Joker and Harley Quinn, A Toxic Relationship

Joker and Harley Quinn, A Toxic Relationship
Leah Padalino

Written and verified by the film critic Leah Padalino.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

The relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn is one of the best known in animation and comics. They’re the two antagonists in Batman, but so charismatic that people have fallen in love with them. The two are fundamental in the Batman universe, giving both humor and tension to the fictional city of Gotham.

Of course, Batman would not be the same without the Joker… and the Joker would not have the same charm without Harley Quinn. But what kind of relationship do they have?

If we analyze the relationship a bit, if we go a little deeper into the characters, we’ll soon realize that something is not right. It becomes evident that it’s not a healthy relationship. In fact, Harley Quinn is probably living in a manipulative situation that she cannot get out of.

The Joker and Harley Quinn.

The character: Joker

The Joker has a somewhat uncertain origin. He switches between versions of his past to make it what he wants, and his character is wrapped in a halo of mystery. We do know that his characteristic appearance (green hair, white skin and red lips) came from a fall into chemical waste, changing his appearance forever.

The Joker, as his name suggests, is a joker. He has a somewhat circus-like appearance. And his macabre plans are accompanied by touches of humor, card games and elements that we associate with clowns.

While he may not be the only enemy Batman has, we could say he’s the most charismatic. He is an ingenious, manipulative, lying, selfish, egocentric character with a psychopathic profile. The Joker enjoys other people’s suffering and loves no one but himself. He looks for fun and laughter almost like a child, not caring who he hurts along the way.

The Joker has been represented in many different ways: there’s the comic, the animated series, the films and the different actors who have played him. However, his image and personality are very distinctive.

The character: Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn is the Joker’s eternal girlfriend, who we learn more about in Mad Love. Her real name is Harleen Quinzel. She was an outstanding gymnast and so got a scholarship for college. She studied psychiatry and got very good grades, albeit unfairly. Finally, she starts working at the Arkham Asylum, where the Joker is interned.

When she meets the Joker in Arkham, she is fascinated by his personality from the beginning. We see in Mad Love that he is sincere with her and tells her about trauma in his past. These are experiences that later we will learn are not true and that Harley is not the only one who knows about them.

But Harley begins to fall in love. Blinded by love, she is unable to see the psychopath that the Joker is. She only sees in him someone who has suffered, and Batman as his great enemy.

So Harley steals a Harlequin disguise, in honor of the nickname that her beloved Joker gave her. She manages to rescue him from Arkham. From this moment on, his criminal career will begin. He will build his character, a villain fascinated by jokes with a circus appearance and two hyenas as pets.

For the Joker, Harley represents an opportunity to escape from Arkham. He sees her as someone he can trust, because her devotion to him is infinite. She falls madly in love and he takes advantage of this situation.

Joker and Harley Quinn’s toxic relationship

Joker starts to abuse her physically and psychologically, even attempting to kill her. But Harley is unaware of the manipulation. She is submissive and devoted, satisfied with a minimum amount of affection. However, we see some rebellion by Harley in certain episodes. She almost gets her feet on the ground, like when she joins Poison Ivy and tries to move on with her new friend.

Still, deep down we realize that most of what she does is to impress the Joker. For that reason, the Joker’s opinion is fundamental, determining the actions and decisions of both of them. As you can see, the relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn is a clear example of toxicity.

Harley Quinn is always at his disposal. She dreams of getting rid of Batman because she thinks that, in that way, they will then be able to finally enjoy their relationship. In other words, she seeks guilty parties to justify the Joker’s attitude and always has arguments to defend him. She deceives herself by believing that their love is reciprocal and that, one day, they will live happily ever after.

The Joker’s reactions to Harley Quinn

As follows, Harley improves one of the Joker’s plans to kill Batman. It proves to be very smart, and she comes closer than ever to ending him. The irony of the matter is that it is the Joker himself who pushes her from a building and rescues Batman — all out of pride and an inability to accept that Harley has done better than him,

While sometimes we see that the Joker has certain feelings for Harley, it’s often also about manipulation or his own madness. It’s possible that the Joker feels something for her, but his pride and self-love are much stronger.

Harley has idealized the Joker, the relationship and everything it involves. She has completely lost her sanity because of her crazy infatuation, which the Joker feeds with tiny displays of love to keep the loyalty going.

But the truth is that all of this has created great insecurity in Harley. We see it when her great enemy Batman uses it against her and thus fear and insecurity in her, although he’s really just telling the truth about the Joker.

Suicide Squad, an updated version

After the premiere of the movie Suicide Squad in 2016, the characters of Joker and Harley Quinn have become very popular. The Joker is played by Jared Leto, a well-known actor and singer for younger audiences; and Harley is played by Margot Robbie.

We’ve seen other Jokers in film, such as Jack Nicholson in the Tim Burton film. Of course the most acclaimed Joker by both the public and critics was the late Heath Ledger. However, there is no doubt that this new updated version with an aesthetic more in tune with our times has created a new image of the character and spread among a younger audience.

Although Harley Quinn’s impact has been even greater, it was the first time that this character was taken to the big screen and her aesthetic renovation had a great impact.

The Joker and Harley Quinn.

In Suicide Squad, we don’t go too deep into their relationship. We see a Joker who is sometimes more compassionate with Harley, but also very cruel. In addition, the Joker character fades into the background. The Suicide Squad Harley better reflects the essence of her character: her madness, her love for the Joker and even her desire to live a normal life and make a family with him.

The problem comes when we try to see what it is not. The Joker doesn’t stop being a psychopath and Harley doesn’t stop being submissive to him. They can be very charismatic, attractive, and witty characters and the Batman universe would not be the same without them.

What Joker and Harley Quinn’s relationship means

These two are characters that have taken on a life of their own. They are the perfect prototype of villains, but the relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn is a clear example of what we do NOT want: a toxic relationship.

Their madness is contagious, but also dangerous, and we must see them for what they are: comic characters. Characters that portray the archetype of the villain, which fascinates us. However, we must be aware that in the relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn, the absence of sanity stands out, something that we can’t allow in real life.

“Everyone else sees the Joker laugh, only Harley has ever seen him cry. ”

-Arleen Sorkin, voice of Harley Quinn in the animated Batman series-


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.