Health Ledger as the Joker

Propp’s Character Types – The Joker

Character Types – The Joker

If you want to improve your reading skills and develop your knowledge of Vladimir Propp’s seven character types, then the villainous Joker is a great place to start. Health Ledger’s version of the character appeared in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) and the cover story for this particular edition of Empire was an interview with the actor.

Empire magazine is a British publication which focuses mainly on films. Although it reviews all types of releases, the feature articles spotlight mainstream productions, such as Hollywood blockbusters. In this way, they can appeal to the general cinema-going audience.

DC Comics have created some of the most memorable superheroes and villains in print and on the big screen. Batman, for example, debuted in 1939 but the character continues to achieve success at the box office. Perhaps the most enduring villain is the homicidal Joker.


Analyse the following magazine cover in terms of Propp’s character types.

Empire Magazine Cover with the Joker
Empire Magazine (2008)

Points to Consider

Using a structuralist approach to well-known Russian folktales, Propp determined there were seven distinct character types, defined by their role, or sphere of action, in the narrative rather than their background or personality.

For example, a villain will cause some sort of wicked misfortune, such as stealing an object, abducting a person or even committing murder. This terrible mayhem is evident in the written code “He’s a cold blooded, mass murdering clown”. How does this signifier point to the Joker’s sphere of action in the story? You should comment on his desire to bring chaos to Gotham.

In terms of non-verbal codes, Is the Joker’s dreadful stare at the reader unsettling?

Propp also demonstrated that villains would put on disguise to cause havoc. In DC’s “The Dark Knight”, the Joker disguises his identity through the use of disturbing clown make up. Is this an inverted form of Propp’s function? Comment on the obvious signifiers of the coloured hair, black eye shadow and painted face.

Villains are also defined by their antagonism towards the hero. Although the actor playing Batman is absent from the magazine cover, how is he referenced in the text. You should comment on the written codes “dark knight” and “Batman”, but also the icon at the top of the page.

What are the connotations of the bright light behind the bat icon at the top of the page? You could think about the myth of light in our ideology and culture. What does it suggest about his function in the story.

The modern definition of nemesis refers to the idea of an arch enemy. What does this signify reveal about the hero and villain, and their inevitable combat in the narrative? It might be worth referring to Propp’s narrative functions. You should also link back to the Joker’s murderous intentions in your answer.

Finally, you should consider other aspects of the mise-en-scene. What does the dark background suggest about the character? What message is encoded by the use of the jailhouse setting?

Further Analysis

Propp referred to the lack caused by the villain. In “The Dark Knight”, the joker brings immense chaos to Gotham. You could use Todorov’s narrative framework, including disruption and disequilibrium, to describe the battle between the Joker and Batman. Or do you think the narrative will be typical of a genre of order story?

Obviously, it would be interesting to compare and contrast the different incarnations of the character.

Further Reading

Thanks for reading!