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Patton Oswalt Has A Crazy Theory About Heath Ledger's Joker

Mind-melting theories about the Joker are a dime a dozen: he isn't a person and is really a "thought virus" that can infect other people, he's completely self-aware and realizes he's the villain in a hyper-popular comic book series, he's Batman's brother, the list goes on. When the late, great Heath Ledger slipped into the perma-grinning psychopath's purple suit in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, theory-crafting fans went wild, and a popular conjecture arose: Ledger's Joker is actually war veteran, an idea sparked by the scene in which the character marches in a police parade without rocking his signature pale white skin, ruby red smile, and blacked-out eyes. 

Comedian and noted geek Patton Oswalt is a fan who's in favor of this idea, but he recently shared his own hypothesis about Heath Ledger's Joker that builds off the theory and spirals into "this is totally wild but actually makes sense" territory: The Clown Prince of Crime isn't just an ex-military man, he's also "ex-military intelligence" — specifically interrogation. 

"I've always liked the theory that Heath Ledger's Joker in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight is a war veteran suffering [from] PTSD. His referencing a 'truckload of soldiers' getting blown up, his ease with military hardware, and his tactical ingenuity and precision planning all feel like an ex-Special Forces soldier returned stateside and dishing out payback. I love films that contain enough thought and shading to sustain post-screening theorizing like this," Oswalt wrote in a Facebook post detailing his theory. 

But after re-watching The Dark Knight, Oswalt realized that Ledger's iteration of the Joker seems to possess all the skills needed to be a high-ranking interrogator, not just a member of the military. "He seems to be very good at the kind of mind-f***ery that sustained, professional interrogation requires," noted Oswalt, using Joker's boast about how he "knows the squealers" when he sees them as evidence of his former profession. 

Oswalt continued, pointing out various bits of the film to bolster his claim that the Joker used to work in military intelligence: the way he "adjusts his personality and methods depending on who he's talking to, and knowing EXACTLY the reaction he'll get"; poking fun at mob boss Gambol (Michael Jai White); "invoking terror" to Batman Impersonator Brian Douglas (Andy Luther) and "teasing the policeman's sense of loyalty to his fallen, fellow cops"; digging into James Gordon's (Gary Oldman) isolation; and appealing to Harvey Dent's (Aaron Eckhart) "hunger for 'fairness.'"

Perhaps the most meaningful piece of the movie Oswalt looked to while arguing his theory is the moment when the Joker conducts a "reverse interrogation" on Christian Bale's Batman while he's at the police station. The Joker wants to "see how 'far' Batman will go," and tried to coerce the Caped Crusader into breaking his "one rule" — his refusal to kill. A fellow Dark Knight fan noted in the comments that the Joker "directs" Batman's interrogation of him, "like an instructor with a newbie," when he states, "Never start with the head, the victim gets all fuzzy."

Oswalt added that the Joker "constantly changes his backstory," and thus creates a new identity with each lie as he panders to the people he's speaking to: "To [Gambol] and his henchmen, he's an abused child (figuring that they were also the products of abuse and neglect). To Rachel [Harvey's girlfriend, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal], he's a man mourning a tragic love — something she's also wrestling with."

By the end of The Dark Knight, Ledger's Joker "ends up trying to mind-f*** an entire city," Oswalt stated, "and the city calls his bluff." But that may have been what the criminal mastermind wanted all along. When the Joker falls to his apparent death, he laughs like a child; when he's saved by Batman, "the one individual he couldn't manipulate or break, he's blissful and relieved" — and turned upside down visually. And even in his final words to Batman, Joker speaks like an interrogator, despite having failed to corrupt his hooded enemy. "The language he uses when saying goodbye to Batman — describing their relationship as an 'irresistible force meeting an immovable object' — is the kind of thing an interrogator would say, ruefully, about a fruitless session," Oswalt wrote. 

Just as Oswalt's theory concludes, we guess it doesn't really matter how the Joker got his scars after all. And as far as any Dark Knight fan knows, the Joker is still holed up somewhere in Arkham Asylum, where he may or may not be crafting new methods of interrogation.