Joker is probably all you’re going to hear about over the next few weeks as we edge closer to its Australian release on October 3. It’s brutal, it’s unrelenting and it’s destined for contentiousness.
But one of the more interesting features of it is how it fits into the character’s lore, or doesn’t, rather. In a separate universe from the DC dumpster fires, Suicide Squad and Justice League lived in, Joker, like the character, is in a world of its own and with it, comes a new explanation for his becoming.
Joker follows the story of Arthur Fleck, a failed clown and stand up comedian, who looks after his frail mother in a mostly squalid existence. He lives in Gotham City, where the likes of Thomas Wayne and Wayne Manor exist, his so you know it’s set within the Batman universe, though it never once feels like it.
Joker’s depiction in the comic books has changed wildly over the decades but his first origin story in the 1951 Detective Comics #168 indicated falling into a vat of chemicals disfigured his face and coloured his hair and lips. He called himself ‘The Joker’ due his resemblance to the playing card.
But later depictions, like Heath Ledger’s in The Dark Knight, differ with white face paint and show him as an unhinged, unreliable narrator so we never truly know if the stories he tells are real. In Joker, however, a new explanation arises.
Fleck is trying to become a stand-up comedian and has a turn at trying his luck in a comedy club. He also has a laughing condition, which the movie never confirms is real, meaning he laughs psychotically during moments he probably shouldn’t.
Naturally, one of these episodes happens during his attempt at a joke during his stand-up comedy set. As a real-life audience, it’s uncomfortable to watch but the movie shows it through his lens and so it seems like his set lands.
Later, we see Fleck’s set parodied on TV by the Live! with Murray Franklin show, hosted by Robert De Niro’s Murray Franklin. He’s then invited onto the show, presumably as Franklin would like to poke the beast a bit more, which is when we see Joker’s new name origin.
Fleck menacingly requests he introduce him as “Joker” because that’s what Franklin called him the week earlier while he was mocking him. It’s some serious foreboding for what is quite possibly the most anxiety-inducing climax I’ve seen in a movie in some time.
This is a story of a damaged man who, through numerous bad turns, transforms into the violent criminal mastermind he was always meant to be. Now, his new name origin story has a twist that finally lives up to the horror.
When it was reported that Joaquin Phoenix was either unprepared or unwilling to answer a rather straightforward question about Joker’s depiction of domestic terrorism, it suggested the actor, and by extension the studio, might have been uninterested in really engaging with the heavy subject matter being presented. But now, Phoenix and director Todd Phillips have a lot to say.Read more