Though this past weekend’s top performing movie is titled The Dark Knight, it might easily have been called "The Clown Prince." Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker, already hailed as Oscar-worthy, owes more to Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice than it does to previous Batman malefactors. Ironically, Keaton was the first film Batman and could have played off against himself as both the Caped Crusader and the Prince of Fools.
Like Keaton's Beetlejuice, The Joker in this latest Batman-iteration is the ultimate trickster: a destroyer of worlds and a slayer of men, whose word cannot be trusted and whose motives cannot be divined.
The Joker’s wild success throughout The Dark Knight's dark nights depends on a script which constitutes a stacked deck in his favor. For most of the two hours of this latest Batman saga, everything goes The Joker’s way. He knows where mob kingpins will be meeting and gains access with impunity. He easily defeats the defense mechanisms of a high-security bank. He cannily manipulates good guys and bad guys alike seeking both a higher class of criminal and a lower class of law enforcer. He survives high speed truck flips, Kevlar-armored right crosses and highrise bungee jumps.
Though he is painted up to be an enigma wrapped in a riddle (or was that someone else?), based on evidence from The Dark Knight, we do know the following things about The Joker:
- He is a munitions expert. He is equally at home with C4 suppositories and oil barrel chemical peels.
- Though he is an expert project manager, at least in the bank-robbery field, he is prone to waste his resources.
- He is empathic. He knows just what to say to push anyone over the edge of madness, and then leap in after him.
- He is a man ahead of his Timex. The Joker can take a lickin’ from Batman and keep on tickin’. He may once have belonged to a fight club.
- He obviously was involved in covert ops in the past. He knows how to anticipate scenarios and plan alternatives. He knows where to acquire esoteric weapons and how to use them.
- He moonlights as a Mary Kay agent.
- He has had access to Jack Benny’s joke vault.
Omigod! The Joker is Jason Bourne!