Why is Heath Ledger's Joker considered to be so good?

Christopher Nolan's 2008 mega success about Batman's attempts to defeat a criminal mastermind known only as the Joker.
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Location: Budapest, Hungary
I wrote my BA thesis on why the Joker is a great villain :D I kind of got it down to two reasons, both stemming from storytelling: first, he was created by actions of the hero, and second, the hero, by definition, cannot defeat this particular villain (without getting himself out of the equation).

I really see both Batman and Joker as concepts, so I'm not really down on the psychological aspects of the Joker - most people would start analysing even Ledger's Joker from a psychology point of view, but I think that's wrong.

The same way Bruce Wayne became Batman, some random guy became the Joker. Real persons becoming "concepts" or "ideas", thus becoming indestructible by real people. That's the idea behind Batman, and Joker realises that. So, in order to stand up to Batman, he became the Joker, to match him on his own level.

Gordon talks about Batman's effect on society, about escalation, and that leads, of course, to the arrival of the Joker. And I think Batman only ever thought of defeating real people, and never even devised a plan to defeat a Joker-(or Batman-)like entity. That's why he fails, because he's stubborn in his methods or weapons against this new threat. This is apparent in the interrogation scene ("You have nothing to threaten me with").

So in a way you have the hero who is indirectly responsible for this new villain, and who is essentially stubborn and short-sighted and is incapable of defeating this threat by his usual methods. Then, at the end, he realises that he has to vanish in order for the other threat to vanish as well. Both on a conceptual and physical level.

Because physically, of course, we know that he disappears from Gotham, but on a conceptual level: because of his murder of Dent, he is not Batman anymore. And, as the Joker is right to assume, the only way Batman can defeat him is by murdering him, and he won't do that. But the Joker makes Batman murder someone anyway, so at that point Batman, the original idea or concept, ceases to be. And that's why it's a powerful situation, from a storytelling point of view. The hero's fate is entangled and inseparable from the villain's fate. And it's also a bit like a paradox: Batman can only win if he loses.

So, not talking about any other aspect of Ledger's Joker (portrayal, etc.), I think these are at least some of the reasons why this villain works so much more than most recent blockbuster villains.

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Here's a recent interview with Michael Jai White (Gambol in The Dark Knight) talking about working with Heath Ledger.


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Location: San Bruno, CA
Responding to the OP after reading a couple pages of nonsense, lol.

He's playing a guy with a green vest and hair, purple coat, white power, lipstick, yellow teeth, and a deranged higher voice in a grounded world that Nolan established, and this could have come off so hokey or unconvincing. On paper, when I was explaining this to my then fourteen year old sister (before she saw any trailers, and she wasn't/isn't very aware of Batman lore), she just sat there and laughed at the idea. A clown going around and terrorizing Batman and his ideals? That's just too ridiculous, especially for the Nolanverse. When my sister saw a trailer with him for the first time as he sauntered through a street of downtown Chicago, she shut up then and there. When she saw the film itself, she freaked. She didn't love the Joker, she was petrified of him.

Heath Ledger came in, and played the implausible very plausibly. He played it menacingly. He played it with that ever so wry bit of levity that it would make any such included dark moments more so sadistic, and a lot of that was improvised. We can credit Zimmer for the shepherd's tone score, but as it didn't mean very much to me in the opening scene because we didn't get a glimpse of Ledger in full force yet, it only oozed with much more trepidation from the audience when it started coming into full form because of his brooding presence from the scenes prior. Jack Nicholson's Joker was nightmare creepy, and Heath Ledger's Joker was dark alley creepy. The very fact that my first thought of him goes to "terrorist" before "clown" is borderline absurd, but it's the truth.

Honestly, I think a lot of it was just that people didn't think he could do it. Now, I don't think his death glorified his performance any more, but it made his performance scarier to me, that's for sure. It made it seem like he was a madman on the brink in preparation for the role. When he was on screen, I didn't see Heath Ledger even if I wanted to try to (with the exception of the interrogation scene with Gordon in the room, where we later learn it was one of his first filmed scenes so I guess that makes sense). There's no real behind the scenes stuff with his performance, so all we get is just... Joker. It helps create that mystique of the abyss that Heath must've found himself in to become such a bereft soul in every word that he uttered. While other characters feel there was an existence to them before we first saw them on screen, it almost feels as if this Joker character was just birthed out of thin air to counter Batman's fight.

Heath was pretty amazing the whole film, but highlight moments for sure are:

- Response to him being crazy: "No I'm not. No. I'm. Not."
- Brian Douglass pre-execution footage, especially demanding that he looks at his face and his maniacal laugh at the end.
- Scars story to Rachel. "She can't stand the sight of me!"
- Taking Bale Batman's punches and laughing them off (of course, with that score in the background).
- His knife usage explanation and intimating the detective's friends acted cowardly upon death (plus mouthing "six").
- Hospital explosion. Frickin' improvising the "button's not working" moment during the accidental pause.
- Him laughing as he was thrown off the building (at that moment, I was thinking "oh shit" like it was Ledger channeling Joker channeling Ledger).

There are more, but I'm good stopping there.

In short though, he played somebody memorable, and somebody who you wanted to root for in spirit but not in heart. His act has been an influence on several movie villains written in the past decade, and unfortunately some real life psychopaths. A lot of credit goes everywhere, but this isn't a role that just anyone could have done. Others potentially could have, but the best praise I could have done was call it "good acting," or "great acting." When I watch Ledger, I'm not watching somebody "act." I'm watching somebody transform.

But as somebody else said: we don't have to convince you. Nobody can convince me that rap is music I'd like to listen to. I'm just explaining away what makes Ledger's performance so special to me.

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