Movies - TV
The Classic 1920s Silent Film That Inspired The Joker
By JOSHUA MEYER
If you watch the 1928 silent film, “The Man Who Laughs,” the first thing you may notice is the similarity between the film’s main character, Gwynplaine, and the Joker. While there is no doubt about the striking visual similarity between Gwynplaine and the Joker, the two characters are ultimately vastly different.
“The Man Who Laughs” tells the story of Gwynplaine, a nobleman’s child who is kidnapped and has his face carved with the monstrous smile of a jester. When Gwynplaine is set free, he remains shy about his scars into adulthood, covering his face with his hand or a scarf, making him a monster only in the tragic sense of the word and not a villain.
In fact, the Joker more closely parallels the villain of “The Man Who Laughs”, who is described as, “All his jests were cruel and all his smiles were false.” This almost exactly mirrors descriptions of the Joker as “a man with a changeless, mask-like face,” and a “grim jester” who wears a permanent smile “without mirth.”
While Gwynplaine and the Joker bear the same grotesque smile, Gwynplaine remains a gentle character, who tries to reassert his own humanity by saying, “A king made me a clown! A queen made me a lord! But first, God made me a man.” On the other hand, the Joker makes his targets suffer the same fate, “leaving stricken victims behind wearing a ghastly clown’s grin.”