Though Joker was, on the whole, a serious movie about a man struggling with mental illness and clown-based homicide, it still found time for the occasional gag for attentive Batman fans. One of my favorite references was when Arthur Fleck goes to Wayne Manor and talks to a young Bruce, who slides down a playset fireman’s pole in a cute nod to Batman 1966. But beyond that, it seems that Phillips stuck in a little nod to Heath Ledger’s iconic performance in The Dark Knight.
I wouldn’t blame you if you missed it though, because it’s pretty damn subtle. Redditor Olympus_XIII spotted it, posting the photo in the gallery below. As you can see, the design on the back of the ambulance is a clear nod to Heath Ledger’s makeup, not to mention a reference to him disguising himself as a nurse and destroying a hospital. And though many people probably failed to catch it, it’s definitely a touching nod.
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After all, despite intense skepticism when his casting was first announced (something Pattinson Batman haters should bear in mind), he went on to give us a Joker that still electrifies the screen on a rewatch. In fact, it’s arguable that Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad suffered from audiences comparing him to Ledger and finding him lacking.
Fortunately, Joaquin Phoenix delivered a very different but equally compelling character in Joker, and will probably go on to awards season success in the coming months. But his performance – and indeed the movie itself – may not have gotten off the ground if Heath Ledger’s Joker hadn’t wowed audiences and become a bona fide pop culture icon.
So, it’s nice that they managed, even in a very subtle way that most audience members would never spot, to pay tribute to Ledger’s take. And whatever the future holds for live-action Jokers, Heath’s will always remain one of the very best there ever was.