I consider Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins to be the best Batman movie we’ve received to date. Ben Affleck might be my favorite interpretation of the Caped Crusader, and Heath Ledger’s Joker stands atop a laundry list of villain presentations. But Nolan’s approach to building the origin story of Bruce Wayne and his heroic turn was masterful, grounded, credible and awe-inspiring. He told us EXACTLY how Bruce became Batman. But he had no desire to tell us how Joker became Joker.
The ending of Batman Begins is perfect. When Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) flips over the playing card, teasing the existence of the Joker, there was no need to keep telling the story. The narrative could have ended there. But sequels are a necessity in Hollywood, and so we got The Joker, played by Heath Ledger, in The Dark Knight. But screenwriter David S. Goyer says that he and Nolan came up with the concept of NOT giving Joker a proper origin story, and that freaked people out. Goyer said:
I do remember when we were talking about, 'Well, what if the Joker doesn't really have an origin story?’ Even after the success of Batman Begins, that was considered a very controversial thing, and we got a lot of push-back. People were worried. ‘Well you have to have an origin story. How can people just not know?’ I just remember the discussions at the time were that it was scarier, and it was scarier.
David S. Goyer was participating in a virtual panel that was part of the [email protected] programming, and he opened up about his work with Christopher Nolan on the Dark Knight trilogy. And when it came time to discuss Joker’s origin, he got honest about people – likely studio executives – pushing back on the decision to play around with Joker’s true past. It takes a while for you to understand that Joker’s lying (or is he?) whenever he talks about how he got his scars. Do any of these little vignettes have elements of truth to them?
Of course, Goyer is completely correct. Keeping us off balance about the true nature of The Joker’s backstory makes him far more intimidating. We never can trust where he’s coming from. Other times, when villains are given a backstory in a comic book adaptation, it lends them a sense of sympathy. There’s a tragedy that has pushed them over the edge. The Joker may have that, but the movie doesn’t clarify it. Maybe he just wants to watch the world burn.
Heath Ledger went on to win a posthumous Oscar for his mysterious and terrifying work in The Dark Knight. Years later, Joaquin Phoenix also collected an Oscar trophy for playing the Crown Prince of Crime in Todd Phillips’ Joker movie. There’s something about that iconic DC villain that captivates audiences. The less we know about him, the better.