Nine years later, the Joker’s story still plagues our imaginations. He does give us two backstories to his scars, neither of which are the real reason for his scars. Fans’ imaginations since then went wild in generating a background for the Batman’s greatest foe, the most liable theory thus far being “otter pops.”
Now, I shall propose my own theory.
The Joker was born George William Berkowitz, son of Metropolis’ Mayor Frank Berkowitz. Before Superman’s uprising, Mayor Berkowitz ran for office during a time of terrorist struggle in Metropolis. Within his first year elected mayor, a horrific terrorist attack blew up Metropolis Elementary. George got out okay but his mother, one of the school’s nurses, never saw daylight again. From there, Mayor Berkowitz set up the Metropolis Terrorist Initiative, which sent the troops into 24/7 surveillance around the city borders. The people’s stable minds worsened as the army declined into greater financial debt. As a plus, the crime rate in Metropolis just continued to increase, for those terrorists were already in the city.
George’s distraught by the distance between him and his power-hungry father motivated him to date the attractive student body president at his high school. For the next year, they had a very serious relationship which helped sustain his mentality. Then everything changed when the housing market of Metropolis plummeted, with no thanks to Mayor Berkowitz’s economic recession. Thus, George’s girlfriend moved to Gotham for a more affordable home. Now without reliable transportation into Gotham, George fell back into depression. He spoke with his father about how much trouble his financial military abuse put Metropolis into. Then Mayor Berkowitz replied, “whomever disagrees with the way of Metropolis has no reason to live.”
This traumatized George. His father would rather he be dead than a roadblock to his leadership. Thus, he attempted suicide by slicing his mouth open. Slitting his wrists or his throat would not carry the same desired effect—if he cut along his cheeks, anyone who looked at his corpse would know exactly what happened to him. So, he put the razor in his mouth, cut on both ends, and slowly passed out.
George woke up in Arkham Asylum, his arms and legs tied to the bed, his cuts stitched closed. Mayor Berkowitz anonymously sent there a man he “found on the streets in a suicide attempt,” then later convinced Metropolis that his son died from falling off a ladder in their home. The mayor became a hero again in Metropolis’ eyes, yet only his son knew his true colors.
Throughout his two-year sentence at Arkham Asylum, George learned all sorts of new skills from the other prisoners: human anatomy, how to take down a cop, how to escape handcuffs, how to build explosives, and how to win a game of poker. He kept his history anonymous with his cell mates, demeaning his name to a number.
Once let out of Arkham Asylum, he started robbing convenience stores using bombs made from soup cans. Thus, he lived in a cheap motel with an ambition to locate his ex-girlfriend, who still resided in Gotham. He did pick up a word-of-mouth, and when he finally found her, she no longer wanted any further involvement with him because of his now scarred appearance. George thought, “if I can’t love her, no one can!” He approached a gang he met at Arkham Asylum who got released six months before he did. These were the gamblers who helped him master a deck of cards, so George asked them to return the favor by killing his high school sweetheart.
The murder turned out successful with her body hidden in Gotham’s harbor. But the mob was not done yet with their new associate; they offered him cheap rent in their headquarters underneath Gotham. The leader told George of a new plan to gain profit, using the one scare tactic no one would expect from veteran mobsters: disguise as a children’s cheery circus act.
Their sugarcoated mission disturbed George, as to him it reflected the rainbow-colored blanket always thrown by Metropolis’ leaders over the disordered minds of the people. Like his own father, this gang had no call to action in a world ruled by plans. If fraud must be committed, they should leave the people with a mode of change. It’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message.
The mob rejected his opinion. Therefore, George does the unthinkable: he stole the circus equipment, defiled it, put on one of the clown suits, and threw the makeup on his face in a deranged fashion. He removed all concepts of a plan, instead aiming to turn society into a circus, with him as its ringmaster, or should I say, “Joker.”
Now, his codename “Joker” came from the concept of chance. A player has a slim 1 in 26 chance of getting a joker in a game of poker; if you got one, the odds toward winning the jackpot increases. Only chance exposes people without the lies.
So now, right before a blade-induced murder upon someone who reminds him of his father or girlfriend, he gives a phony backstory to his scars, surrounded by half-truths, obscuring his origins. It helps him defeat the demons of his past.
Various visual clues suggest a past of mistreatment by society’s caretakers: He escapes through a school bus, like his trauma from the Metropolis Elementary bombing. He dresses up as a nurse as he blows up a hospital, for he wants to shift around the role his mother failed at before her death. He attacks Batman with police dogs, turning a furry companion for security into a weapon. He paints his face on his victims, as a sign of his mission statement to turn around what Gotham turns serious for.
In the end, although he goes back to prison, he still won: He turned Gotham’s White Knight (Harvey) into a two-faced embodiment of order demolished by chaos. He proved Gotham’s Dark Knight (Batman) as a true criminal. He proved how a true saint can fall despite his public approval. The Joker, in his endeavors, became evidence of the concept, “Elect a clown, expect a circus.”
Christopher Nolan’s trilogy gave us a horrific criminal who channeled a painful past into motivation to bring the greatest crises into broad daylight. We all hate news about terrorist attacks across the world, we may either complain on Facebook, or ask ourselves, “how can I help?” Not to say we should encourage crime, just that sometimes, chaos thrown into our day-to-day lives wakes us up from our own selves. The Joker even said himself:
“You know what I've noticed? Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, 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.’ But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”
Amazing how a movie surrounded by questions can lead the viewer to do what people seldom do these days: think. By challenging an analysis upon the clown prince of crime, Christopher Nolan just made the most genius tactic for us to contemplate order vs. chaos in an entirely natural way for his fans. As we come up with our own theories, we come up with our own decisions about how to resolve society’s (lack of) social order, such as whether we should go out as the White Knight, or the Dark Knight.
As a bonus, here is my grading of The Dark Knight: