top of page

How A Painting On Hans Zimmer's Desk Inspired The Look Of "The Joker"

LOS ANGELES — Long before The Dark Knight became an instant classic revolutionizing the superhero genre, director Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer gathered in Zimmer’s Santa Monica studio to talk inspiration.

This was going to be a different kind of Batman story, and the Joker would need to be terrifying — not comic-book evil as seen in previous shows and movies.

Lucky for Nolan, Zimmer had been in the middle of another project at just the right time, as Zimmer told the crew of SCORE: A Film Music Documentary, coming to theaters in June with an accompanying book available on Amazon containing interviews with Zimmer and dozens of other composers and directors.

Taped to the side of Zimmer’s computer monitor was a Francis Bacon painting — used as a sort of visual inspiration to achieve a certain music quality for another project.

Francis Bacon

The painting was haunting, creepy, twisted — something not unusual for Bacon. Nolan saw the potential for his Joker right then, Zimmer told the SCORE crew. Fast forward some months and Zimmer saw the result, Heath Ledger’s smeared clown makeup — a perfect visualization of the disconnected unease of the Joker in Nolan’s story.

Ledger’s Joker became iconic because of this look — inspired through Zimmer. After principal photography, Zimmer began to tailor the sonic image of the Joker: a bending, uneasy and uncomfortable violin string that rises in tone.

The Dark Knight was the furthest Zimmer had ever dived into the sound design side of film music, seeking out approval of sound designers and editors during the process, he told the SCORE crew in an interview featured in the new paperback and Kindle book SCORE: The Interviews.