In the (otherwise uber-awesome) Dark Knight, the Joker gets the draw on Gambol, a mobster portrayed by (the also uber-awesome) Michael Jai White. The Joker has a knife in his mouth, tells him a scary story, there's an orchestra strike and...nothing. Gambol falls to the floor, apparently dead.

What did the Joker do? Did he cut Gambol's throat? It didn't look like it, and that wouldn't instantly kill him, as it apparently did. I realize, practically, that the movie is maintaining a PG-13 rating by not showing the gory (literally) details, but what exactly are we intended to understand has happened here?

  • 1
    A knife in the mouth could go in any direction. Straight up into the palate would probably kill you, or at least make you pass out fairly quickly before dying later.
    – Nerrolken
    Oct 22, 2015 at 16:42

5 Answers 5


There are two scenarios which I've read up on on the Internet on the Dark Knight's Joker/Gambol "Why so serious?" scene.

Joker killed Gambol. There is an IMDB FAQ titled: How exactly did Gambol die from the Joker's knife?. It states:

There is a belief among some fans that you can't die from having your cheek slashed, but it is possible; laceration of the face was listed as a cause of death in the infamous Black Dahlia murder. The shock and blood loss could cause death. It's also possible that the Joker got carried away and went beyond cutting Gambol's cheeks. Since the murder happened off camera, we don't know.

Joker killed Gambol. From a Wikia article on Gambol:

After placing a bounty on him, Gambol was tricked by a trio of bounty hunters who made it seem like they brought him the Joker dead. The Joker revealed himself alive after stabbing two of Gambol's men with knives, pressed a knife in Gambol's mouth, and told him an ambiguous story of how he got his scars, before killing him with the knife.

Some claim that Gambol survived his attack by the Joker and can be briefly seen later in the film being arrested during a GCPD on his neighbourhood. This claim is disputed by many though as it would render the narrative purpose of the Joker's visit to Gambol's headquarters useless (if Gambol had lived it would be unlikely that the other mob bosses would have hired the Joker).

The recently released behind-the-scenes book of the trilogy confirms that Gambol was indeed murdered by The Joker.

  • So, I think we have to lean towards "Joker cut his mouth, and he fainted dead away, to Joker's surprise." I'm trying to think of when he MIGHT have been later in the film... Jan 9, 2012 at 15:21
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    Ok, we have this movie on blu ray....we slowed the scene where the police are putting two black handcuffed males into the cruiser...we slowed it frame by frame....and the first black male is definately not gambol......the second male you cannot see his face at all let alone a scar, you just cannot see this guy's face, but....this guy's hair was clean cut....but gambol had a mohawk type of hairstyle and not clean cut like this dude.....so, both males are not gambol. We believe joker did kill gambol by slashing his mouth.
    – user6004
    Apr 25, 2012 at 8:32
  • 2
    The recently released behind-the-scenes book of the trilogy confirms that Gambol was indeed murdered by The Joker.
    – user13474
    Mar 31, 2013 at 5:39
  • I edited your answer to bring it up to date. Hope you don't mind.
    – Wad Cheber
    Aug 12, 2015 at 7:26

The Joker had his knife at the left corner of Gambol's mouth, aiming and pulling the thing side/downwards. There are two things the Joker could have done in order to kill him:

1) Slash his face all the way down (not the Glasgow Smile), pressing firmly and tearing through the cheek, jaw, and on to the neck, severing both the left jugular vein and common carotid artery. This would explain why the Joker kept the black bag sticked on himself in order to avoid soiling his suit.

2) He playfully toys with the idea of slashing Gambol's face, giving him scars like his and all, but then decides to quickly stab the man through the soft palate, providing an easier access deep within the skull and sectioning large arteries including branches of the inner carotid artery in the process.

The latter is a personal favorite.

Now, I dunno the exact length of the Joker's knife... I guess it only has a few centimeters in it (about 10), but given that the guy loves to use these weapons to 'savor every emotion' in killing someone, he might have an idea as to the exact location and best angle necessaries to penetrate and damage or section part of the brain stem as well.


In any case, blame the PG rating for never showing us what truly happened.

EDIT: since Gambol simply drops and splats on the floor (as it should happen when the central nervous system gets damaged or destroyed), no external bleeding visible anywhere, and we don't even hear him gurgle or cough any blood which could happen had the joker chosen option 1 (laryngotracheal laceration), it further adds to the 2nd option hypothesis.

This should explain things better:

Poor Gambol

BTW I'm a general physician.


Apologies on the graphic nature, but after watching, Joker could've easily perforated any number of vital elements of the spinal cord or even through the roof of his mouth simply by pushing the blade upward or toward the back, also slicing his cheek in the process. It could be done in a split second, as we see in the scene.


It happens off-screen and isn't explained. He simply killed him with the knife.

Per the screenplay;

[The Joker looks up at the ashen faces of the remaining Bodyguards. Smiles.]

Joker: Why so serious?

[The Joker flicks his wrist. The Bodyguards flinch as Gambol goes down. The Joker turns to them.]

And per the official novelisation;

“So, me watching, he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it. Turns to me, and says, ‘Why so serious?’ Comes at me with the knife—‘Why so serious?’ Sticks the blade in my mouth. ‘Let’s put a smile on that face’ and . . .”

The Joker stared into Gambol’s eyes. “ ‘Why so serious?’ ”

The Joker quickly moved the knife, and Gambol gurgled blood and fell to the floor.


I saw this movie in the theatre, and there are scenes that have been omitted from the DVD release that were in the theatrical version. Gambol does NOT die... it shows him after the Joker leaves, and he is conscious, with only his cheek slashed open (he opens his mouth to show how severe the wound is, and winces in pain).... That's it. It also had the entire "Tryouts" scene, which lasted nearly 12 minutes. (Making the Joker's comment "make it short" even more funny.) These scenes cannot be found anywhere on youtube or any of the dvd versions I have seen, sad to say :( The tryouts scene was amazing, and I have been searching for it ever since, to no avail.

  • Please spell out more clearly what detail in the DVD version and what detail in the theater version you are comparing, and get rid of the "tryouts" distraction. That would improve your answer. For example, in which version are you asserting that Gambol does not die? Nov 16, 2015 at 22:19

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