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(Credit: Warner Bros.)

Film

Was Heath Ledger's Joker a Vietnam war veteran?

There is no character more sinister and mysterious in the world of comic books and cinema than the Joker, Batman’s most infamous nemesis. Donning the insidious painted face of a clown, the Joker is a crime lord with an insane taste for total chaos, often leading the city of Gotham, as well as the heroic caped crusader, to nightmarish scenarios of death, destruction and violence. 

Despite his villainy, however, the Joker remains a favourite for comic book fans across the world, likely due to the character’s mystery and versatility, with his personality being constantly toyed with and adapted to suit new stories. Looking back at the cinematic career of the character and such can be clearly illustrated, from Cesar Romero cartoonish villain to Joaquin Phoenix’s mentally damaged victim to Jared Leto’s sickly gangster

The beauty of the Joker is in his enigmatic nature, with audiences returning time and time again to see how the character can be twisted and contorted to fit a whole variety of different Batman tales. Such is so true that in contemporary cinema, the role is seen as something of a status symbol for male actors, giving anyone who takes on the villain, the chance to fully commit themselves to the role. 

No doubt, the most famous of such cinematic portrayals was from the late Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s modern superhero classic, The Dark Knight, in which the actor gave a truly menacing performance as the clown crime lord. Appearing seemingly out of thin air, Ledger’s Joker is one of the character’s most mysterious portrayals, with no clues alluding to his origins arising throughout the film’s runtime. 

Joaquin Phoenix’s test footage for 2019’s ‘Joker’

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Whilst many have questioned the character’s true past for many years, no theory has been quite as compelling as the one that suggests, in The Dark Knight, the Joker is suffering from PTSD from the Iraq war. Presenting a very modern take on both Batman and the Joker, this theory holds significant weight, particularly as it also gives reason for the character’s facial scarring and extensive knowledge of explosives. 

The most significant piece of evidence for this interesting theory comes from one particular moment of dialogue in the film in which the Joker intimidates Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) whilst he’s in hospital. Bitterly, the Joker mentions “Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan’. Even if the plan is horrifying!” before adding, “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”.

This particular moment gives us potentially valuable insight into the iconic villain, suggesting a deeper insight into his own madness, tortured mind and potential PTSD that the veteran still suffers with. The Joker’s seething disgust would make total sense if it was ever confirmed that Ledger’s version of the character was indeed a war veteran, giving Christopher Nolan’s film even more weight and substance as one of the superhero genre’s most iconic movies.