15 Greatest Quotes on Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance

It’s the second stinking hot summer month of 2015 here in Perth, Australia, and I have already watched Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight three times so far.

The Dark Knight is a film I find endlessly rewarding on each repeat viewing, for ONE main reason.  Can you guess what that is?

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The initial fever-like frenzy that surrounded the cinematic release was the kind of buzz that normally I ignore.  Take for example all the hype for the upcoming Batman v Superman film.

It is the film I most want to see, but read NOTHING about online,

…because I don’t want to know what will happen.

I’ve subscribed to Empire (the film review magazine) for over five years now, and devour each monthly review of new films.

But in the lead up to The Dark Knight, I read not one of their articles, nor their review of The Dark Knight, at least not until AFTER I had seen the film.

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Chris Nolan films are films that I truly savor, and look forward to.  I want to know as little as possible about them, other than the cast or the general setting.  In this way I can enjoy the films on my own terms, and not have them ruined by plot spoilers or tainted by caustic reviews.

Watching The Dark Knight (and the other two Nolan Bat-verse) films this month has got me all nostalgic, so I thought why not do a series of articles on the films, looking at the good, the bad and the ugly.

As much as I love the Nolan Batman Trilogy (which is not really a trilogy at all, I’ll tell you why later…) they are not without flaws, especially the giant plot holes in The Dark Knight Rises, which somehow manages to be a decent film, despite the MANY logical flaws and inconsistencies, leaving it an uneven film at best.

Well, there is no rush, I’ve got old cast interviews to read from all three films, in character publicity photos to drool over and some pondering to do before getting into the meat of things (in upcoming articles).   But in the mean time, let’s start with 15 great quotes about Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in Chris Nolan’s film, from popular press reviews of The Dark Knight.  

Because Heath Ledger’s phenomenal performance as the Joker is easily my biggest highlight of the Nolanverse Batman films.

I love acting. Oh, God, I love it. But all this fame and all this bullshit attention. I’m not supernatural. I’ve done nothing extremely special to deserve the position. It happens every couple of years, and it’s happened to hundreds of people before me.  – Heath Ledger / Newsweek

“Batman” isn’t a comic book anymore. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy. It creates characters we come to care about. That’s because of the performances, because of the direction, because of the writing, and because of the superlative technical quality of the entire production. This  film, and to a lesser degree “Iron Man,” redefine the possibilities of the “comic-book movie.”

– Roger Ebert

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“Even without Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, Christopher Nolan’s pitch-black sequel to BATMAN BEGINS (2005) would be a tour de force. But Ledger’s mesmerizingly damaged agent provocateur is the film’s dark heart, a presence so malevolently unpredictable that it remains palpable even when he’s not on screen.”

“That Ledger stands out in such a powerhouse ensemble is a tribute to his radically unhinged interpretation of a familiar character: The lank hair tinged seaweed green, the darting tongue and faint lisp that call constant attention to the ghastly rictus of his mouth, the nightmarishly smudged make up… taken together, they make previous Jokers feel like, well, jokes.”

– Maitland McDonagh / TV Guide

“Actors are sometimes described as “disappearing into a role.” Never was that term more fitting than in the case of Ledger…  

With his cracked white pancake makeup, black-rimmed eyes, smeared lipstick and greasy, greenish-tinged hair, The Joker bears no resemblance to the strikingly handsome actor who played him. In fact, the character is like nothing we’ve seen or heard before.

Sure, there’s a whiff of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange in the performance, but Ledger has made this anarchic maniac a singular and supremely unhinged villain. From the clumsily repellant way he flips his tongue around to his sneering, nasal voice, he is a peerless eccentric.”

– Claudia Puig, USA TODAY

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“Ledger is so horrifically riveting you can’t take your eyes off of him.

In Gotham City, crime is the force that never ends, and the arrival of the maniacal Joker (Ledger) is a manifestation of its most anarchic impulses.

With his butchered face resembling a wrinkled finger wrapped in a Band-Aid for too long, his love of chaos drives the Joker to take giddy pleasure from dragging everyone down to his murderous level.”

– Joe Neumaier / NY Daily News

“In The Dark Knight, nothing is nearly so cut-and-dried. Whereas the radicalized Ra’s, with his arsenal of dirty bombs and his urge to eradicate Western “decadence,” was a supervillain of the sort that anyone who reads the papers has been conditioned to expect, the Joker of The Dark Knight is all the more terrifying for not having a plan or an identifiable motive.

A committed anarchist in a dusting of floury foundation, a smear of crimson lipstick, and pools of Louise Brooks eye shadow, this Joker isn’t the ebullient prankster of Batman movies (and TV shows) past, but rather a freakishly disturbing embodiment of those destructive human impulses that can’t so easily be explained away.

His only rule is to show others the folly of rules, the absurdity of striving to impose order upon chaos. “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” observes the ever-wise butler Alfred (Michael Caine). Except that this Joker doesn’t merely want to watch; he wants to strike the match.”

– Scott Foundas / Village Voice

“His Joker is wonderfully textured, with a weird lip-smacking facial tic and a shoulder-hunching gait. He’s also very funny—a funniness that has more to do with timing than with the usual villainous catchphrases.”

– Dana Stevens / Slate

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“Batman’s stature as a radical symbol of good has invited a more sinister criminal presence to Gotham City — and, as seen in the crackerjack bank-robbery sequence that opens the pic, one who operates in terrifyingly unpredictable ways.

Utterly indifferent to simple criminal motivations like greed, Ledger’s maniacally murderous Joker is as pure an embodiment of irrational evil as any in modern movies.

He’s a pitiless psychopath who revels in chaos and fears neither pain nor death, a demonic prankster for whom all the world’s a punchline.”

– Variety

“Ledger’s Joker is every bit as disturbing as he is disturbed — tongue-flickingly reptilian, and yet disarmingly commonsensical in the way he relies on the dark side of human nature to aid him in wreaking havoc.

He uses crowd psychology to endanger crowds, subverts legal niceties (wait till you see what he does with that one phone call he’s allowed when arrested), and greets the perpetually self-doubting Batman as a fellow damaged soul.

It’s a heart- stoppingly unpredictable performance, haunted by the audience’s knowledge of Ledger’s death earlier this year — and rendering even darker what has to be as dark a superhero fantasy as Hollywood is likely to produce any time soon.

Regardless, the real relationship here is between a Batman in existential crisis and a Joker who’d love to leap with him into the abyss tight-assed yin and anarchist yang in a fantasy franchise that Nolan (in concert with his scriptwriting brother Jonathan) has made as riveting for its psychological heft as for the adrenaline rushes it inspires at regular intervals.”

– Bob Mondello / NPR

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“Bale, all steely reserve, once again captivates as the haunted caped crusader who must shed morality to beat the devil at his game.

But just as Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman was anchored by the joy-buzzer glee of Jack Nicholson’s party-down Joker, The Dark Knight takes its cue from its Joker and his deadly circus of chaos. Heath Ledger’s mesmerizing, scary-funny performance begins with the creepiness of his image: the greasy long hair, the makeup that looks as if he’d drawn it on with crayons, then messed it with tears.

That ghostly rotting paint job covers his scarred smile (explained by a backstory that gives you the willies, even if he just made it up), and the disturbing thing is that when Ledger’s Joker talks, with those ”Ehhh, what’s up, Doc?” vowels that make him sound like Al Franken crossed with a nerdish pedophile, you realize that the icky sloshing sound you hear is him sucking on his cheeks; he uses his attachment to those scars to fuel his sadistic (and masochistic) whims.

This Joker may be a torture freak, but he also has a lost quality, a melancholy hidden within those black-circled eyes. He turns slaughter into a punchline; he’s a homicidal comedian with an audience of one — himself.”

– Owen Gleiberman / Entertainment Weekly

“And then, of course, there is the Joker, whose wide smile has been carved into his face. He’s a slapstick gargoyle. When Jack Nicholson played the Joker, his campiness was only one step removed from the giggles of the old “Batman” TV series.

By contrast, Ledger doesn’t offer the audience the slightest glimmer of hope or hilarity. His motto is a sick-joke variant on Nietzsche: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stranger.” Nietzsche had it as “stronger,” and that applies to the Joker as well: He’s fortified by awfulness.

He can’t get enough of it, and nothing – not wealth or fame or anything else – will buy him off. As Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred (Michael Caine) puts it, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

– Peter Rainer / The Christian Science Monitor

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“I can only speak superlatives of Ledger, who is mad-crazy-blazing brilliant as the Joker. Miles from Jack Nicholson’s broadly funny take on the role in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, Ledger takes the role to the shadows, where even what’s comic is hardly a relief.

No plastic mask for Ledger; his face is caked with moldy makeup that highlights the red scar of a grin, the grungy hair and the yellowing teeth of a hound fresh out of hell. To the clown prince of crime, a knife is preferable to a gun, the better to “savor the moment.”

– Peter Travers / Rolling Stone

“That would be the Joker, of course, a demonic creation and three-ring circus of one wholly inhabited by Heath Ledger.

Mr. Ledger died in January at age 28 from an accidental overdose, after principal photography ended, and his death might have cast a paralyzing pall over the film if the performance were not so alive.

But his Joker is a creature of such ghastly life, and the performance is so visceral, creepy and insistently present that the characterization pulls you in almost at once.

When the Joker enters one fray with a murderous flourish and that sawed-off smile, his morbid grin a mirror of the Black Dahlia’s ear-to-ear grimace, your nervous laughter will die in your throat.”

– Manohla Dargis / NY Times

“Admittedly, when Ledger died I was a bit perplexed at the plaudits for a guy who had a couple of above average performances under his belt, but his Joker is almost perfect. Forgotten are the clowning geriatrics of Jack Nicholson’s version, for Ledger makes the Joker his, imbuing the character with such menace and genuine insanity I finally got a sense of what talent he really had.”

– Pete Vonder Haar / Film Threat

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“But the performance that you will remember for years is Ledger’s as the Joker.

Stepping from behind the shadows of Jack Nicholson’s Joker of 1989 (and, briefly, into the red fright wig of Cesar Romero’s TV version), Ledger is a terrifying, unpredictable presence, his shoulders rigid, his head hanging like the business end of a mallet, his fingers splaying about menacingly, his mouth pursed or spewing sneers or little smacking sounds that nauseate as much as they frighten.

Denied any sort of back story, more clever by yards than his pursuers, this Joker is like a dream of irrational evil, a terrorist without a cause, a man without a soul, a nightmare looking for minds to inhabit and discovering that he’s only happy inhabiting all of them.”

–  Heidi Williams / The Oregonian

“One shot, in particular, crystallizes everything that Ledger and Nolan were working for in “The Dark Knight.” It’s a shot that deserves to be anthologized, YouTube-ized and immortalized: The Joker is in the foreground, walking toward the camera, playing (and really, that’s the only word) with a bomb detonator.

Huge explosions are going on behind him as he walks toward us, stiff and happy and hobbling, like a toddler. He’s a child, and this is pure id. At the heart of existence isn’t creation, but chaos.”

– SFGate

“Two hours and 32 minutes long, “The Dark Knight” is grimly magisterial. It’s a summer blockbuster that contemplates near- total civic disaster: Crowds surge, tractor-trailers flip, and buildings explode, but the pop violence feels heavy, mournful.

Yet flitting through this 10-ton expressionist murk is a diseased butterfly with stringy hair and a maniacal giggle. Played by a dead actor, he’s the most alive thing here. – Ty Burr

Light barely escapes the film’s gravitational pull.

It’s not quite fair to say that the late Heath Ledger steals “The Dark Knight” from Christian Bale and the forces of (problematic) good, but, as the Joker, he is the movie’s animating principle and anarchic spark – an unstoppable force colliding with the immovable objects of Batman and director Christopher Nolan’s ambitions.

Much more serious in intent and message than 2005’s “Batman Begins,” “Dark Knight” would be fatally ponderous without Ledger’s nasty little sprite. As it is, the movie strains at its own Wagnerian seams.”

– Ty Burr / Boston (dot)com

And in case you were wondering, the deliriously delicious publicity photos are the property of Warner Brothers, they can be found online by searching for Heath Ledger Joker publicity photos.  Do check them out, as they are many beautiful high resolution photos from the same shoot that look even more spectacular at the full size resolution.

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4 thoughts on “15 Greatest Quotes on Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance

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