Joker: Heath vs. Jack
Mike Tangedal
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When in the course of human events the requisite number of days have passed to where I have seen the Dark Knight more times than most everyone else and I have taken the proper time to reflect upon my encyclopedic knowledge of the Tim Burton 1989 original, I am ready to proclaim insights and theories on the emerging debate that no doubt will continue with cinemaphiles and fan-boys for ages. For all those requiring a foundation upon which to launch their own diatribes, I present to you the great debate of Joker: Jack or Heath?
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Mike Tangedal
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As a film actor, no one else comes close to the record of success of Mr. Jack Nicholson in roles requiring the crazy or the evil. Long before he took the role of the Joker, Jack had already played two of the definitive crazy roles of all time in a man just on the edge in Cuckoo's Nest and a man pushed way over the edge in The Shining. Find me an actor with a better track record on crazy than Jack. Not so much.
 
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2. Board Game: The Werewolves of Miller's Hollow [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:733]
Mike Tangedal
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Thankfully both Mr. Burton and Mr. Nicholson had ample source material to work with thanks to the re-imagining of the classic Batman vs. Joker comic theme as worked to manic perfection in the Frank Miller graphic novels that came out just a few years before Tim Burton got to make Batman. Before that monumental event in comics history, the perception of the Joker character by most was just that of a nasty clown. Cesar Romero took the role so slightly that he didn't even bother to shave off his mustache before putting on the makeup. Thankfully he had a wonderfully manic laugh to fall back on.
 
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3. Board Game: Seekers of the Sacred Icons [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Mike Tangedal
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Whereas Jack had a rich black pallet upon which to paint his Joker, Mr. Heath Ledger faced a shadow so ominous, far lesser actors wouldn't even dare to step into the light. "You're going to out-crazy Jack. Sure you are." But just as Mr. Nicholson moved past the icons of his day to redefine what makes a legend, Heath Ledger belonged to the new school of actors ready to transcend even the legendary status of Jack. "They are ready and willing to drink your milkshake. They drink it up!"
 
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4. Board Game: Funny Bones [Average Rating:5.14 Overall Rank:14083]
Mike Tangedal
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At the showings I've seen (so far), the biggest initial reaction in the entire movie comes during the first major scene of the Joker, from now henceforth in history to be referred to as the "disappearing pencil scene". From that moment to his last screen appearance cackling upside down, Heath is there to let you know there is a new crazy in town. This isn't the crazy of Jack or any crazy heretofore seen on screen. This is even beyond Kubrick crazy. This is the new crazy - crazy in a good/bad/wildly entertaining way.
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5. Board Game: Getting To Know You... Better [Average Rating:4.90 Unranked]
Mike Tangedal
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Ah, but is this new crazy a better crazy than Jack's Joker? No, it most certainly is not. Go ahead and re-watch the 1989 movie again. I did. Over time, some critics have been so short-sighted as to claim that Jack's Joker was nothing more than a means to deliver movie poster one-liners. Those are just the crescendos of the performance. Of course you're going to remember those! Watch the performance between all the immortal lines. Jack's Joker is only over the top as a means of release. As is stated in the movie, he really does have a head full of loose wires. But only when they spark does he deliver lines so brilliantly that they are both hilarious and pure evil.
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6. Board Game: The Anger Solution Game [Average Rating:4.00 Unranked]
Mike Tangedal
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At the core of both performances of the Joker is of course anger. Heath's character was not given a backstory in the Dark Knight so we are left to deduce which if any of his facial scar stories he tells his victims might be real. I don't want to delve into psychoanalysis here, but I agree with Peter Traver's conjecture that Heath's Joker is all id. His Joker uses anger as a means not to deal with any conscience of consequence. His anger is his freedom - the hotter it burns, the freer he feels. Perhaps the deepest insight into this character is a brief scene without any dialogue at all. It is the scene showing the Joker careening wildly through the streets of Gotham in a police car with his head out the window completely lost in his delicious madness. He is an anarchist and he is an antichrist.
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7. Board Game: Mr. Jack [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:412]
Mike Tangedal
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With Jack's Joker, the anger is grounded. As he succinctly states in the film while reading the latest exploits of his nemesis Batman "I have found a name for my pain." Jack's Joker is a brilliant underworld thug who finds this new crazy anger as a means to an end. His life has become a cruel joke and now everyone (especially Batman) must pay.
 
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8. Board Game: Batman [Average Rating:2.00 Unranked]
Mike Tangedal
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The omission of the backstory for the Joker in Chris Nolan's Dark Knight inadvertently (or purposely?) serves to deepen the allure of Heath Ledger's Joker. Why is he so crazy? Why is he so angry? The only answer we are given is "Why so serious?" Back in 1989 big budget blockbusters were almost required to be rather formulaic in order to ensure maximum success. However as cinema and the very nature of film acting for maximum effect has evolved, so have the audience's expectations and tolerances. The Dark Knight is monumental for many reasons other than the performance of Heath Ledger - not least among these is a deeply insightful view into terrorism in a post 9/11 world. We all know why Jack's Joker was so crazy, so evil, and therefore so much fun. We all have to internalize our rationale for the enjoyment of Heath's Joker. Maybe we will never know and that makes it the most fun of all.
 
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