What One Key Scene Tells Us About Heath Ledger's Joker

Someone actually did the math on this one...
Film theory in general is a more academic approach to movies. It looks at cinema as an art form that causes emotional reaction in viewers, and explores how it achieves this through picture, sound, and performance.

But sometimes it's just about figuring out how much money the Joker had piled up in that one memorable scene from Christopher Nolan's 2008 masterpiece, The Dark Knight. He burns this incredible stockpile of cash, just to prove a point. What can viewers take away from the scene?

The Film Theorists have some ideas. Check out their video below!

Fans have been talking about this scene, and that pile of money, for a long time. From a technical standpoint, at least part of the pile was practical, because Ledger slides down it early in the scene, and Lau sits at the top during his speech. But how much money is actually there?

Some people estimated the totals around $6 billion.

The video goes into the complicated math needed to create a more recent estimate, counting the visible straps of cash and using the actual measurements of the bills. The Film Theorists say the total is a little over $4 and a half billion.

Either way, the Joker is a rich man.

As the video points out, this is at least a plausible amount to steal from a group of crime families, and other moments from the film support that the Joker would have the cash on hand to build a fun pyramid like this. But what does the scene actually mean, from a storytelling standpoint?

The Dark Knight - Joker
Credit: Warner Bros.

The Joker insists he's "an agent of chaos" through the movie and is blasé about having any sort of plan. Moments into this scene, he burns these billions, and at first it seems just for funsies.

But here's another thing fans have debated for years. How long did it take to build that money pyramid? Recent estimates put the time at 27 hours, if 16 henchmen are involved.

As the video points out, the film's timeline allows for 12 to 36 hours to complete the pyramid. The henchmen probably had to work day and night to get the thing done, just for the Joker to come in, say, "Gasoline!" and burn the whole mess down.

It took a lot for the Joker to get to that moment. Multiple carefully orchestrated bank robberies, and even a brief stint in jail for himself (to capture Lau), and hours and hours of work by multiple goons. What this scene proves is, that no matter how free and easy the Joker claims to be, he'll put together complex plans and grandiose displays just so he can make a pretty bonfire and tick off Gotham's mob.

What do you think of this analysis? Let us know in the comments!

What's next? Look at more film theory!

Get a refresher with our introduction to film theory. Examine visual motifs in Steve McQueen's Widows. And learn the meaning of Jordan Peele's Us    

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