For the past few days, I have been captivated by The Joker, immortalized by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Maybe one reason why the character is so amazing (I wish I could come up with a better superlative) and scary, is that there are simply no redeeming qualities in him. When Alfred says “Some People Just Want To Watch The World Burn“, he hits the nail right on its head. Heath sadly could not live to see the massive impact he had, having died of a drug overdose days before the release of the movie.
There are quite a few dialogues mouthed by The Joker. Some of them simply blow the mind. Apart from his catchphrase – “Why So Serious”, one is “Whatever Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stranger”.. I have always been intrigued by this statement. Its meaning – it did not appear clear to me initially. I think, the reason for all the doubt was the word “Stranger”. Did he mean : “Weirder”, or did he mean “A Person You Have Not Met Earlier”. Both the words – they bring profound meaning to the quote. Both somehow appear to be rooted in an incident(s?) where Joker was supposed to be dead – but did not die. Maybe he was plain lucky, maybe he sold his soul to the devil. He did not lose his life, but he lost something more profound – Faith in Humanity and Society.
“Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Makes You.. Weirder”. This meaning is more easy to relate in context of The Joker. There is absolute unanimity that Joker was an extremely weird character. His scars, smile, psychopathic tendencies and dedication to anarchy stood out. He was an antithesis to the Idea of Batman – The Yang to the Yin. In a dark, twisted way – he is smarter than the Batman too. He was the answer to Gotham’s grouse that it deserved a better class of villains. It is possible that Joker had a near death experience – which changed his view of the cosmos. The experience did not kill him, but it did change his psyche. Maybe it gave him scars. There are references to how he was never accepted by the people he loved – who were only repelled by the change in his psyche – never bothering to understand the person behind all that bleach. This social stigma only made him more psychotic.
“Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Makes You.. Stranger”. This is a slightly different interpretation. Here, Stranger is considered as a noun. I think, what the Joker means is – If you don’t die at the time that you are destined to, maybe the world changes, doesn’t look at you in the same way that it used to. You become a stranger. It thus implies that his weirdness is a result of Society not accepting him, and not the other way round as the previous interpretation tries to signify. A type of rebellion where he destines to show the world what a freak actually is.
Joker understood the psyche of society like nobody else. He understood that the world is a very dark place, where greed and hypocrisy go hand in hand. Becoming the thing that he became was his way of mirroring the society. Look around, and in a very subtle way – you will realize that we simply do not understand the world we live in anymore. Our society prides itself for values, freedom, justice – and they all ring hollow the moment our eyes fall on the newspaper.
So, where did Joker find the inspiration for this quote? The answer – Friedrich Nietzsche. Suffice to say that he was a German All-Rounder Philosopher, Poet, Author, Composer and Critic. What Nietzsche had said was
“That Which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Stronger”
Only, in case, of Joker it weakened him – weakened his moral fiber. Studies have shown that small amounts of trauma can actually make us strong. It is the foundation of how immunity works. But what happens if trauma is immense – as it possibly happened with Joker. Ultimately, was Joker wrong ? If a man is the product of his society – why do we judge individuals as innocent or guilty? Should we not understand that the real problem is his/her society. And if we understand that, what are we doing to solve the real problem? We all clamor for death penalty for rapists and terrorists. We want strict punishment for crimes. But will that solve the problem of criminality. Is treating a symptom same as treating the cause?
We all believe in Band Aid – a quick fix solution. It is easier to feel happy by meting out punishment – and then from the confines of our living room blame his/her caste,sex, religion, race, region, nationality. Because, this way it appears that justice is done – and done hard. Solutions like counselling, rehabilitation and education, they will only show results in a long run. And as Solow said “In The Long Run, We Are All Dead”,
To conclude, a trivia – How many of us saw what Joker actually looked like – beneath the smirk and make-up?