Five years ago we were treated to the final installment of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, and although it was an incredible epic, it still paled in comparison to the film that came before it, The Dark Knight. Mostly due to the fact of the breathtaking performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker. Setting a bar nearly impossible to reach and giving the sequel a tough act to follow, but it could have been reached if The Joker was in it. But sadly as we know, Heath Ledger passed away shortly after the release of The Dark Knight, effectively shattering any further appearances of his Joker moving forward.
In the film, The Dark Knight Rises, and subsequent media about it, mentions nothing of The Joker in Nolan's Batman films, out of respect for Ledger. With the exception of little hints here and there, that can be construed as Easter Eggs but aren't outright references. But there has to be something right? Some little yet significant piece of The Joker to at least remind us of his existence in said universe! Well I believe I may have found something that is a direct nod to The Joker.
Before I get into the connection, I'd like to discuss what brought me to my conclusion. Christopher Nolan has said on multiple occasions that he intended for his Batman films to be more "realistic" than they are on the pages of a comic book. And for the most part, with the exception of some artistic liberties, his Batman is probably the best interpretation of what the Caped Crusader would be in the real world. But there is one part that always bothered me, and that is the Joker's lack of identity.
Yes I know, in the comics The Joker also doesn't have a real name or a cohesive backstory, at least for the most part. But this is supposed to be realistic, think about every piece of evidence of your existence there is from your social security number to your senior yearbook picture. Yet, in the The Dark Knight when The Joker is caught, they have nothing on him. That's right, nothing. Commissioner Gordon even goes down the list, nothing on fingerprints, dental, or DNA. They can't even figure out where he bought his suit.
Don't get me wrong, this adds to The Joker's mystique and in turn makes him a more interesting character. But it still doesn't make sense in a "realistic" world. And the fact that there isn't an explanation later in this film only adds to the confusion to those who are wondering. But here's the thing, you're looking in the wrong movie.
Let's skip forward a movie to The Dark Knight Rises, one of the characters that jumps back and forth between the line of hero and villain is Catwoman. In the movie, she is doing a job for the film's most prominent slime ball John Daggett, specifically he hired her to break into Wayne Manor to steal Bruce Wayne's fingerprints for his plot to seize control of Wayne Enterprises. In return for her efforts he promised her a very valuable piece of tech, known as "The Clean Slate". What is "The Clean Slate" you ask? As it is explained in the film, "The Clean Slate" is a computer program, that once installed into a database erases all of evidence of a person in every database on Earth.
Sounds too good to be true right? Well, when Catwoman is slighted by Daggett, she infiltrates his apartment to steal it which leads to a confrontation between the two. Naturally Catwoman overpowers him easily and interrogates him. During the interrogation he reveals that the program never existed and was a "gangland myth", he used to coerce her into doing his dirty work. But Selina has done her homework and accuses him of lying, stating that there was a company crafting the device and even took it to the prototype stage. Dagget quickly responds however, saying he bought said company and learned they had nothing, then the interrogation ends.
Now you may be thinking, "Well he just said that it never existed so it couldn't possibly be a reference to The Joker." And you'd be right, but think about what is said, Daggett calls it a "gangland myth" and who was big in gangs in Nolan's Gotham? That's right, The Joker. He was even a prominent figure in the last days of Gotham's organized criminal enterprises and changed the entire landscape. So naturally those who were inspired by him would look into any information that would come out about him. Including the fact that he had no identity in the national database, giving hopes to some criminals with huge rap-sheets. Also when Daggett says that the company who was creating "The Clean Slate" had nothing, that's all he says. Not that they never finished it or that they never had anything in the first place. Maybe the reason they had nothing is because it was stolen by none other than The Joker!
Now sure, this is very speculative. I mean the guy thought to have "The Clean Slate" says himself that it doesn't exist, which would throw me off the scent, if it didn't later appear in the film! In the hands of Batman himself! That's right, later in the film, Bruce Wayne offers the "The Clean Slate" to Selina Kyle after she fails to get it from Daggett, but he's reluctant to give it to her and asks that she prove herself, stating that he obtained it to keep it out of the wrong hands. Now think whose hands he could be referring to, the man who stayed one step ahead of The Dark Knight due to his lack of personal information he could research. Bruce even reveals to Selina a flash drive supposedly containing the program, this could be a trick, but later in the film, after he fakes death, Selina and Bruce drop off the face of the Earth. That's pretty hard for a public figure like Bruce to do, dead or not, "Clean Slate" anybody?
When Bruce says he "obtained" it he could be referring to the company, having stolen the program before Daggett could. Or they could have been crafting a device similar to The Joker's, and wanting to avoid another permanently anonymous criminal, Bruce stole it. Or he could've found it while raiding one of The Joker's hideouts. Either way, I don't think that this is just some plot device. There are too many trails leading back to The Clown Prince of Crime for me to ignore. And I personally believe that this is the most significant nod to Heath Ledger's Joker.
What do you guys think? Is this a reference to The Joker? Or is it some simple plot device? Let me know in the comments!