Heath Ledger is dead. But unlike Jack Nicholson’s Joker, who perished in a midnight plunge to Gotham’s pavement in Tim Burton’s original Batman, Ledger’s Joker survived The Dark Knight to fight another day. "I think you and I are destined to do this forever," Ledger’s dangling Joker taunted Batman at the end of the film.
Ledger’s tragic accidental overdose seemingly removed that possibility from Christopher Nolan’s blueprint for future sequels. But is the character necessarily finished within the franchise? Would Nolan dare recast the Joker with another actor? It would be a thankless — if not blasphemous — assignment for any young actor. (Sure, Michael Gambon slipped on Richard Harris’ beard in Harry Potter, but this would be different.)
But the facts remain: In Batman’s universe, the Joker is still very much alive. He is, and will always be, the yin to Batman’s yang. And, not insignificantly, he’s slightly obscured behind a face-full of grease paint.
Nolan’s next film isn’t Batman, but Inception, featuring an all-star cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Ledger and Gordon Levitt could practically pass for brothers, so I couldn’t help myself from imagining Gordon-Levitt in the Joker’s purple duds. Am I crazy? Hopeless? Disrespectful?
Quite honestly, the iconic villain and Ledger’s terrifying performance were somonumental that I think future chapters need to revisit him in some way, shapeor form. But how would you feel if the Joker reappeared in a future Batman film, played by someone else? Would Gordon-Levitt fit the bill? What about Emile Hirsch? Would this be the height of morbid commercialization or the faithful continuation of an unfinished drama?