This is a "Hot Network Question" from another site that I thought would make a great question here.

The Joker: "I believe whatever doesn't kill you, simply makes you stranger." (Clip from The Dark Knight for context)

I think it's a great line, but what does it mean? And how is it twisted?

  • Isn't it : I believe whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger? Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 4:54
  • Yes, but my question isn't in error. In other words, you're halfway there. Can you watch the clip? Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 4:57
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    Yes, he says stranger. So a great answer will say not only what the actual line from the movie means, but also explain the play on words. Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 5:02
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    Puns can make interesting questions on ELL, since they often deal with dual meanings of words (though this one deals with near-homophones). I'm glad you mentioned that you were inspired by another SE question. Though some might find such remarks "extraneous", I think such background info adds not only context to a question, but a quaint charm as well. Lastly, I'm not against asking a question designed to give a non-expert a chance for a shot at answering an English question, so long as the questions are true English questions (like this one – it's a question about English, not Batman).
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 9:48
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    I like wordplay. Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 16:10

3 Answers 3


This is my opinion. How do I see the dialogue from the legendary actor.

‘Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you . . . stranger,’ the old proverb is actually derived from Nietzsche -‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

I think Ledger takes it as a kind of pun. The Joker likes to tell stories about how he got the scars and how did he suffer in his childhood. As a kid, he was asked to laugh by his drunken father whilst his mother was being assaulted. The Joker tries to make everybody understand that we all live in the world of fiction. The Joker builds up stories that manifest not only his indifference to the truths but also his weird thoughts.

The worst things never killed him but made him stronger. BUT, he's a joker, always masked and thus stranger. Having this said, the things that don't kill you (the worst circumstances and events in his life) makes (him) you the stranger (the Joker). In simple words, this deadly strange face is due to the worst things happened in his life those were fatal but did not kill him leaving him strong, inhuman and cruel.

  • @Jolenealaska my pleasure. But thanks for getting me this opportunity to dig in further.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 6:56

I would say that, as a "twisted" person himself, his view of the world is that anything that harms, but does not kill, warps and corrupts your mind or body until you might as well be dead.

The original phrase ("...makes you stronger.") implies that people get better from being injured. This means the opposite, people change for the worse from injury. They don't die outright, but suffer a kind of "death from a thousand cuts": each suffering moves them slightly from their original self (possibly going back to what they were at birth, the "tabula rasa") until they are effectively dead compared to their original self. Maybe lacking any compassion because they have been victimized too many times, or trust because they have been cheated on and defrauded when trying to love and help. Eventually the original self would, if still alive, be so alienated from what it became it would disown itself as being "dead to me".

Did this answer your question, or did I just ramble nonsense? Let me know and I will revise it.

  • That was very well put! One very enthusiastic upvote! I especially like the first line. :) Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 16:34

Huh, I think other answers may be over-analyzing this.

Yes, it's an obvious play on the classic "... makes you stronger". So the Joker is a strange person who exults in his own strangeness, so he deliberately mangles the quote.

Any deeper analysis than that seems to me to be in the "well, maybe, but I doubt the scriptwriter was really thinking that deeply" category.

  • Well, complex answers may be kind of over-thinking the issue, but that's not really the point of the question. If you haven't already, read all of the comments or the pre-edit question. +1 anyway, just because your point is perfectly valid. Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 21:53
  • I did read all the comments and other answers before posting. And it made my head hurt.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 15:55

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