What Everyone Gets WRONG About Heath Ledger's Joker... (The Dark Knight)

You would think after almost a decade that we would get everything straightened out about The Dark Knight, but nope! I'm here to tell you that very likely you have been lied to...

There is one piece of The Dark Knight trivia that I have seen over and over and over again on the internet since its debut and it has to do with the hospital explosion scene. You can watch the video below or keep reading to find out more.

The idea, as you probably heard it or read it in different listicles and YouTube videos purports the idea that this moment right here where Joker is fiddling around with the detonator because the explosions malfunctioned was all improvised. Here's a quote from a meme you might have seen passed around the internet.
The building was meant to explode and come down in one go and the crew had one take to get it right. When the explosions malfunctioned, Ledger reacted in character, and Nolan urged his crew to keep filming. By pure chance, it resulted in one of the greatest moments in the movie, and a moment that perfectly showcased Joker's anarchic nature and Ledger's sheer talent.

What a cool story behind the scenes of the movie. The problem is, it's false.

Now, it is true that the crew only had one chance to get it right, this was a real building exploding. Director Christopher Nolan wanted to do it all in camera. He didn't want to use CGI, he didn't want to use miniatures. He wanted to blow up a real building with a very large explosion. So yeah, you probably don't get a second chance to do that. And so because of that, they not only rehearsed the scene with Heath Ledger endlessly, they also, before any of this was set up, created an animatic you can watch here.

This was included in some behind-the-scenes special features of The Dark Knight and as you can clearly see, there was always, from the beginning, meant to be this moment where the explosions stop Joker turns around, the rest of the explosions go off and he rides off in a bus. And sure, you could say that it shows off Joker's anarchic nature, but that wasn't really the point. The point of it was actually a safety precaution as Nolan explains:
[Special effects supervisor Chris Corbould] was able to come up with a scenario in which Heath could actually be walking out of the building because what Chris worked out is if we put in a little beat where the first set of explosions stops as if something's gone wrong, and the Joker just takes a second to look around surprised like the audience is surprised, then the major demolition comes in and he jumps straight into the school bus. In that way he was able to come up with a practical scenario in which we could actually take a principal actor, walk him out of a building that's about to be destroyed, and literally drop the building to the ground.

There you have it. Definitive proof that this was not improv, but in fact a very much scripted moment. However, I have also seen it written that there was always meant to be a delay in the explosions, but it was Heath Ledger fiddling around with the detonator that was improvised on the fly. I haven't found a definitive source for that on the internet either. And in fact, it doesn't even seem to make that much sense when you consider the fact that again, they only had one shot to do this. Everyone had to hit their mark perfectly and they rehearsed it constantly.

So in my opinion, the most logical explanation is that none of this was improvised. But if we still wanted to use this hospital explosion scene to talk about Heath Ledger's incredible acting abilities, then let's talk about this unused shot. The final cut of The Dark Knight only used two angles to show off the hospital exploding. There was this one on the ground and this aerial shot, but they placed cameras everywhere from inside of the building, different angles on the outside, and even in the bus that the Joker gets on. And even with this massive explosion happening just outside the window, he never betrays the character to stop and stare at it. He continues in the mindset of the Joker as Nolan describes it:
[Heath Ledger] did it very, very precisely. I don't know how he resisted looking back. You know all the cork explosions and the lightweight material that the special effects guys were blowing behind him. I think he wound up with bits of cork in his hair at the end of it, that's how close he was to everything that was going off, but he never looked back, he never betrayed any sense of, you know, worrying about what was behind him and all the rest.

So there you go, the real story behind The Dark Knight's hospital explosion scene. I realize now, however, that I may have reduced the amount of trivia you have about The Dark Knight down by like one, so if you want some more fun trivia about this scene, look at the top two rows of windows on the building. Those are all CGI because before they started filming somebody stole the windows from the building. So, there you go, I supplemented your trivia!
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