Despite the fact that they are quite literally the same iconic character, Heath Ledger’s and Joaquin Phoenix’s respective versions of the Clown Prince of Crime could not be more different.
In The Dark Knight, the version of Joker portrayed by Ledger is a criminal mastermind with a clear goal of bringing anarchistic chaos to the streets of Gotham. He has a plan and he has the intelligence to execute that plan.
Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have the mental capacity to plan ahead five minutes, let alone devise an entire criminal master plan. Simply put, the two interpretations of the Joker are two very disparate sides of the same psychotic coin.
But just because Phoenix’s version in Joker does not share many traits with Ledger’s version in The Dark Knight does not mean that the former does not pay homage to the latter.
Warning: spoilers for Joker will follow.
In the third and final act of Joker, Fleck can be seen in the back of a cop car, grinning as he stares out the window at the burning streets around him, which can only be a direct reference to one of the most iconic and everlasting images of Ledger’s portrayal:
Given that Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight is *easily* one of the most revered acting performances of the last two decades, it should come as no surprise that Joker director Todd Phillips paid homage to arguably the most memorable image of the widely beloved and missed Academy Award-winning actor.
Eric is a New York City-based writer who still isn’t quite sure how he’s allowed to have this much fun for a living and will tell anyone who listens that Gotham City is canonically in New Jersey. Contact him on Twitter @eric_ital or via email firstname.lastname@example.org