Heath Ledger broke all the rules when he portrayed the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s gritty second act of the Dark Knight trilogy. For the first time, the supervillain was brought out of the comic book world, and into a far more realistic one, which meant the character himself would need to be grounded in the same manner.
Part of the Joker’s longevity comes courtesy of a series of quotes that summed up the character to a T. These were quite different to the kind of likeably funny Joker quotes from the animated Batman show. Each one helped chip away a bit of the mystery behind the Joker, revealing the true horror of a man who wasn’t interested in anything except causing as much chaos as humanly possible on a day-by-day basis.
Updated on October 28th, 2021 by Derek Draven: There’s no way to call the Joker’s quotes nuggets of wisdom, given how horrendous most of them are, but plenty have a grain of truth to them. Throughout The Dark Knight, the Joker drops exposition about himself, his view of the world, and his role in it. There are plenty more quotes to take a look at that help explore the character better. Some have become pop culture memes all by themselves, while others tend to get overlooked in the script. The best quotes are often the most subtle, with terrifying implications revealed once the surface is scratched away.”
20 “I Believe That Whatever Doesn’t Kill You, Simply Makes You… Stranger!”
It’s obvious that the Joker represents a severely disturbed individual, and this is hinted at several times in the film when he attempts to tell an origin story about his facial scars. However, it’s this original quote at the beginning of the film that acts as foreshadowing to those moments.
When speaking of belief, the Joker reveals one simple piece of wisdom that he lives by. The more times he faces down death and emerges the victor, the more warped his mind becomes. It’s quite possible that the Joker wants to die, and keeps looking for a worthy opponent who can make it happen. In the interim, he embraces the impact.
19 “And I Thought MY Jokes Were Bad!”
The Joker certainly had guts, especially when it came to sauntering into a secret meeting of Gotham’s most dangerous mobsters, and offering a proposal. By that time, he’d stolen from each of them, while encroaching on their territory and murdering their own men.
He entered the meeting just as they were discussing the moving of their money away from the eyes of the law, and into protective holding. Lau assured them that their money was safe, prompting the Joker to fake-laugh, before muttering this quote. He knew it was only a matter of time before Batman threw a spanner into their plans.
18 “If You’re Good At Something, Never Do It For Free!”
When the Joker wanders into the belly of the criminal beast, he points out why they’re meeting during the day – Batman has them afraid to go out at night. He then proposes a simple solution – kill the Batman, which seems oddly straightforward for a villain of his particular caliber.
The mobsters ask him why he hasn’t done it himself, and the Joker counters, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” Ironically, the Joker would upend this comment by burning a massive pallet of cash, just for the sake of proving a point regarding the balance between order, and chaos.
17 “I’m A Man Of My Word.”
This quote is one of the most chilling of the entire film, and takes place shortly after one of Batman’s costumed vigilante admirers winds up dead. The Joker sends them a video of him tormenting the vigilante, before issuing an ultimatum and a threat to Gotham City’s inhabitants.
He closes the video with these ominous words before laughing maniacally, while his victim begins screaming in the background. It’s a haunting recording that forces Batman to finally take the Joker seriously. This was one villain that was completely unlike anything he’d faced before.
16 “Now, I See The Funny Side. Now, I’m Always Smiling!”
One of the greatest and most problematic things about the Joker has always been the lack of a definite origin story. Even in the comic books, there’s still some doubt as to which version of the character’s past is the correct one. In The Dark Knight, this is hinted at several times when the Joker references the story behind his facial scars.
The version he tells Rachel involves his ex-wife being mangled by loan sharks, prompting him to cut his own face so she won’t feel alone. It was no doubt a lie, but it did attempt to give some reason as to why the Joker viewed life with such flippant disregard. To him, the chaotic nature of his own life was reason enough to be happy, and smile a lot more.
15 “Never Start With The Head! The Victim Gets All… Fuzzy!”
One of the Joker’s best tactics was to gaslight and troll his foes into making a mistake. This gave others the impression that he was in control of every situation, regardless of who appeared to hold the upper hand. After failing to crack under Gordon’s interrogation, he was then given over to Batman, who proceeded to beat him.
The intimidation tactics didn’t work, as evidenced by this quote. Even more chilling was the Joker’s ability to refrain from showing anything in the way of true pain. Like everything else in life, agony was a joke unto itself, and he took it in stride. It’s what arguably makes the Joker the best of Batman’s enemies.
14 “In Their Last Moments, People Show You Who They Really Are.”
Among other things, the Joker was first and foremost a cold-blooded killer. However, he took great delight in making others kill on his behalf, with a little prodding. This was demonstrated early on when he snaps a pool cue in half, and forces two mob henchmen to fight to the death in order to save their own lives.
Later, this action would be repeated on a much bigger scale when the Joker rigs two boats with explosives, and leaves detonators on board both ships. This quote summed up the Joker’s fatalistic and nihilistic view of a world where everyone was out for their own survival, rather than showing solidarity with their fellow human.
13 “You Have Nothing… NOTHING To Threaten Me With!”
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, he bars the door, and begins beating him to a pulp.
The Joker simply laughs in response, knowing that he doesn’t have a single thing that he can seriously threaten the Joker with. All he has is violence, which is the Joker’s playground on any given day. His complete lack of fear towards death is another frightening aspect of the character, signaling his unpredictability.
12 “How Many Of Your Friends Have I Killed?”
Everything that seemed random to the Joker was actually an integral part of his grand scheme, even if the manner in which he did it was wrought with risk. This villain wasn’t afraid to play Russian Roulette with his own plans, if it meant a bigger payoff at the end.
After being locked in the interrogation room with Detective Stephens, the Joker asks him how many of his friends he’s killed, which is a way to rile him up. It’s exactly what he needs to gain the upper hand, escape his cell, and trigger a bomb that blows up half the police precinct in the process. However, it could have gone very wrong for the Joker.
11 “I’m A Dog Chasing Cars. I Wouldn’t Know What To Do With One If I Caught It!”
This was perhaps the most honest thing the Joker said in the entire Dark Knight film, and it rings true for a variety of reasons. It perfectly encapsulates the Joker at his most lucid, which was no small feat. The Joker had no stated goals, intentions, or agendas to abide by, nor did he have any real reason for doing what he did.
There was no bargaining with a man who was willing to burn down an entire city, just for the sake of a joke. Those who thought he was masterminding a criminal agenda were ridiculed as giving him too much credit. The Joker cared about little, and even that was a stretch.
10 “It’s Not About Money. It’s About Sending A Message. Everything Burns!”
The Joker was unlike most Gotham criminals, particularly because he didn’t care about amassing vast sums of wealth, or personal power. Criminal empires, political corruption, and international double-dealings meant absolutely nothing to him. His only stated goal in life was to spread chaos, twenty-four-seven.
To that effect, he made a deal with Gotham’s mobsters in exchange for half of their cash. However, when he finally acquired it, he proceeded to pour gasoline on it and light a match. Money had no value. Power had no value. Only reckless abandon and destruction truly mattered, and this was his way of showing it.
9 “This Town Deserves A Better Class Of Criminal, And I’m Gonna Give It to ‘Em!”
Gotham City has a deeply disturbing past in the comics, and it helped to explain the amount of corruption within its streets. In The Dark Knight, 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, bringing 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 Joker views common criminality as banal and milquetoast, and seeks to elevate himself above the common rabble, for the sake of what he believes is a vengeful crusade.
8 “I Won’t Kill You, Because You’re Just Too Much Fun.”
The Joker sums up his relationship perfectly with this quote, which is a direct nod to the comics. The original source material has insinuated on countless occasions that Batman and the Joker essentially need each other in order to function. That, and that alone may have been why neither was able to kill the other.
The Joker is an agent of chaos, and having a masked vigilante watching over a crime-ridden city presents ample opportunities to effect that chaos. Plus, in some twisted way, Batman gives meaning to the Joker’s otherwise meaningless and miserable life. Things are simply more fun when he’s around.
7 “This Is What Happens When An Unstoppable Force Meets An Immovable Object.”
Any villain worth their salt has a personal connection to the hero, and the Joker and Batman represent distorted mirror images of one another. Batman is dark, brooding, and terrifying, whereas the Joker is carefree, comical, and chaotic. It’s hard to know which traits belong in the other, and which should remain.
The Joker also wants to control the fate of Gotham City, 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 Batman’s refusal to kill, and the Joker’s refusal to stop being who he is.
6 “Madness, As You Know, Is Like Gravity. All It Takes Is A Little Push!”
The concept of heroes falling victim to their own tragedies is nothing new, but The Dark Knight encapsulated that fall perfectly, courtesy of the Harvey Dent plot arc. There, the Joker successfully orchestrates a string of events that leads to the death of Rachel Dawes, and the transformation of Dent into the villain called Two-Face.
When pressed at the end of the film, the Joker reveals that his trump card has yet to be played. Avoiding a major catastrophe was small potatoes when weighed against the concept of Harvey Dent falling from grace, and turning into a bloodthirsty murderer. The realization would have torn Gotham City apart, which was exactly what the Joker wanted.
5 “Introduce A Little Anarchy, Upset The Established Order, And Everything Becomes Chaos!”
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 largely ignored, or at least downplayed into smaller-scale comic-book-style shenanigans.
Heath Ledger is remembered for a number of amazing performances, but his interpretation of the Joker is the most unique. He’s not only an active agent of chaos, he also outlines exactly what he enjoys so much about it. To the Joker, the established order is a ruse – a lie that keeps people from tapping into their own genuine selves, and he will be the one to correct the imbalance.
4 “I Think You And I Are Destined To Do This Forever.”
Originally, Ledger was set to reprise his role as the Joker in the final chapter of Nolan’s trilogy. Any mention of the character was removed from The Dark Knight Rises out of respect for Ledger, following his untimely passing, but the actor initially planned to play the role again.
That makes this quote all the more important and poignant. It transcends the meaning of the relationship between Batman and the Clown Prince of Crime, which only diehard Batman comic book fans are truly aware of. Had Ledger been able to reprise the role, it would have been one for the history books.
3 “I’m Not A Monster. I’m Just Ahead Of The Curve.”
The Dark Knight chronicles the Joker’s crusade to expose the primal urges of “civilized people.” According to him, “When the chips are down, these ‘civilized people?’ They’ll eat each other.” In his own mind, he’s the only sane and rational person in Gotham City; the only individual who truly understands human nature.
Of course, his views have been twisted and marred by his own traumatic and violent past, which he now projects outwards onto the rest of the world. Like all sociopaths, the Joker believes that everyone else is in the wrong, while he remains the only chaste and honest individual in the group.
2 “How About A Magic Trick? I’m Gonna’ Make This Pencil Disappear! TA-DAAAA!”
The pencil trick in The Dark Knight is one of the film’s most shocking and unexpected sequences, and it caused audience members to gasp audibly in theaters across the world. The scene is unforgettable, and instantly establishes the threat of the Joker as a man not to be trifled with, even if he claims to share a common goal.
While previous versions of the Joker have relied on exotic weapons like Smylex gas and acid, this Joker wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty with his bare hands. It was the one action in the film that caused every single mob boss in Gotham City to sit up, and take notice.
1 “Why So Serious?”
The Joker sees the world as a place that takes itself way too seriously, thanks to self-imposed rules, rigid structure, and an attempt by various individuals to dominate and control one another for their own sake. It’s a mindless, robotic existence in his eyes, and he won’t have any part of it.
While most would be horrified by the Joker’s actions, he himself sees it the opposite way. Life is a game that shouldn’t be taken seriously, but rather lived vicariously through the darkest parts of his own id. Only by embracing the nihilistic humor of life, can he actually enjoy living.
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