Black Swan Theory of Heath Ledger’s Joker
Let’s start with my theory of Heath Ledger’s performance and the ill-fated result in his tragedy. I think it’s all-round agreeable that his display of The Joker was nothing short of spectacular, it is arguably perfect – “perfect?”, perfect is typically impossible right, I know but let me explain the concept.
Pause: If you haven’t seen the film “Black Swan” then read-on at your own risk (this is the part where I should put SPOILER ALERT in capital letters right?). So, the idea in Black Swan is that Nina (Natalie Portman) falls too deep into the insatiable lust for a perfect performance, causing a mental instability – due to the nature of her role. This insanity ultimately brought her to her tragic demise after achieving the perfect performance.
Naturally, many people were sceptical that Heath Ledger would pull off a convincing Joker and Jack Nicholson (played The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman, 1989) warned him of the dangers the role has on your mental stability. Being the exceptional actor that Heath Ledger was, he committed himself deeply to the role and evoked this sociopathic character: locking himself in a room for about a month, depriving himself of sleep and keeping a diary of dialogue plus pictures of The Joker and Alex from A Clockwork Orange. The result was an almost too realistic performance that astonished even fellow actors on the set when witnessing him in character. The scene where he enters the party via the elevator and walks past Alfred, it was the first-time Michael Caine had seen him in character and was so stunned he had forgotten his line (they kept that take, you’ll notice it if you watch the clip). Aaron Eckhart describes the chemistry Heath Ledger created when they were getting ready to film the hospital scene, how he stayed completely in character even before the cameras were rolling and never exchanged words (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6_2dmm4LnA).
It can be theorized that Heath Ledger effectively became The Joker to an extent that was possibly irreversible, leading to his tragic accidental decease. The black swan theory – coincidentally (or maybe not?) not linked to the film – is an event that surprises the observer due to deviation from what is expected and has a major effect. It is based on an ancient saying which presumed black swans did not exist; does this mean perfect performances do not exist (without consequence in this case)?
I am aware such a theory can come across disrespectful but it is not meant so, in fact the opposite, just an idea or an explanation of cinematic perfection followed by disheartening tragedy. We are forever indebted to Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker which arguably improved our perception of one of the greatest comic book villains.
The Joker made some valid points
In the hospital scene, The Joker tells Harvey that it wasn’t personal and makes a point about schemers and how peoples attempt to control things with their plans can be unfair or even unjust because of personal bias.
“Nobody panics when things go “according to plan”. Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan”. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”
Now, the example he gave here was slightly inadequate but the point is valid and can be exemplified in other ways.
When the US invades the middle-east and kills thousands of innocents every day, causing a civil war by attacking one rebel group while protecting and arming another, the world doesn’t take much notice of the horrific scene because it’s “according to the plan”; but when it backfires and the west is struck too, there is an enormous international uproar and everyone puts the targets national flag as their profile picture because it wasn’t “part to the plan”.
Inhumane colonization measures are brushed under the carpet because they were “according to plan” but when it backfires and the people raised in these now tough environments migrate over to Britain with a stronger work ethic resulting in occupying more jobs, everyone goes up in arms and chooses to leave the EU which in fact helped build the very country they live in.
On a smaller scale, constant crime (murders and muggings etc) in poorer neighbourhoods doesn’t raise too much of a fuss with those in wealthy suburbs as it’s “supposed to be that way” but when there is criminal offence in a higher class of area or Kim Kardashian gets robbed, the whole world is exposed to it and prays for their peace while commending their bravery.
Isn’t that what war is anyway? Trying to beat the opposition because their plan is different to yours, even the Nazi’s would find it tragic when they lost their own but somehow it was okay to commit the horrors they did.
Anyway, I won’t go on too much and I certainly don’t condone these actions on either side, but I just like to look at the whole picture to understand that humanity can cause terror from any side with differing plans; also provoking thought from a neutral perspective.
So, The Joker goes on to tell Harvey to say that by upsetting the established order everything becomes chaos; but “the thing about chaos is it’s fair”, that part I can’t really disagree with, at least it’s fair. I have personally always been a fan of fairness, I’ve always hated having an unfair advantage over anyone in any situation and try to avoid it by any means, also trying to be as unbiased as humanly possible – then again I am quite a competitive person so maybe that’s why (which in itself sounds quite insane, I know). Harvey ends up giving in and by becoming Two Face establishes a simple 50/50 rule which is harsh but puts across the point of chaos being fair.
“You thought we could be decent men, in an indecent time! But you were wrong. The world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased, unprejudiced… fair.”
This touches on what The Joker was saying to Batman in the interrogation – “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules”. Seems to be a valid point really, I mean rules always end up unfair to someone, right? Einstein had to break many rules that held him back to give himself the opportunity to then make some of the most important discoveries in history. Rules and regulations are impossible to have the same effect on everyone, there will always be an advantage for some, so it can’t be entirely wrong to say the only fairness is in having absolutely no rules. I know, it sounds harsh and sounds a little like evolution by natural selection (survival of the fittest) in a sense, but just a thought…
The interrogation between Batman and The Joker raised some harsh truths too.
“Don’t talk like one of them, you’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me. They need you right now. But when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper. See, their morals, their code… it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you, when the chips are down, these… these civilized people? They’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve.”
He is right in the sense that they usually try and capture Batman because he is a vigilante but ironically when they need him they call upon him. In the social experiment with the boats either blowing the other up or all dying exemplified how civilisation collapses when it’s put down to survival. Ironically again, the civilians were the ones to vote for the detonation while the convicts threw away the key. Yes, it’s true that logically one might think they deserve life more than the convicts, but who chooses these codes? Also, notice that the convicts who are typically rebels use this rebellion in a positive light now when the orders that are to be followed have a negative consequence, suddenly the rebellions are now the ‘nice’ people? That actually raises an interesting point about “Social Influence” in psychology but that is a larger topic for another post…
In the end, effectively The Joker won as he turned Harvey cruel and had Batman break his one rule by killing him. The sad part is that Batman took the blame for Harvey’s killings as to “protect” the public from the truth which would shatter morale, another example of one person or few taking it upon themselves to “know and do what’s best for the people” and not tell them the truth. Many people argue sometimes a comforting lie is better because people won’t be able to handle the truth, me I have to disagree with that; for me, the truth should always be told. Maybe it would shatter morale but it would bring to awareness that most us as humans face difficult decisions and can be on the brink of madness at times (as The Joker said “madness is like gravity, a
ll it takes is a little push”), by being aware of this we can fight such desires honestly or even just accept them as part of being human. Clearly, The Joker went wrong in the fact that his complete lack of empathy did not allow him to understand that side of humans but he was a master at reading people, that’sfor sure. Interestingly, The Joker has been analysed as a Marxist by some (Peaslee & Weiner, 2015).
I guess I went off track a few times again so I’m not sure of a main point now (I guess that’s a problem about not being a schemer) but I guess it’s to be aware of the dark side of humanity and maybe being honest about those impulses within ourselves as humans. Try to have empathy and think about another perspective of situations when creating schemes, it may help towards altruism.
Peace, Love and all that Jazz…
Peaslee, R. M., & Weiner, R. G. (Eds.). (2015). The Joker: A Serious Study of The Clown Prince of Crime. Univ. Press of Mississippi.