it came to carrying out threats, seemed at times contradictory, and he was known to give conflicting accounts at times when describing past events in his life, more specifically how he got the scars of his characteristic Glasgow smile. One of his anecdotes told of an extremely abusive and alcoholic father, stating that after attacking his mother with a knife, the blade was next turned on the young man, creating his mutilated smile. The fact that the Joker later referenced his father and his hatred of him to a party guest while crashing Harvey Dent's party implies that at the very least, he did have an extremely poor relationship with his father. Another story he told was of a gambling wife who had her face cut by enforcers of loan sharks. In a desperate effort to assure his wife that he did not care about the damage to her appearance, he took a razor to his cheeks to produce his Glasgow smile. But the disturbing image instead caused his wife to leave him, damaging his psyche. It is not revealed to what degree these stories hold truth, if any. It is possible that the Joker himself is unaware of his true origins. Some psychological profiles of The Joker, indicate that he is insane to such an extent that he literally reinvents both his own psyche and history on a daily basis. It is therefore possible that, while neither story is true, he genuinely believed them both as he told them.
In a report filed by the Gotham City Police Department, there were three theories presented for the Joker's origin and identity. The first was that the Joker was an escaped patient from Arkham Asylum. However, this theory is debunked on the basis that his identity has no basis within any records. The second theory was that the Joker was a former employee of the Haley Brothers Circus, which was documented to have connections with the mob. It is reasonable to theorize that the Joker is a disgruntled former employee that had bad business with the mob. The third theory presented was that the Joker is a former soldier suffering from acute PTSD, explaining his cool demeanor and familiarity with weapons, as well as his devastating effectiveness in various forms of combat.
Shortly after the death of Ra's al Ghul, Batman discussed with Lieutenant James Gordon the effect that he had made on Gotham City since his appearance. Gordon then revealed that a criminal with "a taste for theatrics" recently committed a double homicide and an armed robbery, leaving behind a Joker playing card as a "calling-card". Gordon also warned that just as escalation occurs in terms of the police force against crime, so might the scale and style of criminality change in reaction to Batman's appearance.
Some time later, the Joker would orchestrate the theft of a large shipment of ammonium nitrate from the Gotham Docks. The explosive chemical was saved for storage in the Gotham General Hospital and on two passenger ferries some time later
The Dark Knight
- "I believe whatever doesn't kill you simply makes you...stranger."
- ―Joker to the Bank Manager of Gotham National Bank[src]
Several months later a group of bank robbers, (Grumpy, Happy, Dopey, Chuckles, Bozo and an unidentified bus-driver) under the direction of the Joker, robbed Gotham National Bank which was used as a money-laundering front for Gotham's gangs. The clown mask wearing robbers whittled down their own numbers within minutes in a series of calculated betrayals. Finally only "Bozo" remained, who revealed himself as the Joker to the manager of Gotham National Bank, who had earlier confronted the robbers with a shotgun. In addition, largely because he couldn't resist appearing on-camera, he also deliberately unmasked himself in front of a surveillance camera and posed. The Joker then escaped with the bank's cash in a yellow school bus, concealing his identity by driving within a convoy of other buses, and also leaving the manager at the mercy of a gas grenade stuck in his mouth.
Dealing with the Mob
- "If you're good at something, never do it for free."
- ―The Joker[src]
Shortly following the bank robbery, Italian crime boss Sal Maroni mentioned the Joker's recent theft of Mob owned cash to his fellow crime leaders at a business meeting, dismissing him as a threat and saying that he was a "nobody" wearing a "cheap purple suit and make-up." The Joker, overhearing this comment and the plan presented to the Mob by Chinese mobster, Lau, arrived unannounced at the meeting while faking a laugh, as he saw their "so called plan" as a bad joke. The mobsters were at first unwilling to hear him out, and Gambol, one of the crime lords who seemed to take the most dislike for the Joker, sent one of his men to take him out by force.
The Joker unexpectedly performed a magic trick by making a pencil "disappear," and embedded the pencil in the table, and shoved Gambol's man head-first into the pencil where it indeed disappeared inside the man's head, instantly killing him. The Joker also mentioned that his suit wasn't cheap and that they ought to know this since they bought it, which meant that he used the money he stole at the start of the film to buy his suit. He proposed that it was Batman's interference that had resulted in idealistic leaders like Harvey Dent rising in popularity, and offered his services to kill him for half of all the money that Lau, an illegitimate Chinese accountant, took away from Gotham for safe keeping. He also warned them that Lau would betray them if arrested, claiming to know a squealer when he saw one. While the Bratva mobster, the Chechen, and Maroni were interested, Gambol, angered by the Joker's lack of respect, attempted to attack him, forcing the Joker to reveal his insurance policy: several grenades hidden under his coat, allowing him to make a quick escape.
- "Why so serious?"
- ―The Joker mocking Gambol.[src]
Frustrated, Gambol proceeded to put a bounty on him. The Joker later took revenge that night by having his men come to Gambol, claiming to have killed the Joker. In a bit of unintended tragic irony regarding the fate of his actor, the Joker's 'dead' body is brought inside in a garbage bag before attacking Gambol and proceeding to tell him the origin of his mouth scars as a way of psychological torture and intimidation, then when Gambol is most terrified and shaken, the Joker proceeds to kill him with the knife. Then with the remains of Gambol's men overpowered and at his mercy, he takes a pool stick and breaks it in half, making it spear-like and says that there is only one spot open at the moment to join his "team", then throws the piece of sharp stick at the middle of Gambol's scared men and has his gang, made up mostly of mentally-ill and unstable vicious crooks escaped from Arkham Asylum who seem to have taken the Joker as their leader, to make Gambol's men fight to the death with the stick until only one is left, and advising them to "make it fast".
The Joker's Threat
- "Harvey, Harvey, Harvey Dent. Oh, 'scuse me. I wanna drive!"
- ―Joker to his unconscious truck driver[src]
Eventually, realizing that Batman had retrieved Lau from Hong Kong and that the police had struck a deal to testify against them, Sal Maroni and the Chechen relented, finally hiring the Joker to kill the Batman. The Joker first kidnapped a Batman impersonator, filmed his murder and hung the body, complete with white make-up and a Joker scars, outside the mayor's office. In the murder tape he sent to the media, the Joker viciously mocks Brian Douglas (Batman impersonator) as well as terrorize him to the point of leaving him absolutely frozen and weeping, as well as taunting his beliefs and his actions. Then when he has finished humiliating and terrifying him, the Joker proceeds to give Gotham an ultimatum. Batman must take off his mask and turn himself to the authorities and every day the Batman refuses to do so, he will murder innocent people day after day. As a result of the Batman not turning himself in, the first major victims were Janet Surillo, the judge presiding over Dent's indictments, and then Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb, the former via car-bomb and the latter via inserting acid into the Commissioner's scotch, respectively.Later, the Joker and his gang stormed a fundraiser at Bruce Wayne's penthouse to kill Harvey Dent. When he was unable to get the guests to inform him of Dent's location, he decided to settle for killing off the guests. He then attempted to threaten an unintimidated guest (whom he noted bore a resemblance to his own hated father), before eventually attempting to kill Rachel Dawes. Dawes attempts to drive him away, with a knee to the crotch, but he laughs it off and becomes more interested in killing her for her having "some fight in her." He was then confronted by Batman. The Joker only managed to escape by throwing Rachel Dawes out a window, who Batman then lept after and saved. This encounter also led him to initially suspect that Batman's true identity was Harvey Dent.
The killings then continued with two innocents and an attempt on the mayor's life at a memorial for the murdered police commissioner. The Joker appeared in public without makeup, impersonating one of the Honor Guards, as well as having most of his gang impersonate the rest of the Honor Guards. In order to further ensure that the GCPD is kept on its toes, he also placed a sniper rifle on the windowsill of the apartment room, as well as a timer to release the blinds for the GCPD sharpshooters to shoot at anyone hapless enough to be caught in the trap. Afterwards, Joker, still disguised as an Honor Guard, shot his rifle at Mayor Anthony Garcia, Lt. James Gordon was struck in the back after willfully leaping in front of Garcia, in order to fake his death to avoid any future attempt by the Joker of attacking him with his family at home. As a result of this, Batman told Dent to call a press conference so he could reveal his identity and stop the killings. In a surprise move, Dent instead claimed to be the Batman himself and was subsequently arrested.
While being transported the Joker and his gang attacked the caravan of police vehicles, attempting to kill Dent with a machine pistol, a shotgun and even a rocket-propelled grenade. He and his men managed to destroy nearly all the vehicles in the convoy, but when he attempted to destroy the armored car carrying Dent, Batman intercepted his RPG, at the cost of destroying the Batmobile (he was able to detach part of it in the form of the Batpod). Realizing that Dent wasn't Batman, the Joker broke off his pursuit and attempted to ram the Batpod instead; Batman managed to dodge him and then capsize the Joke's eighteen-wheeler using his cable launchers.
Batman then bore down on the Joker (who was goading Batman to kill him by screaming "HIT ME!"), but stopped short of ramming the maniac at the last second, forcing him to crash. The Joker prepared to unmask Batman but Lt. Gordon, newly resurrected from his hoaxed death, stepped behind him and held a shotgun to his head, saying "We got you, you son of a bitch." The Joker was successfully jailed at MCU, and as a direct result, Lt. James Gordon was promoted to Commissioner by the Mayor. He also does a sarcastic clap for the newly-promoted Commissioner.
Assault on Gotham
- "I don't want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no...no you complete me."
- ―The Joker speaking to Batman during the interrogation[src]
With the Joker in custody, Gordon and Batman believed his madness was over, but became alarmed when informed that Harvey Dent had gone missing. Desperate, Gordon let Batman interrogate the Joker for information, but the Joker seemed unshaken by the pain. Instead, he gleefully told Batman his view of people as selfish and violent, only needing a little pressure before descending into madness. He also admitted he could never kill Batman, considering him his only equal. Dent's kidnapping was part of a test, to see if Batman would save him or Rachel, whom the Joker could tell Batman cared for. The Joker willingly told him where both were located. After most of the police were gone, the Joker took his guard hostage and escaped by detonating a phone-activated bomb he surgically planted in the stomach of one of his men who was arrested with him, with Lau in tow. After failing to save Rachel Dawes, Gordon had come to the realization that it was a setup and Joker had planned to get caught to obtain Lau.
Dent and Rachel each awoke tied to chairs with barrels of explosive material surrounding them and a speakerphone hooked up to the other's location. Rachel confessed her love for him and agreed to marry him. Dent fell on the floor and his left side was completely immersed in turpentine. Batman arrived but found the D.A. instead of Rachel. He realized that the Joker had lied about Rachel and Dent's whereabouts to further crush Batman's morale. Batman rescued Dent as the building exploded and the District Attorney's face was badly burned, while Gordon was unable to rescue Rachel before the explosion. In the hospital, Dent was driven to madness over the loss of Rachel, and blamed Batman, Gordon and the Joker. This act caused Sal Maroni to tell Gordon the Joker's location, finding him and his craziness "too much" for business.
- "I'm a man of simple tastes: I enjoy dynamite, gunpowder, and gasoline...and you know the thing they have in common? They're cheap [...] All you care about is money. This town deserves a better class of criminal, and I'm gonna give it to 'em. Tell your men they work for me now. This is my city."
- ―The Joker to The Chechen while burning a pile of money[src]
- "I had a vision, of a world without Batman. The Mob tried to ground a little profit and the police tried to shut them down, one block at a time. And it was so... boring."
- ―The Joker[src]
The Joker then made a call to a news program where Coleman Reese was threatening to go public on the news with information about Batman's identity. He was interrupted by the Joker who stated he had changed his mind, believing Gotham to be too boring without Batman. To "give others the fun" he threatened that if someone didn't kill the employee in sixty minutes he would blow up a hospital. Gordon then abandoned his ambush on the Joker to focus on evacuating all city hospitals.
Contact with Harvey Dent
- "Introduce a little anarchy - upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I'm an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos - it's fair."
- ―The Joker persuading the disfigured Harvey Dent.[src]
During the mass evacuation, the Joker disguised himself as a nurse (still wearing his trademark face paint) and entered the hospital room of Harvey Dent. He first apologized to Dent, maintaining that he was not responsible for Rachel’s death as he lacks any idea for the repercussions of his actions, while the restrained Dent attempts in vain to kill him. The Joker introduces the former D.A. to his view of the world that his time in Gotham has introduced him to, that people, or "schemers" as he calls them, are the truest form of evil in the world, as it is them who lay out the plans of society, including when human lives are expendable.
To prove his argument, he points out that if his threats were aimed at 'gangbangers' or 'soldiers', then people wouldn't really care as society trains them to see the death of such people as acceptable. Thus, he turns the disillusioned Dent against society and against the "schemers" who put his and Rachel’s life in danger, namely the corrupt cops who kidnapped them, as well as the "schemers" who viewed Rachel's life to be expendable, namely Batman and Gordon.
Giving Dent a gun, the Joker advised him to break away from the law that failed him and turn to chaos, which the Joker describes as the only truly fair system, as the fate of everyone would be only decided by chance, without the interference of the flawed laws of Man. Dent responded by flipping a coin to decide the Joker's fate, giving him the same chance Rachel had. Soon after Dent left, Joker detonated the Gotham General Hospital, skipping merrily away (pausing and hitting his detonator when most of the bombs temporarily fail to blow). He and his men then steal one of the nearby evacuation buses and kidnapped the TV reporter and his crew inside.
- "Tonight, you're all going to be a part of a 'social experiment.'"
- ―The Joker[src]
The Joker declared that anyone left in Gotham would be subjected to his rule. He told people they could leave now but that he would have a surprise for them in the tunnel and on the bridge, which people then avoided, using instead two ferries, one ship full of ordinary civilians and one of criminals. However, the Joker had loaded each of them with explosives. In hopes of showing everyone how evil and corrupt they can be, he gave the passengers of each ship the detonator to the bombs to the other and offers both survival if they detonate the other ferry. If they didn't choose by midnight, the Joker would blow up both ships.
Batman discovered not only the Joker's location at an unfinished skyscraper, but that the majority of his "gang" were actually hostages wearing clown-masks with unloaded guns taped to their hands and that the people dressed as hostages were the actual criminals. Batman was forced to fight not only the Joker's men but the SWAT teams as well to save the hostages. He finally confronts the Joker, which led to a final battle between the Joker and Batman (with the Joker using a metal bar and a knife). But Joker manages to get the upper-hand and pins Batman under the scaffolding. He gleefully waited as the ferry's deadline neared, and was visibly disappointed when both groups of passengers refused to kill the other to save themselves. The civilians voted to blow up the other ferry, but could not bring themselves to actually do so, while one of the criminals stepped forward and, taking the detonator, threw it out a window, saying that the cops should have done that from the start. As the deadline passed, Batman asked the Joker if he was trying to prove that everyone was as ugly as him deep down, bluntly informing the Joker that he was alone in his corruption and insanity. Before he could detonate both ferries, Batman hit him with his shooting wrist-blades and threw the man over the edge. The Joker starts to laugh as he falls to die, but Batman, refusing to kill him, instead caught him with his grapple gun and leaving him hanging for the police to capture.
The Ace in the Hole
- "Madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push. "
- ―The Joker[src]
With this act, the Joker acknowledged that Batman really is incorruptible but that Dent is no longer the "White Knight"; he's unleashed the scarred man on the city. Joker states that Dent was his "ace in the hole" in his plan to show the people of Gotham that everyone is corruptible, thus undoing Dent's work before his transformation into Two-Face. Batman then angrily left the Joker to dangle helplessly as he started laughing manically and then was approached by the SWAT team who had him at gunpoint.
Though the Joker is neither seen nor mentioned, his prediction of the citizens of Gotham were proven correct as Gotham shuns Batman in the wake of Harvey Dent's death. His prediction about civilized people's code being a 'bad joke' is also proven true, as Gotham falls into chaos in the wake of Bane's 'liberation', and the citizens 'eat each other' as he had prophesied, by way of homes being looted and the Scarecrow's kangaroo court.
The Joker claimed to not be insane, but rather just "ahead of the curve". This proves to be legitimately true, as this version of the Joker is extremely calculating, cunning and a really good strategist. Being able to plan out the events of The Dark Knight and also improvise when needed shows a high level of intellect and knowledge. Joker also seemed to be quite knowledgeable in psychology and people's weaknesses and motivations. He had no problems getting underneath people's skin, and could easily manipulate people into corruption. In addition to this, he was also skilled at appealing to mentally unstable people (whom he used as free help and for sections of his plans that required expendable assets) manipulating them by promising that he would make their mental problems go away, example, like when he told one of his crew with the bomb inside him in the MCU, he would make "the voices go away". This extreme scenario of cruelty, sadism and precision proves that this Joker is more in a realm of a psychopath/sociopath than insanity as he is neither delusional nor has he lost his grip on reality.
Joker seems to subscribe to a morally nihilistic mindset and is obsessed with the limits of morality. despite of this, The Joker is described as having "zero empathy", which is shown throughout as being true. (This probably led him to doubt how deep human morality really runs, as he once said, "When the chips are down; these civilized people, they'll eat each other".) Joker also seem to quite masochistic and immune to pain and intimidation, when Batman is throwing the Joker around the room and attacking him, demanding for the location of Rachel and Harvey, he takes the assault with pleasure as he under multiple occasions laughed while being beaten by the Batman.
Joker does also not care for the people who work for him, one of his minions got electrocuted in his attempt at removing Batman's mask, he proceeded to laugh hysterically, kick the minion, then mocked him by making noises similar to that of someone being electrocuted, before spitting on him and resorting to his attempt at removing the mask himself. This along with the crew member he buried a bomb into, shows that he has no problems inflicting pain upon people who work for him. Along with being extremely sadistic through psychological torture, physical pain and intimidation, the Joker seems to have very little care for his own safety, such as when he was telling Batman to run him over with his Batpod, and when Batman threw him off a skyscraper building to his supposed death and he did nothing but laugh (only for Batman to save him with his grapple gun), although both could have also been due to the Joker believing that either Batman would not directly murder him or that he would still 'win' by provoking Batman into proving him right by forcing the Dark Knight to commit murder. Similarly, when Gambol attempts to have the Joker killed during a mob meeting, the Joker also revealed that he wired himself with explosives, having anticipated the possibility that he'd be gunned down during his meeting.
The most notable example in his utter lack of self-preservation, is when in the hospital, he gives Harvey Dent, after disfiguring him, and killing his girlfriend Rachel, a gun, and forcibly points it at his head, gambling his life on the chance that Dent would adopt his philosophy of anarchy. Though, subtly, he kept his finger in front of the hammer of the gun, which would keep it from firing prematurely. It is most likely that Joker would remove his finger when Dent would have fired the gun as we've seen on multiple occasions that he does not care about himself at all. In addition, when Dent gives him the coin's options, after Dent tells him that Joker will die if the coin lands on the bad side, Joker says "now we're talking!" in a slightly enthusiastic tone.
He exhibits various symptoms of an antisocial personality, blatantly disregarding laws and social norms far beyond standard deviant behavior. The Joker also has a low level of inhibition and a relentless drive to disturb the status quo. He is driven by something other than greed, as he complains that the criminals of the mob are just seeking a profit and that the city deserves "a better class of criminal", namely himself.
While The Joker does attempt to take control of the city, recruits mob henchmen, he appears to hold his philosophy of chaos higher than himself. He describes himself as merely an "agent" of chaos (in his speech to convince Harvey Dent to let go of his beliefs so he could prove in his ultimate plan that even the most noble of men can sink down to the Joker's level).
Despite of the fact that The Joker never cared about money, (as evidenced by his burning of the mob's money that he earned to recover Lau from the MCU and stating that his actions aren't "about money.") He did however, see some usefulness of money, as evidenced by the implication that he used the money he stole from Gotham National Bank to create his custom suit, acquire his equipment and weaponry, and hire others to form his own gang as the mob's agents were simply used as a means by Joker to gain control of Gotham's infrastructure and cripple the mobs power.
The Joker in The Dark Knight is a genius at planning and improvising criminal activities. He is incredibly intelligent and calculating, always staying one step ahead of everyone else, including Batman (for a while) and the police. His unique (if rather disturbed) worldview, as well as the complete mystery surrounding his identity also give him something of an edge. Having no connections, friends, former identities or family to be traced back to makes him very difficult to predict, track down, or even understand. He is also shown to be a skilled, fearless, and unpredictable fighter, taking on mob henchmen and cops with ease, and showing how he can be lethal with many forms of weaponry; and was even capable of holding his own against Batman and trapping him near the climax of the film (although he had assistance on both occasions when fighting Batman). One explanation for the Joker's fighting skills might have to do with his psychotic personality: the Joker doesn't really fear physical damage to himself like a normal person would, and even when brutally injured laughs at his own pain. His casual insensitivity to pain, and his extreme fearlessness, lets him take risks that a normal person wouldn't even attempt, and so most people just don't see his attacks coming, i.e. walking into a room full of mobsters and casually using a 'magic trick' to impale a pencil into one of their heads. The Joker's obliviousness to danger makes him invulnerable to what is usually Batman's greatest weapon in combat: his ability to frighten low-level thugs.
Appearance & Clothing
Quite tall, though notably shorter than Batman, dressed in a custom tailored suit consisting of an elegant, purple coat with matching pin-stripe pants (kept up by suspenders rather than a belt). Underneath it, he wears a light grey jacket, green vest, and a light grey patterned shirt. The suit was also custom made, with the Joker also implying that it cost enough cash for him to spend at least part of the six million dollars he had robbed from the various mob organizations. Almost always seen wearing white make-up with blackened eyes and red smeared over the already gruesome scars, greasy, green-dyed, unkempt hair on his head only further implies his unstable psyche.
This outfit and make-up gets increasingly worn throughout the film, showing that the Joker indeed cares little for just about anything.
The Joker equips himself with a wide variety of weapons depending on the situation, including shotguns, RPG's, machine pistols, handguns, explosives, and knives. When his weapons are catalogued during his arrest, Gordon remarked that there was "nothing in his pockets but knives and lint" and indeed, at least a dozen different knives are shown being withdrawn from the Joker's various pockets. He also has a retractable knife-blade in the tip of one of his boots. While he has used guns on many occasions, the Joker expresses his preference for knives because "guns are too quick".
During the course of the film, the Joker only once removes his make-up, and underneath it the audience witness a demonic and twisted looking individual, more frightening than when he was wearing the clown makeup. In terms of facial features, the Joker has his big pointy nose and extremely thin lips (which is in line with how the comic Joker looks). He also has sleep depraved dark circles around his eyes and dirty/dry skin from wearing makeup for long periods of time.
In other media
The Joker's attack on the bank was mentioned in the final Gotham Tonight special episode.
The Dark Knight Rises novelization
The Joker was mentioned in Greg Cox's novelization of the The Dark Knight Rises. With the Dent Act, the insanity plea was thrown out for the most part, with felons being predominantly imprisoned, rather than institutionalized. Therefore, most inmates were moved to Blackgate Prison. However, the Joker was not to be found there, leading some in Gotham to speculate that he is one of, if not the only, inmate of Arkham Asylum. The Joker's whereabouts were never publicized, leaving the possibility that he had escaped by the time of Bane's revolution: "The worst of the worst were sent to Blackgate, except for the Joker, who, rumor had it, was locked away as Arkham's sole remaining inmate. Or perhaps he escaped. Nobody was really sure."
Behind the Scenes
The origins of the Joker are left deliberately ambiguous in The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan and his co-writer Jonathan Nolan suggested the Joker's first two appearances in 1940's issues of Batman as crucial influences. Just as in these issues of the Batman comic, the Joker's back-story is expanded upon little. Instead, the Joker is portrayed as an "absolute". "The Joker we meet in The Dark Knight is fully formed...To me, the Joker is an absolute. There are no shades of gray to him — maybe shades of purple. He's unbelievably dark. He bursts in just as he did in the comics." Nolan later reiterated, "We never wanted to do an origin story for the Joker in this film", because "the arc of the story is much more Harvey Dent's; the Joker is presented as an absolute. It's a very thrilling element in the film, and a very important element, but we wanted to deal with the rise of the Joker, not the origin of the Joker."
Heath Ledger described the Joker as a "psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy". Nolan had wanted to work with Ledger on a number of projects in the past, but had been unable to do so. When Ledger saw Batman Begins, he realized a way to make the character work consistent with that film's tone, and Nolan agreed with his anarchic interpretation. To prepare for the role, Ledger lived alone in a hotel room for a month, formulating the character's posture, voice and psychology, and kept a diary, in which he recorded the Joker's thoughts and feelings to guide himself during his performance. While he initially found it difficult, Ledger was eventually able to generate a voice that did not sound like Jack Nicholson's take on the character in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film. He was also given Batman: The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth to read, which he "really tried to read [...] and put it down". Ledger also cited inspirations such as A Clockwork Orange and Sid Vicious, which were "a very early starting point for Christian Bale and I. But we kind of flew far away from that pretty quickly and into another world altogether." "There’s a bit of everything in him. There’s nothing that consistent," Ledger said, adding that "There are a few more surprises to him." Before Ledger was confirmed to play the Joker in July 2006, Paul Bettany, Lachy Hulme, Adrien Brody, Steve Carell, and Robin Williams publicly expressed interest in the role. On not being invited to reprise the Joker, Jack Nicholson remarked that he was "furious". In turn, responding to his initially-controversial selection to play the Joker, Ledger stated publicly, "It would not matter who is chosen to play the [Joker]. [...] In any film, there is always someone who does not like you and I am secure in my choices and my record. But I know at the end of the day you are never going to please anyone 100 percent…I refuse to carbon copy a performance. That would not be a challenge and it would be mocking Mr. Nicholson, whom I have much respect for."
Though a unique portrayal, this Joker interpretation maintains much of his comic personality, such as his refusal to kill Batman, his view that people's morals are easily derailed, and Two-Face's origin story in the film mirror the themes and plot of Batman: The Killing Joke, as well as his unreliable memory.
On January 22, 2008, after he had completed filming The Dark Knight, Ledger died, leading to intense press attention and memorial tributes. In March 2008, four months prior to the film's scheduled release, Larry Carroll reported that "like Batman himself, Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal and director Christopher Nolan find themselves shifting gears between being secretive, superheroic and fighting back a deep sadness." "It was tremendously emotional, right when he passed, having to go back in and look at him every day," Nolan recalled. "But the truth is, I feel very lucky to have something productive to do, to have a performance that he was very, very proud of, and that he had entrusted to me to finish." All of Ledger's scenes appear as he completed them in the filming; in editing the film, Nolan added no "digital effects" to alter Ledger's actual performance posthumously. Nolan has dedicated the film in part to Ledger's memory, as well as to the memory of technician Conway Wickliffe, who was killed during a car accident while preparing one of the film's stunts. According to Nolan, had Ledger not died, part of the plot for the sequel would have had the Joker standing trial for his crimes.
DesignThe Joker's scruffy and grungy make-up is intended as a reflection of his "edgy" character. Costume designer Lindy Hemming described the Joker's look as reflecting his personality—that "he doesn't care about himself at all"; she avoided designing him as a vagrant but still made him appear to be "scruffier, grungier", so that "when you see him move, he's slightly twitchier or edgy." Nolan noted, "We gave a Francis Bacon spin to [his face]. This corruption, this decay in the texture of the look itself. It's grubby. You can almost imagine what he smells like." In creating the "anarchical" look of the Joker, Hemming drew inspiration from such counter-cultural pop culture artists as Pete Doherty, Iggy Pop, and Johnny Rotten.
Ledger described his "clown" mask, made up of three pieces of stamped silicone, as a "new technology", taking much less time for the make-up artists to apply than more-conventional prosthetic usually requires—the process took them only an hour—and resulting in Ledger's impression that he was barely wearing any make-up at all.