The Dark Knight’s Joker has some unforgettable scars and likes to tell people where he got them from with a smile, but the story keeps changing.
In The Dark KnightJoker’s scars are certainly his most recognizable trait, but his story about them keeps changing, and there’s a theory as to why that is. From his first appearance in Christopher Nolan’s film, the horrifying sight that Heath Ledger’s Joker Sports was nothing short of memorable. Audiences have seen many eerie reruns of the almost permanent smile on the Clown Prince of Crime’s face, but it was never carved out. It was impossible to take your eyes off Ledger’s Joker, even more so than Jack Nicholson’s iconic turn as the villain.
To add to the curiosity, the Joker tells two different stories about how he got his scars. A third origin is told halfway through the fight until interrupted by Batman. The great variety in his stories only deepens the mystery of the villain. First, the Joker tells a fellow criminal named Gambol that one particularly diabolical night he got his scars from his alcoholic and abusive father. His second story is told to Rachel Dawes, Harvey Dent’s girlfriend, about his wife who suffered a terrible injury at the hands of gambling sharks. The Joker, who was a loving husband, mutilated his face to suit her, to empathize with her and make her feel better.
The Joker’s real reason for telling different stories is empathy; not with his wife, but to relate to the victim who was about to get his knife in their cheek. He measures them, tells them a story where he could see them, and then gives them scars to match his. It’s about showing the Joker that anyone can become him. That any person, given the right circumstances on the wrong day, could become an eternally smiling Joker. The point of every scar story is: “Why so serious?” as if it’s foolish to take the Joker face-to-face when presenting the supposedly “true” story of his scars. Therefore, the version of his story changes according to who he aims his knife at.
Why is it better to leave the origin of the Joker’s scars ambiguous?
The Joker amplifies his chaotic character by making up new stories based on who’s under his knife. He taunts his victims with pseudo-trauma stories to heighten the tension before inevitably bursting into laughter by maiming or killing someone. The origin of his scars remains a mystery as the Joker no longer cares how he got them; he only cares about the effect they have in evoking fear in people. The Joker’s scars are more than a smile, they are a manifestation of his vicious intentions. Everything the Joker does and says in The Dark Knight is to crush the soul of Gotham through chaos.
That’s why the story changes all the time because the set-up of a joke can be anything he wants if the punch line is right. The Joker who creates chaos through acts of violence is his favorite kind of punch line. The stories never really matter. What does matter is what he does during their narration. He’s not upset when Batman interrupts his latest storyline in the climax of The Dark Knight; in fact, the Joker starts laughing because he thinks he got Batman to break his no-kill rule, an even better joke. It’s like Alfred says, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”