Did Joker Imagine Batman?
November 27, 2019
(The Channel Awesome logo and the opening titles play)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. It's been an amazing year for movies, hasn't it?
(Cut to a montage of shots for posters, starting with Toy Story 4...)
NC (vo): What with that movie you thought was okay...
NC (vo): ...with that movie you forgot came out...
NC (vo): ...with that movie that didn't need to exist, but you saw because of nostalgia...
(Now the montage pace quickens over shots of the posters for The Lion King (2019), Terminator: Dark Fate, The Addams Family (2019))
NC (vo): ...the other one, the other one, the other one...
(Now the montage shows the poster for Dark Phoenix)
NC (vo): Hey, even I forgot now...
NC: And, of course, that bountiful category you label as "it wasn't that bad".
NC (vo; sighs): Yes, it's no mystery that with few exceptions...
(The phrase "FIGHT ME BRO!" pops up on the Alita poster, before continuing the montage with posters for Last Christmas, 21 Bridges and Captain Marvel)
NC (vo): ...this year has been pretty underwhelming in terms of big, innovative films.
(Now the montage displays posters for relatively better movies, including Spider-Man: Far From Home, John Wick, Chapter 3: Parabellum, and How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World)
NC (vo): Even the good ones seem to give you what they promised, but not really much more.
(The montage now shows posters for Gemini Man, MIB: International, and Glass)
NC (vo): There were few movies that took you anywhere surprising, whether it be visually or emotionally.
NC: It all just felt way too on autopilot.
(The montage continues with posters for Midway, Good Boys, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Doctor Sleep)
NC (vo): You'd see a film, maybe it'd stay with you for a day or two if you're lucky, and then it'd just blend in with all the other movies that gave you an escape for a bit, but you probably won't think back on it very much.
(Now cut to a shot of a film projector)
NC (vo): That's why when a film not only stood out, but stood out on so many levels, I feel it's worth looking over some of the unique ideas it presented. And I think we all know what film I'm talking about.
(A poster for The Angry Birds Movie 2 is shown)
NC: Though that is criminally underrated...
(The word "JOKING" pops up in yellow)
NC: No, I'm not, it's weirdly good! I'm talking about (Poster in corner changes to that for...) Joker.
(A montage of footage from Joker is shown)
NC (vo): Shattering all sorts of box office records and, for a lack of a better sentence, (An article on the movie has a "dangerous" message is superimposed) getting people talking, Joker has fascinated audiences the most with its dark and disturbing look at a comic book character since...
(A rapid-fire montage of posters for other comic book movies is shown: The Dark Knight, Logan, Sin City, Punisher, Watchmen, The Boys)
NC (vo): ...the last dark and disturbing look at a comic book character.
NC: Yeah, in some respects, it's kind of surprising this film stands out as much as it does, seeing how it's taken from so many familiar styles.
NC (vo): Many say it's a mix between Batman and Scorsese films, particularly (Posters for two Scorsese films pop up...) Taxi Driver and King of Comedy.
NC: And yes, I'd, too, just accept...
(A clip of the movie showing Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin addressing the Joker is shown)
NC (vo): ...this as Rupert Pupkin. It just is. I don't even care if you don't know who that is, (Poster for King of Comedy is shown again) now you have an awesome movie to check out! Go see it!
NC: Getting sidetracked.
(As he speaks, he becomes excited as he points to posters for King of Comedy and Angry Birds 2, which pop up in both corners)
NC: BOTH OF THESE ARE UNDERRATED!
NC (vo): What I'm getting to is, for something so familiar, it still seems to offer something very new. Combining this late '70s/early '80s gritty style with a well-known comic book character opened up a lot of interpretations. Much like Taxi Driver, King of Comedy, and, yeah, even some versions of Batman, it's left open as to what's real and what isn't.
NC: Which means I have to put this up...
(He taps his finger on his desk as though pressing a button, and to a ding, the word "SPOILERS" pops up in yellow)
NC: Don't worry, I won't reveal these kinds so soon.
NC (vo): Assuming you've seen the film, you're aware that Joker, or Arthur, is the victim of his own mental health. He has a condition where he laughs uncontrollably when he's nervous, has trouble keeping his aggressive impulses in check, and fantasizes different realizes, such as him and his neighbor Sophie being madly in love.
NC: What's funny is, at first, I was really annoyed that the relationship between those two seems so unfocused.
NC (vo): Then I enjoyed it when I discovered it's supposed to be unfocused, because he himself can't always focus on it. He's making it up.
NC: But then I got annoyed again because I saw it as kind of pointless. If you cut her out of the story, what do you miss?
NC (vo): It almost seemed like a weak way to fool the audience just for the sake of fooling the audience.
NC: But then, it won me back again. I can't even think of the last film that (makes a ping-pong motion with his finger) had me ping-pong back and forth so much.
NC (vo): Because, as the Joker has said in many different versions, his reality is multiple choice, always remembering things differently.
NC: This sets up that everything you see is not necessarily what's really happening.
NC (vo): Which got me to consider a surreal but still very plausible possibility...
NC: What if Batman is just in his head?
NC (vo): That may sound like a leap, but giving everything we know about him, and even don't know about him, this might hold more water than you might think. We've established he knows who both Bruce and Thomas Wayne are. And, he may or may not have a blood connection with them. The ending of the film shows him hailed as hero with Bruce's parents being murdered by a killer, who was inspired by his actions. Thinking back to the murder, Joker says he finds it funny, but no one would get why. I always took this as he was one of the weak and helpless, getting shit on by the rich and powerful. But through his actions, he may have become the biggest villain to the weak and helpless while simultaneously a member of the rich and powerful will become their biggest hero, which the Joker's actions helped created.
NC: A boatload of irony, to say the least, and, like he said, a little funny.
NC (vo): Like I mentioned before, though, we're not entirely sure what happened in this ending and what didn't happen. But, either argument works for Batman being in his head.
NC: Because if the murders didn't happen, he'd just made it up to make his delusion even grander.
NC (vo): But if it did happen, it'll obviously get back to him, and he could work it into his fantasy. So, with that literally in mind, doesn't it make sense that he would construct a reality, where he's this grand important character that's both the greatest loser and the greatest winner? A genius in his mind, but a madman to everyone else? Not even knowing if he's laughing out of fear or joy anymore? Wouldn't it add up that he has himself playing a big part in one way, or another, shaping, constructing, and constantly challenging the ultimate force of good? He's the falling angel, the tempter (shows a comic image of Batman fighting the Joker) that's always tries to test the ultimate good to see if such a thing can exist. Someone everybody wrote off as a mistake, but is actually one of the most important elements of keeping balance.
NC: In a way, it's the ultimate revenge and the ultimate cry for attention. Everybody just ignored him, but now...
NC (vo): ...he becomes the ultimate feared figure that everybody acknowledges: we should have paid attention to, we should have acknowledged how grand he is. Thus, he constructs a reality in his mind where he is that grand and important. Because without him, there wouldn't be (Image of Batman is superimposed) that ultimate symbol of good fighting evil. He's the greater evil that's always testing the greater good.
(In the corner next to NC, a clip of Hot Fuzz is shown, which NC gestures toward)
Spooks: The greater good...
NC (vo): Kind of like testing how to find a segue for a sponsorship in an editorial video.
NC: (looks up thought briefly) Actually, that works...
(As he speaks, the video fades out and we go to a commercial. Upon return, we see shots of Batman battling the Joker in a comic book)
NC (vo): So, many stories have been written comparing the opposites and the similarities between Batman and the Joker.
(Cut to a shot of the cover for "The Killing Joke")
NC (vo): In "The Killing Joke", he implies all it takes is one bad day to create both of them, even though they have very different paths.
(Cut to a shot of a Batman game, Arkham VR, for the PlayStation 4)
NC (vo): In the Arkham Asylum games, the idea of Joker and Batman being the same person is dabbled with several times.
NC: With all these different interpretations, why can't one of the interpretations be "Batman is all in his head"?
(A collage of shots of Batman in various forms of entertainment is shown)
NC (vo): Wouldn't that explain all the different styles, different moods, different outcomes?
(Cut back to footage of Joker, showing the Joker in the asylum)
NC (vo): While the rest of the world is doing their best to get by, he could be rotting away in a cell, having the grandest battle of ethics with someone that is both so different yet so alike.
(Cut to the Joker stepping up in front of his mirror)
NC (vo): Much like how he danced back and forth between being moral and immoral, good and bad, sane and insane...
(Cut to a shot of the comic version of the Joker grinning psychotically as he is wrapped in a straitjacket)
NC (vo): ...he could be having the same dance in his mind with another poetic outcast often seen as a madman.
NC: I mean, how convenient is it that these two arch nemeses may have had (A shot of Thomas Wayne appears off to the side) the exact same father?
(A shot of Batman and the Joker fighting is shown)
NC (vo): Come from opposite upbringings, both dress very theatrically, one loud and colorful, the other quiet and dark, and seem like different ends of the same coin.
NC: Creating Batman could be Arthur's way of finally belonging somewhere.
NC (vo): Creating the perfect reality where his madness has a purpose, and that's to create purpose for the greatest fighter of the helpless the world has ever known.
NC: It sounds, well, like a comic book.
(More movie footage is shown)
NC (vo): Which I think is safe to say exists in the film world that The Joker takes place in. He has created his comic book universe of good versus evil. And because he can never fully accept himself as good, he can at least be an important kind of evil; the greatest kind of evil, as many will call him. At least, in the world he's created in his mind.
NC: See, this is what the movie has done: it's created a reality that's so rich, yet so open, you can read a great deal into it.
(Shots of Batman in The Dark Knight and Batman: The Animated Series are shown)
NC (vo): The world of, say, The Dark Knight or Batman: The Animated Series...
(Cut to a shot of the poster for Batman & Robin)
NC (vo): ...or especially Batman & Robin...
(Cut back to Joker)
NC (vo): ...can't really exist in the style and timeline given here, but it can in the fabricated reality of our lead, which they clearly establish he does make up.
NC: What makes this film so genius is, technically, every version of Batman can be canon if you accept it's all in his mind.
(Cut to a shot of the 1960s Joker)
NC (vo): Maybe he's in a more playful mood, so he'll see himself as Cesar Romero.
(Cut to a shot of the Dark Knight Joker)
NC (vo): Maybe he's in a more cryptic mood, so he'll see himself as Heath Ledger.
(Cut to shot of the Suicide Squad Joker)
NC (vo): Maybe he got really drunk and saw himself as Jared Leto.
NC: Whatever version there is, it can exist in his mind.
(More shots of Batman comics are shown, emphasizing the Joker and other Batman villains)
NC (vo): Even the adventures of Batman that don't involve him, he can imagine that, too. Yeah, he has a torn girlfriend who dresses like a cat [Catwoman]. There's a gangster with half his face burnt off and a split personality [Two-Face]. There's a bird man who's sometimes sophisticated, sometimes an animal [The Penguin]. If you think about it, most of these characters have a duality that makes up a good chunk of their identity.
(Cut back to the Joker movie)
NC (vo): Just like his duality makes up a good chunk of his.
NC: Even the Joker film given to us, for all we know, could be an altered reality.
NC (vo): Maybe this is all a delusion (A collage of Joker images to make up the Joker's face is superimposed briefly) in the mind of another Joker, again figuring out are you the dream or the dreamer. So this can work in a lot of ways, and chances are, we'll never know the full truth.
NC: There's been talk from a lot of fans that they love to see different origin movies and different styles for just the Joker alone.
(More movie footage is shown)
NC (vo): Because most people never want to know the exact truth. It should be left a little vague on what's real and what isn't, because one of the absolutes with the character is that he has to, in one way or another, be crazy. Intelligent, but still crazy. Is he crazy because he's so brilliant and ahead of the curve? Or is he crazy because he's too weak to accept the reality that's given to him? That could be left open to the viewer, but the element that makes him do the things that he does is some mental abnormality.
NC: Because of this, the sky's the limit as to what's going on and what isn't going on.
(Another image of Batman and Joker in the comics is shown)
NC (vo): Meaning Batman, his battles, and all the people he comes across could totally be fabricated, kept alive by the Joker's need to have a warped reason to exist.
NC: Now, here's the thing: is this with the filmmakers had in mind when they made this? I have no idea. (shrugs) Probably not.
(More movie footage is shown)
NC (vo): But the fact remains that they made a film so good that it can technically encompass all future and previous versions. The timelines can be altered because his reality can be altered. And with such a huge (A collage of different versions of the Joker is shown) backlog of stories and incarnations, it can be left open to what's really happening and what isn't.
NC: Do I want an answer to what's real and what isn't in the world of the Joker? Absolutely not.
NC (vo): The way reality is subjective to him, the same way reality should be subjective to us, picking and choosing what we believe the real truth is. I guess you can technically draw this conclusion with any of the incarnations of the Joker, as, again, the one factor to all of them is that he's a crazy clown.
(Cut to a comic drawing of the Joker in a straitjacket in a padded cell, laughing psychotically)
NC (vo): He could imagine Batman in any of these versions, and he's just nuts in an insane asylum.
NC: But this one, from what I've seen, seems to be the most realistic, which means that it's the most probable that that's what's going on.
(More footage of the movie follows)
NC (vo): Because it does take place in a more real, grim, harsher reality that has less, well, superheroes in it. It's one of those interpretations that strays so far in some respects to what the original character was supposed to be like...
(Cut briefly to another comic book image of the Joker looking at various cards that has Batman, Robin and himself as a real joker card on them)
NC (vo): You know, crazy villain of the week.
(Cut to another image of the Joker with his hands over his head in frustration)
NC (vo): ...but has rode the layers of development that have been given to him over the years...
(Cut back to the movie)
NC (vo): ...creating one of the most definitive versions; in that, every version can exist in him.
NC: It's kind of like those movies or shows where they tie in all the previous versions of a character or franchise in one.
(Cut to shots of the various forms of Spider-Man and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all standing together)
NC (vo): Except, this doesn't exist via parallel universes or in-jokes.
(Cut back once more to the Joker movie)
NC (vo): It's done through psychological means, which, with this character, is the most fitting and interesting way to go about it.
NC: I think that's one of the reasons the Joker is seen as one of the great long-lasting characters.
(More shots of the comic version of the Joker is shown)
NC (vo): The best stuff with him is mental, timeless, challenging, and constantly having us question the world around us.
(Cut back to the Joker movie)
NC (vo): Just when you think the best version of a great character exists, somebody comes along and gives their own unique spin that's somehow both incredibly different but incredibly faithful at the same time. This is the first movie in a while where I've thought this hard about a character's reality and the different outcomes that could be generated from it. It makes me realize how much more life can continue to grow in a great work of art, even after you've already experienced it.
(Cut to a shot of the cover of "Detective Comics #27", the very first comic to show Batman)
NC (vo): I mean, this started out as a comic book superhero, just someone trying to go stop crime, dress up in a costume, like a lot of superheroes.
(Cut to yet another shot of the Joker in a comic)
NC (vo): But through so much great writers and artists, it's morphed into something else, something grand, something important.
NC: Yeah, he may have just started off as a villain a superhero is supposed to fight, maybe hopefully get another issue, but...he's become something so much more.
(Cut to a shot of a fight between Batman and the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series)
NC (vo): He's become different things to different people, changing many elements over the years, but keeping many other elements the same...
(Yet another shot of the Joker in his movie is shown)
NC (vo): ...all of them carrying something we recognize as important.
NC: And that's what any great work of art should do, whether it's written or visual or whatever.
NC (vo): It's supposed to evolve and have you constantly looking at life in a different way. Where most movies I find either little problems or big problems the more I think about it, this one I find new possibilities and new stories stitched into what I already thought was a great story. I know a lot of films this year may come and go, but Joker is gonna stay with me for a while. And I'm excited to see what new avenues I'll discover the next time I give it a watch.
NC: Like maybe I'll understand why (A clip of the movie showing the Joker dancing down a flight of stairs is shown) the dancing went on too long. I still don't get that. I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. (gets up and leaves)
(The Channel Awesome logo is shown. The end credits roll)