Nicholson, at least in my case, was absolutely right. With his Joker, he encapsulated what was so beguiling about Burton’s bleak Batman vision. This was a movie that kids would obviously want to see, but probably shouldn’t. For me, watching The Joker murder people in devilishly ingenious ways was as thrilling as it was terrifying. Seeing him converse with the smoking corpse of a mob boss before announcing sardonically, “I’m glad you’re dead,” got my adrenaline going more than any Superman movie ever could, no matter how incontrovertibly upstanding its central character.
This was something different — the kind of thing that leaves indelible images on your mind. And not in the “I’m scarred for life” way that some horror movies do (I’m looking at you “Speak No Evil”). No, for me and I’m sure so many other kids, this was our first exposure to darker ideas. Despite the dour subject matter, It felt oddly uplifting in the sense that it was expanding our perspective on the world. Just as the actor said, the more we were scared, the more we wanted more because it felt like discovering new parts of our own minds. It was frightening and intriguing in the way any new experience worth having can be.
In retrospect, “Batman” seems like such an unlikely confluence of ideas and sensibilities. Everyone, Nicholson included, was united with the director in the pursuit of a singular vision. And while I’ve since grown to particularly love Nicholson as the talented and intelligent actor he is, his Joker will always be my favorite role. For that, I think I can speak for many a nostalgic 30-something-year-old when I say, thanks for scaring the s*** out of us as kids, Jack.