Throughout The Dark Knight, the Joker licks his lips when in conversation.

Why does the Joker do this? Is this a psychological affect commonly observed in sociopaths or people with mental imbalances (or however you'd choose to describe the Joker)?

Or is this merely a product of Heath Ledger's portrayal? If this is the case, what was his motivation to do so?

  • Relevant: observer.com/2007/11/…
    – stevvve
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 17:03
  • 2
    I have found myself doing this when I have a cold sore on my lip. Seems natural to me.
    – Almo
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 21:26

6 Answers 6


From an interview with Christopher Nolan:

I don't really know where that came from... He actually had a sort of prosthetic appliance for the scars that wrapped over his lower lips, and the first couple of scenes where he was playing it that way, I actually had thought it was a mistake... I thought the prosthetic was coming loose on the bottom lip and he was sticking it down with his tongue or something.

And it was only after we shot a couple of scenes I realized oh no this is a thing he's found, this is a sort of... I think it's a lizard like... or serpent like elemental kind of gesture.. and I think it works... I think it's very creepy...

[Click here to listen to Nolan talk about Ledger's creepy lip-smacking]

  • This answer does provide useful insight, but still only sort of answers the question. We only know that Nolan didn't direct him to do it. The dream solution: Ledger commenting on it. +1 pending more info.
    – stevvve
    Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 20:21
  • 10
    @stevvve - Unfortunately Heath Ledger died about 6 months before The Dark Knight was released. So interviewers who did ask him about the Joker probably hadn't seen the movie, and therefore his perfomance, yet. It's possible that Ledger brought it up himself at one point, although in this interview he avoids revealing too much. When asked how his portrayal differs from Jack Nicholson's he says "You just have to check it out to find out the answer to that question."
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 22:50
  • Not really an answer here, but I dressed as the Joker a few times, and as a guy not used to using lipstick, I found myself weirded by it and doing that naturally as well. Not exactly like him, but I felt the need to moist my lips now and then.
    – LeonX
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 13:24
  • Lip-smacking is a symptom of tardive dyskinesia, a disorder of involuntary body movements seen in people treated with antipsychotic medication -- which the Joker certainly would have been. A brilliant touch by Ledger
    – Shiz Z.
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 4:52

The Joker in The Dark Knight had a Glasgow smile. There would have been scars on the insides of his cheeks as well as on the outsides. I thought Heath Ledger was acting out the behavior of someone who had never gotten used to their presence, and was constantly poking and worrying at them with his tongue, especially right at the corners of his mouth.

  • Given the Joker's nature to openly talk about his scars and intentionally unsettle people by telling horrible backstories, I think it's more likely that the Joker licks his lips to draw attention to this scars (to freak people out), more than him actually not having gotten used to having the scars. Much of his behavior is rooted in the fact that he's trying to make others feel uncomfortable and make himself come across as unhinged (even though in reality, he's much more on point than he pretends to be)
    – Flater
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 11:13

It was actually an honest bad habit of Ledger's. He would often lick his lips and it fit in with the character. The joker is symbolically described as a dog in the film and there is many references.

  1. He is a self proclaimed "dog chasing cars"
  2. He is the unloyal hungry dog as compared to Chechen, the Russian's, pets/protection
  3. There is a scene where he is hanging out the window of a GCPD patrol cruiser and licking his lips as wind blows his hair much like a dog would.
  4. He is often seen licking his lips.

But, it began as just Heath's bad habit and personality

The symbolism is he is an animal that can play tame but, much, like a pitbull, he is raw power and wilderness.

  • 7
    I do like this explanation, but do you have a source for it being his habit?
    – Tablemaker
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 17:59
  • It's been a while, I've been into batman all my life so I'm always looking stuff up, I can't remember exactly when or where I learned this
    – Matt
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 19:35
  • It's on omg facts, my iPad isn't letting me post this link, just google "19 amazing facts Heath ledger lips omg facts"
    – Matt
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 19:48
  • 1
    First result: omg-facts.com/Celebs/The-Jokers-Peculiar-Tongue-Flip-In-The-D/… Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 13:34

A movie clip came out a few days ago talking about the joker in the movie, and it is explained why he kept licking his lips.

As we can see in the video below:

At first it was a make-up problem, that when Heath was speaking the prothestics became loosened. So because Heath didn't want to keep gluing the make up to his lips over and over again, he started licking the lips, and then that became part of the character.

  • Is there any way to summarize the core points of that video to make it less of a link-only answer?
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 22:56
  • @NapoleonWilson Summarized the video a bit :) Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 23:30

Several options come to mind.

  1. It maybe a feature of a maniac antisocial. Maniacs have several sorts of behavioral uniqueness. It might be Joker's uniqueness.

  2. It maybe an approach like a reptile. Like they do this tongue-work before leaping into a prey, this behavior might indicate Jokers saurian satanic thought process.

  3. Like incognito said it might be due to the irritation on his skin caused by his makeup.

  4. Might be he does it, when he becomes nervous.

  5. A discrete feature proving he is crazy!


My opinion is - Joker wore paint on his face so this might be causing dryness and hence the constant licking

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