There be dragons!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Joker's Origin Speeches


The Joker [holding a knife inside Gambol's mouth]: Wanna know how I got these scars? My father was... a drinker. And a fiend. And one night he goes off crazier than usual. Mommy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself. He doesn't like that. Not-one-bit. So - me watching - he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it! Turns to me, and he says, "why so serious, son?" Comes at me with the knife... "Why so serious?" He sticks the blade in my mouth... "Let's put a smile on that face!" And... [looks sidelong at Gambol's thug, watching the whole thing in horror] Why so serious?


The Joker: Well, you look nervous. Is it the scars? You want to know how I got 'em? [He grabs Rachel's head and positions the knife by her mouth] Come here. Hey! Look at me. So I had a wife, beautiful, like you, who tells me I worry too much. Who tells me I ought to smile more. Who gambles and gets in deep with the sharks... Look at me! One day, they carve her face. And we have no money for surgeries. She can't take it. I just want to see her smile again, hm? I just want her to know that I don't care about the scars. So... I stick a razor in my mouth and do this... [the Joker mimics slicing his mouth open with his tongue] myself. And you know what? She can't stand the sight of me! She leaves. Now I see the funny side. Now I'm always smiling!

Both speeches tell tales of human cruelty and horror. The first is specifically catered to Gambol. It speaks of a father's cruelty to his son - beating of a mother, and the son attempts to stop the violence only to be maimed cruelly for trying to step in. This vision of broken homes, drunken fathers, abused mothers seems to be the plague of many homes within the black community. Our current culture registers thousands of situations like this one and the despair that festers due to witnessing such horror leads to violence and more violence. The very act of nobility, stepping in to stop the drunken father, is made into something futile and foolish. Who, after all, would attempt nobility against such overwhelming evil? Who would be brave enough to stop the evil rather than becoming evil himself? Surely the only way to survive in such a horrific world of violence is to become a monster just like daddy. This is the implication of Joker's speech to Gambol, a man who has turned to crime and violence and thus can never live a normal life of peace and love amidst his family. But the speech also is geared towards the henchmen and the audience. You see how good men are maimed? You see how even powerful men like Gambol are swallowed up by hungrier monsters like the Joker? Look upon my works you mighty and despair.

The second speech is similarly geared to Rachel. Little is known about Rachel's character except that she is a hard-headed woman making it in a man's world. She is tough, persistent, courageous and an ardent follower of justice. Having chosen such a life how can she risk the vulnerability of being in love? Her very noble choice of pursuing a career in law precludes the possibility that she ever have a loving family relationship. When Joker describes a husband/wife relationship with a despairing wife who has been pummelled by a cruel masculine world he is describing the possible world Rachel would experience were she to ever slip and let herself fall in love. Moreover, his maiming of himself (allegedly) represents the despair that the wife would experience which knows no remedy but more despair; a self-sacrificing husband whose very act of self-sacrifice causes only more sorrow. What else could a woman like Rachel expect but that the beautiful man she loves be tortured and maimed by the world? What else could she expect but that "the sharks" would come for them both eventually?

The really great depth of this version of the Joker is that he isn't just a maniac who blows things up or randomly kills people (like Jack Nicholson's character) nor is he just a silly wisecracker out to give grief to the guy in the grey tights (like Cesar Romero's character). Instead he is the psychologically dangerous character of the greater Batman graphic novels; he is the Nietzschean ubermensch, the Machiavellian prince, the character who is beyond the realm of right and wrong who worms his way into our subconscious with questions, suggestions and doubts. In short, he is the worst villain of the modern world b/c he can invade and infect any person anywhere, creating chaos that erupts in the despairing psychology that later manifests as violent action against others. He creates human time bombs using nothing more than words.

The two speeches also are conversely to male and female figures - thus to all people. A masculine story of father dominance, like Saturn devouring his children, for the young boy in Gambol. And for the little girl in Rachel, a feminine story of loss and sorrow, like Niobe or Rachel mourning and weeping because they are nought. The futility of power that emasculates the male; the helplessness of weakness that crushes the female. Adam's curse of "earning his bread by the sweat of his brow"; Eve's curse of "bearing her children in pain". Joker is the universal Satan in this instance and like Satan he breeds amongst his victims intense despair in the face of his irresistable evil.


  1. Very good analysis. I hadn't considered some of that, even though I have thought about this character quite a bit.

    Not long ago, I was trying to explain to someone that I saw how any one of us could choose to become the Joker. I was trying to say that it's not his supreme intelligence or good luck that makes him the arch monster, but that he chooses evil fully knowing that it IS evil, consciously of the possibility that he not choose evil, and with the intent of making other people choose evil too. It is a matter of choice whether you are a monster or not.

    Of course... my listener didn't want to hear a word of it, so I only got as far as "You know, any of us could be like the Joker..."

  2. Yes, well, at that point you probably should have laughed maniacally... and then sprayed them in the face with pepper gas.

  3. Or put a urinal in a museum.

    Interesting how Batman stops Joker before hearing his origin story. Is that Batman's strength, his will to hear no evil? When the dragon is so conniving and clever, perhaps it is simply best to not listen.

  4. And the viewer knows, since he tells two different stories, that both may well be lies--and not merely untruths, but cunning, evil, paralyzing parables.