“What would I do without you?” The Joker asks Batman in The Dark Knight. “You complete me.” He’s right in more ways than he realizes, as the newly released Joker shows: the Joker, by his very nature, needs Batman, and, more importantly, so does the audience. Because without the Dark Knight there to serve as a ballast, the Joker’s anarchic, twisted, disturbing nature, and Joker itself, becomes unbearably difficult to watch.
Admittedly, in terms of film qua film, Joker succeeds in what it sets out to do. It’s well directed, Joaquin Phoenix turns in an incredible performance as the titular character, and the story provides creepy insight into the psyche of its psychopathic subject. And in fairness, Phoenix’s Joker is not necessarily more evil than past incarnations of the character. Heath Ledger’s turn as the Clown Prince of Crime, for example, was just as twisted, just as nihilistic. Also, Batman: The Killing Joke featured a Joker committing acts just as depraved and horrific. These Jokers, however, did not exist in a vacuum, and the stories in which they’re present also feature counters to their dangerous ideology.More