Last week, I, like most Americans my age, found myself in a rapturous stupor over the nirvana that is Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s video for “Telephone.” And then I, like many, listened to “Telephone” around a bajillion times, all the while thinking about the video. One of the roughly bajillion things I loved about the video was how Gaga says “We did it, Honey B!” at the end of the video. She sounds more like she just won the dance-off to save the youth center than that she just succeeded in poisoning dozens of people.
In short, she adopts the tone of a supervillain. A Batman villain. And then, an epiphany: Lady Gaga would be a perfect choice to play Harley Quinn.
We have a woman who dresses in outlandish costumes, who performs her entire life as if it were an eccentric burlesque, and who rarely appears without makeup. Nearly every video involves her joyfully committing homicide. In “Paparazzi,” she murders costumed her – I mean, pop stars – one after the other and then proceeds to pose lasciviously for the mug shot camera. In “Telephone,” she theatrically dons a chef’s outfit (or Gaga’s idea of an outfit, which is plastic top and nipple tape) to prepare poison. She even dreams of having “a bad romance.” She is Dr. Quinzel sans the squeaky voice.
Of course, having our favorite very very bad bad girl don a domino mask and greasepaint to play our favorite fictional bad girl is not without impediment. Aside from having to shape the character to suit the needs of the actress, there is the issue of how she could fit into the already established Gotham of the prior two Batman films.
[Note: For the rest of the entry, I’ll be talking about Nolan’s Batman franchise, Ledger’s Joker, etc. While I still remain less than a fan of these, I’m putting aside any judgments for the sake of the entry. This entry would not profit from constant Nolan/Ledger-bashing, but should also not be read as a change of heart on the films.]
While the character of Harley Quinn as is perfectly complements that of the Joker, she would be as much of an aberration in Nolan’s Gotham as Chico Marx would be. She is a predominantly comedic character, serving often to temper Joker’s darker scenes. While, of course, one could argue that such comedy in the face of horror only further twists the situation, this route was not the one taken in Dark Knight. Admittedly, we received bits such as the “pencil trick” or Joker in drag, but nothing so far as for him to beat a man to death with a rubber chicken or anything to that level.
Furthermore, Ledger’s Joker (I speak of this Joker as a character that, to an extent, is independent of Ledger in so much that a subsequent actor would be drawing directly from this Joker than any other incarnation of the villain) simply lacks to inclination to create Harley Quinn. That prank was one for Hamill’s Joker. The Diniverse Joker had different goals and motivations than Dark Knight’s antagonist and fooling his psychiatrist to make her a clingy, demented girlfriend fits into such an agenda. Raising havoc as a two-person vaudeville act fits his modus operandi. Harley, however, fails to find comfortable lodgings in the social philosophy espoused by Ledger’s Joker. Just as Joker was reimagined to fit Nolan’s needs, so must Harley be recreated and reformatted to appease this universe. Even the staunchest of Dark Knight fans could not (or at least should not) argue that vastly different Jokers would inevitably create vastly different Quinns.
Oh, and there is one other bigger problem: Joker. The aura that lingers around Ledger’s performance threatens to make any actor who attempts to play the character next appear presumptuous, disrespectful, or even heretical. Putting the Joker on film with anyone else besides Ledger behind those scars risks alienating the devoted fans.
Now comes my favorite part: what I would do!
I am going to be fair and play by Nolan’s rules. The character has to be semi-realistic and threatening. And she has to be a product of Ledger’s Joker. Personally, I might add a few more jokes or quirks here and there, but nothing that would stretch beyond simply a writing decision; this screenplay would not be part of another reboot.
My Harley came to me as I listened to “Paparazzi.” This Harley Quinn has never even met the Joker. She’s just a fan. A obsessive, crazy fan. Think Squeaky Fromme and John Hinckley meet the crying Justin Bieber girl. She followed Joker’s crime spree from Dark Knight in the papers and instead of panicking, reveled in the brilliance of each act. Maybe she understood his angle, maybe she didn’t completely get it. Maybe she was so blinded by the spectacle and explosions that she never paid attention to whatever he was saying about soldiers dying vs. old man in car crash. This could allow for different concepts to be explored in this film instead of just rehashing the conceit of Dark Knight.
So she goes on a crime spree to prove her love to Joker. Every bombed building, every mutilated face, every corpse is a Valentine to Mr. J. He could be dead or in jail, but either way keeps him off screen and makes her character even more twisted. Just like the Justin Bieber girl, she is convinced that Joker does love her back, except the situation is a lot less cute and a lot more disturbing when we’re dealing with a thirty year-old instead of a toddler.
And, I even play by Nolan’s rules so much as to allow for commentary. Where Dark Knight’s villain led to an investigation on terror and the subsequent war against it, this sequel’s Harley allows for a contemplation on the meaning of celebrity and fandom. Michael Jackson’s death led to a simultaneously circus and sanctification of the former pariah. Sarah Palin’s words about Barack Obama resulted in people sending the President death threats. And, were the filmmakers particularly ballsy, they could even comment on the cult of Ledger/Joker that formed in 2008. This direction would also coincide with Gaga’s own work, which often scrutinizes our relation to stars, fame, and pop culture.
I leave you with a possible scene. Like I said, I would keep this Harley grounded…but as her motivation would revolve around the necessity of creating a show to impress another, I would allow her for a bit more theatrics than the prior Nolan villains…
A street in Gotham. Two or three police cars at one end, speeding towards Quinn at the other. She puts one hand into a gun shape (an act often performed Gaga in her videos). The other holds a trigger to three explosives (a button for each one). She presses one button and simultaneously points at one car. The explosive goes off as she pulls the “gun” back. She does the same with the second and third car. There. Showy, but still nothing more than what someone in the real world could do with a little imagination and some high quality demolition expertise.
So, Mr. Nolan, in the very likely chance that you are reading this (I’d rank it around 97%), I offer a truce between us. You pay me a few million to write the screenplay and I’ll apologize for whatever I’ve said about your prior movies. Though, I did really like Memento. That seems totally fair, right?
Links & Viewings - 2/6/15
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