Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film is considered a modern classic and one of the best superhero movies ever. The movie paved the way for modern superhero movies, distancing itself from the campy tone of the earlier iterations and dwelling into the darkness that is often present in modern-day comic books. And while there are a lot of different elements that could be analysed within this movie, Joker’s famous question during his confrontation with Batman is certainly one of the most iconic ones. This scene has – in a way – become the symbol of this movie and this is why we are going to interpret it for you in today’s article!
While there is no official interpretation of this question, we think that the question refers to madness, both Joker’s own madness and Batman’s perceived lack thereof, but also to Joker’s desperate, albeit maniacal search for someone who is similarly mad as him.
DC Comics, for those of you that are not familiar with the story behind the comics, is a major American comic book publisher founded back in 1934. Along with Marcel Comics, it is the most popular comic book publisher in the United States. DC Comics is a major player in the comic book business and is the “home” of many famous comic book characters such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and many others.
Now that we’ve given you a short introduction, let us discuss the topic of this article in more detail.
When did Joker ask his question?
In Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, the Joker was played by legendary actor Jack Nicholson, who was the main antagonist of the movie and the chief rival to Michael Keaton’s Batman. In this movie, the Joker was actually a street criminal called Jack Napier. Napier killed Bruce Wayne’s parents but later transformed into the Joker after the unfortunate accident with the chemical vat. The Joker became a rather eccentric and dangerous criminal, challenging Batman to his limits.
The scene in question happened in the second half of the movie, when the Joker interrupted Bruce Wayne’s date with Vicki Vale, just as he was about to reveal his alter ego to her. After protecting himself with a serving pan, Bruce Wayne confronted the Joker, which angered the Clown Prince of Crime, leading to him shooting Wayne in the chest; what he did not know is that Wayne had protection beneath his clothes. The scene in question can be viewed here.
During this confrontation and just before he shot Wayne, the Joker asked his famous question: “You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
Bruce Wayne was visibly confused by the question and he did not answer it, while Joker simply explained that he asks all of his victims that same question because it has a nice ring to it. It is completely consistent with Joker’s character to sound poetic but without any deeper meaning, so we cannot really blame the writers for this scenario, but we can and we will try to interpret this question, despite what the Clown Prince of Crime said.
“You Ever Dance With the Devil in the Pale Moonlight?” – What does it mean?
Joker’s famous question has become one of the symbols of Burton’s first Batman movie, and yet no one has ever provided an official interpretation of this sentence. This is also quite consistent with the enigmatic persona of the Joker, so we cannot – once again – blame anyone for it being like this. Still, people have and still do wonder about its meaning, which is why we have decided to interpret it for you.
The “dance with the devil” is usually interpreted as referring to either fate, or madness, or both. Namely, the Joker might have been referring to his victims’ fates – since he always asked that before killing them – wanting to know whether they had been in such a situation before. The certainty of death is a situation that can also drive a person quite mad, which is why the whole phrase is interpreted as referring to both these elements.
Also, the dance could be a reference to a prior experience that bordered on madness, so when the Joker asked Bruce Wayne that, he wanted to know whether he had – as the Joker did – experience a situation that could’ve broken his mind completely.
As far as the “pale moonlight” is concerned, the phrase could refer to the abyss, a philosophical term most famously used by Friedrich Nietzsche, that symbolises a place of complete, utter darkness and hopelessness.
So, when the Joker actually asked his question, he was probably having one of these two, or both of these things in mind:
A. The Joker was demanding to see whether Batman had ever been in such a situation that he was on the brink of madness, that he was so close to a break that the break was practically inevitable. In that aspect, the Joker is referring to himself, to his own situation and his own psychotic break. If this interpretation is true, then the whole question is just one poetic metaphor for madness.
B. The Joker, having gone through a psychosis-induced transformation, wants people to see the world from his point of view. This is why he asks such an enigmatic question, wanting to see whether someone else - besides him, of course - would understand it. In this aspect, Burton's Joker is very similar to Alan Moore's Joker from the cult classic comic book The Killing Joke, where the Joker wanted James Gordon and Batman to have just "one bad day", like he did, and lose it completely.
We do not think that there is any other possible interpretation of this question. We have given our best to interpret the phrase’s symbolism, as well as the general meaning of the question, giving you several possible interpretations. This also quite consistent with the Joker persona, as he himself once said: “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!” (this was said in The Killing Joke).
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we helped solve this dilemma for you. See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!