Follow TV Tropes

Following

Film / Joker (2019)

Go To

Per wiki policy, Spoilers Off applies here and all spoilers are unmarked. You Have Been Warned.

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/joker_8.jpg
"Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?"
"For my whole life, I didn’t know if I even really existed. But I do, and people are starting to notice."
Arthur Fleck
Advertisement:

Joker is a 2019 comic book-inspired tragedy/crime film directed by Todd Phillips and co-written by himself & Scott Silver (The Fighter, 8 Mile), based on the DC Comics character of the same name. Described as an Origin Story of sorts, it stars Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role, a man named Arthur Fleck who descends into madness and villainy.

Set in the backdrop of an alternate version of Gotham City in 1981, Arthur Fleck tries to fulfill his dreams of making people smile by being a clown by day and a stage comedian by night — the latter of which ultimately fails. Depressed by his lot in life as he's unable to afford therapy, Fleck goes down an increasingly dark path of self-discovery after he makes a crucial mistake... and Gotham will never be the same.

The cast also includes Brett Cullen as Thomas Wayne, Zazie Beetz as Arthur's Love Interest Sophie Dumond, Frances Conroy as Arthur's mother, and Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin, a talk show host who portrays a key figure in the Joker's origin. Other cast members include Marc Maron, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, and Shea Whigham. Hildur Guðnadóttir composed the soundtrack.

Advertisement:

This work is the first DCU-inspired live-action film not to be a part of the DC Extended Universe since it began in 2013 (it is, however, still produced by the same movie division, DC Films). Instead, it is an Elseworlds story that uses elements of Batman lore to tell an original story. Phillips describes the film as an "exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study but also a broader cautionary tale." Although originally envisioned as a one-off with a clear beginning, middle, and end, Phillips has indicated that he has ideas for a sequel if Joaquin Phoenix is on-board for it. It's also been suggested that the movie could even launch a new movie label (tentatively named "DC Black") that could include more of that type of elseworlds films in an anthology format.

Advertisement:

For tropes regarding the 2008 graphic novel of the same title, refer to that page.

Previews: Test Footage, Teaser, Trailer.


Joker contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Released in 2019, set in The '80s — 1981, to be exact.
  • The '80s: The film is set in the backdrop of 1981, in the midst of an economic recession.
  • Actor Allusion: The film obviously draws heavy influence from The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, both films starring Robert De Niro. De Niro has a supporting role, this time playing a talk show host who is obsessed over by a psycho comedian rather than the other way around.
  • Adaptational Jerkass:
    • Thomas Wayne, rather than a benevolent philanthropist, is a smug elitist who engages in Condescending Compassion at best, and is an absolute jerk to Arthur at worst. This is even worse if he really is Arthur's father.
    • Alfred Pennyworth is also less than endearing towards Arthur, being immediately confrontational with him and insulting his mother. To be fair, Alfred probably was worried about Bruce talking to and being grabbed by this creepy stranger at the time.
  • Adaptational Origin Connection: In this continuity, the Joker is indirectly responsible for the deaths of the Waynes, having inspired Joe Chill to gun them down for being part of the wealthy elite. And depending on how you interpret Thomas Wayne's ambiguous reveal about Penny (see Ambiguous Situation below), Arthur may or may not be Bruce Wayne's half-brother as well.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Thanks to Arthur's less-than-complete and rapidly worsening grip on reality, a lot of the ending is unclear. It's entirely up for debate as to which and how much of the ending scenes are real. Did the Joker actually kill his psychiatrist, or was he imagining it? Did the whole situation with him standing atop a police car with the crowd cheering him on actually occur? Or, similar to him imagining being in the audience in Murray Franklin's show, was it just him fantasizing about finally being recognized, accepted, and admired? Hell, it's even possible that none of it happened and that everything after him shutting himself in the freezer, seemingly in an attempt to evade the investigators tracking him down, was all just a fantasy he dreamed up in the middle of that psychiatrist's office in Arkham Asylum after he was found and arrested.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The movie has many deliberately open-ended/ambiguous plot threads, a situation that is only complicated by the way Arthur's fantasies are presented to the audience as being real, as almost anything can be speculated to be just one of his daydreams instead of something that really happened.
    • Did Arthur's mom really adopt him and was she really delusional about Wayne being his father, or did they really have a relationship but he pulled strings to have her committed, lobotomized and fake adoption papers made?
    • Did Arthur kill Sophie after having his breakdown in her apartment, and if so, why?
    • Is Thomas Wayne genuine about his desire to make Gotham a better place and help the downtrodden despite his arrogant behavior, or is he just a lying power-hungry elitist? And if you believe the above mentioned crimes against Arthur's mom, even worse than that?
    • It's also unclear just who Arthur's biological parents are, if they're not Thomas and Penny.
    • Did Arthur really manage to kill his psychiatrist in Arkham at the end, considering how he's shown walking out of the room with blood on his shoes, or is this just another fantasy? Or, alternatively, rather than being literally true, is this just a metaphorical representation of the many times that the Joker will inevitably break out of Arkham Asylum over the years to commit more crimes?
  • And the Adventure Continues: The film ends with a bloodstained Joker being chased down the halls of Arkham by an orderly to the tune of Frank Sinatra's "That's Life" after possibly having murdered his psychiatrist. It's also clear that in the not-so distant future, there inevitably rises a man who will stand against him.
  • Arc Words:
    • Happy. For starters, it's Penny's nickname for her son, and she encourages him to "smile and put on a happy face". Arthur also sings "If You're Happy and You Know It" to some children in the hospital.
    • At the end of the movie: "You get what you fucking deserve!"
  • Ascended Meme:
    • On a Medical level. The "Pseudobulbar Affect" is where a patient experiences uncontrolled laughing. It has often been referred to as "Joker Syndrome," since it mimics both the clown and the effect of his poison gas. In this film, Joker has it. Or at least, his mother convinced him that he does. He writes in his journal that the worst part of having a mental illness is being expected to behave as if you don't have one. Then after digging up his and his mother's hospital records, he says that he never had any condition, that the laughter at inappropriate things which his mother told him was a condition is actually just part of him. He then goes on to explain to Murray Franklin the subjectivity of comedy and that he's sick of pretending things aren't funny that he actually does find funny. All of this seems to explicitly point to him not actually having this condition but simply having a strange sense of humor that his mother convinced him was a mental illness.
    • During his Motive Rant at the end of the film, Arthur blames "a society" for his downfall, echoing the "we live in a society" memes that are associated with the Joker. The line was slightly ad-libbed by Joaquin Phoenix (the line originally written said "a system"), so it's not clear if was doing this deliberately.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Arthur attempts to justify his murders as this, though his threshold for what constitutes an evil person falls dramatically over the course of the film as he generalizes that all people are rotten. Arthur meets his first three victims while they gang up on a woman in a subway train; he arguably kills the first one in self-defense, and many Gotham citizens fully agree they got what they deserved. However, while Arthur's mother neglected him as a child and left him vulnerable to horrible abuse, she was just as vulnerable and ill as he was. Randall genuinely tried to help Arthur and lied only to protect himself. Murray Franklin lightly mocked Arthur on national TV, but he also carried no malice toward him and even offered him an opportunity to further his career. By Joker's apparent final murder, he appears to have given up needing any rationalization to kill people.
    • Thomas Wayne is definitely more arrogant than his usual depiction, though how much of an asshole he is is left up to the viewer's interpretation of Penny's experience. Even still, the worst possible version of Thomas's life pales next to the horror of his death gunned down before his wife and son.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Towards the end, Arthur standing up on a car with the clown rioters acclamating him as the icon of their uprising and drawing himself a Glasgow grin on his face with his own blood evokes this trope, as he becomes a King of the Homeless of sorts.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: It is Downplayed given Arthur's Sanity Slippage and the ending being open to whether or not it is another one of his hallucinations, but if it is indeed real the film ends on a triumphant note for the Joker. Not only has he killed (or caused the deaths of) nearly every person who's ever wronged him, he has successfully built up an enormous following of violent rioters who will continue to wreak havoc on the streets of Gotham. If there's one thing that remains hopeful, it's that the newly-orphaned Bruce Wayne will one day step up to protect the city. But even this is debatable — the problems this Gotham has don’t necessarily need a Batman, and he could even make them worse.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • The obvious conclusion between Arthur and his mother is that they both share a genetic brain defect that causes them to act as they do. It turns out that Arthur's likely adopted. Also, while his mother is legitimately delusional, a Freeze-Frame Bonus shot in her file reveals she was lobotomized. Arthur, on the other hand, is heavily implied to have been a perfectly normal child until his mother's boyfriend beat him to a pulp and tied him to a radiator.
    • Arthur's childish misunderstanding of basic comedy seems to be leading up to an embarrassing bomb for his first stand-up routine. As it turns out, he does fine... or at least, he fantasizes that he did. In reality, he bombed hard, but not because his jokes were terrible (which they were), but because he could barely get them out in between his laughing fits.
    • While giving himself his Joker 'makeover', Arthur reaches for a pair of sharp scissors. Fans familiar with the look of the Heath Ledger Joker with his iconic Glasgow Grin are likely waiting for him to mutilate himself into a permanent smile... but then people knock on his door and he puts the scissors away, eventually using them to kill somebody else.
    • After getting the hang of having a gun, Arthur heads up to Gotham Bank... but chickens out and runs off.
  • Bathos: The film is very dark and nihilistic, but it does try and lighten the tone a bit with some darkly humorous gags. For example, after Arthur watches his mother getting sent to the hospital for a stroke, and he's interrogated by a pair of detectives suspicious about his possible connections to the subway murders, he slams into an automatic door trying to walk away and spends a few moments trying to get it to work (not realizing he's trying to enter through an exit door until one of the detectives points it out).
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Early in the film, Arthur has an Imagine Spot about being recognized by his role model Murray Franklin and allowed to come on stage with him. Later, Arthur does get noticed by Murray... when Arthur's attempt at standup is ridiculed by Murray on national television. Arthur is then invited to guest star on Murray's show, and although Murray treats him nicely enough at first, he is eventually disgusted by Arthur once he reveals that he was the one who killed those three guys in the subway. It doesn't take much more for Arthur to kill his former idol in a fit of rage.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Arthur's exact words to Gary and the reason he doesn't kill him. Although it's possibly subverted with Sophie. While she wasn't actually his girlfriend, she was never cruel to him and her fate is left very ambiguous.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Nearly all the characters are either fully despicable or are too flawed to be completely sympathetic, although the line between who is the black and who is the grey gets blurred at some points.
  • Black Comedy:
    • A given considering the title character. Especially notable after Arthur brutally kills Randall, Gary is terrified of making any move. Arthur politely encourages him to leave, and when tip-toeing past Arthur does a fake-out lunge to scare him. Being a dwarf Gary can't actually reach the chain-lock and Arthur opens it for him, and then kisses him on the head saying he appreciated his kindness. This is all exaggerated because Arthur is in his white face paint make-up.
    • In-Universe, the Joker makes a rather tasteless knock knock joke about a son who's killed by a drunk driver. Murray has to explain to him that they don't condone those kind of jokes on his show.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Not in the stylish extent of Watchmen but, compared to the previous live-action Batman movies, where most of the violence is Bloodless Carnage, the amount of blood, bruises and realistic wounds makes it one of the more graphic DC and Batman (or Batman-related) movies, and the film earned an R rating.
  • Book-Ends:
    • The film opens with Arthur trying and failing to "put on a happy face" by forcing himself to smile. Near the end, after killing all the people who wronged him (or almost all, anyway: his Jerkass boss is given the full Karma Houdini treatment, he doesn't kill Alfred, and he isn't the one who kills Thomas Wayne) and finding himself surrounded by his clown-masked followers, Arthur easily pushes his lips into a smile, putting on a happy face as he dances for his adoring fans.
    • Right after the opening scene where teens beat him and break his sign, we cut to him laughing uncontrollably at his social worker's office due to his condition. After murdering Murray Franklin, inciting a riot, and being hailed by fellow rioters at the end of the film, we cut to him laughing uncontrollably at a "joke" he was thinking of while being interviewed by an Arkham psychiatrist. It turns out he has no condition at all, he just has a twisted sense of humor.
    • At the start of the film, there's a shot of a depressed Arthur looking out at the city through a subway window. An identical shot happens at the end, when a satisfied Joker watches the city burn from a police car.
    • The first two times we see the long staircase, Arthur is climbing them in dark, dreary weather, trudging in a horrible depression. The last time we see it, Arthur has become Joker and is descending them in bright, sunny weather, dancing in absolutely confident joy.
    • On that note, Penny's nickname for Arthur, "Happy." Throughout the film she refers to him as Happy, but he's absolutely miserable. It isn't until he kills her that he finally becomes genuinely happy.
  • Boom, Headshot!: How Murray bites it, courtesy of Arthur.
  • Bottomless Magazines: While not as excessive as most examples, in one particular scene Arthur fires several more rounds than his six-shot .38 snubnose could hold without reloading the gun. This is possibly a sign of his Sanity Slippage, mixed in with Unreliable Narrator.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Arthur says a few words in Gary's British accent after Arthur kills Randall but spares Gary.
  • Broken Pedestal: Arthur is devoted to his mother Penny and regards Murray Franklin as his idol. Both wrong him in some way. Both pay dearly for it.
  • The Cameo: Justin Theroux as one of the guests on "Live With Murray Franklin".
  • Canon Foreigner: Every character that isn't the Joker, the Waynes, Alfred Pennyworth, or Debra Kane is original to the film. Although it seems as though an unnamed clown rioter is indeed Joe Chill, or at least another character taking his place. This can be at least partly justified by most of the story being set shortly before the Waynes are gunned down, which is long before most Batman characters would have become established.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: The film is set during an economic recession where the downtrodden citizens of Gotham are shown doing what they can to survive, while the rich get to enjoy their opulent lifestyle. After Arthur kills three wealthy office workers, people start viewing the "clown vigilante" as a Working-Class Hero. Not helping matters are the fact that Arthur's therapist says she has to stop his sessions and cut off his anti-psychotic medications due to budget cuts, Thomas Wayne announcing his bid for mayor of Gotham City and referring to the poor as "clowns" that are too lazy to work hard and pull themselves out of poverty, as well as claiming that he's their only hope to improve their lives.
  • Casting Gag: Robert De Niro was cast as Murray Franklin as a homage to his role in The King of Comedy, in which he played a Loony Fan to a popular late-night talk show host. Here, he's the talk show host and Joaquin Phoenix is playing the part of the Loony Fan. The fact that Joker is also an homage to one of De Niro's most well-known films helps, too.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A downplayed example. The unnamed woman who Arthur unintentionally "rescues" from the three subway thugs later appears as one of the people in clown masks (the one in the taxi that Arthur passes) who were inspired by his murders of the three.
  • Continuity Cameo:
    • When Arthur speaks to Bruce through the gate at Wayne Manor, he is sent away by the Wayne's British butler, who is all but stated to be Alfred Pennyworth.
    • Near the end of the movie, Thomas and Martha Wayne are gunned down in an alley by a man wearing a clown mask. The killer is not named or seen, but those familiar with the source material will know that he is Joe Chill.
  • Create Your Own Hero: Arthur inadvertently causes a riot that leads to Bruce's parents' deaths, thus leading Bruce down the path to becoming Batman.
  • Crapsack World: Gotham City as ever. On top of generally being a seedy place, things are worse than usual due to the economic recession that's driving so much tension in the town.
  • Dance of Despair: After killing the Wayne Enterprise employees on the Subway, Arthur runs to some nearby bathroom and start performing an interpretive dance. While he dances a lot throughout the film, it's clear this time he's doing it as a way to cope with what he's just done.
  • Darker and Edgier: Probably the darkest comic book movie yet, even for Batman standards. Its version of Gotham is truly in the depths of despair, haunted by economic depression and squalor. The primary conflict consists of a man going From Nobody to Nightmare due to constant mistreatment. There are almost no positive characters around, and no positive resolution. The only glimmers of hope for humanity are Gary and Bruce Wayne, but he's only a little boy in this movie. It is also the most grounded film of its kind since The Punisher flicks — there are no fantasy elements of any type at all to be found, apart from the throwaway "super rats" joke.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Murray has some pretty dry words at Arthur's expense on his talk show:
    Murray Franklin: And finally, to the world where everyone thinks that they can do my job, check out this guy:
    Arthur Fleck (archive footage): When I was a little boy and told people I was gonna be a comedian, everyone laughed at me. Well, nobody's laughing now!
    Murray Franklin: You can say that again, pal.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: Arthur Fleck is a deconstruction of your standard Ax-Crazy villain. Violently insane people are still people, and mental illness is ultimately an illness. Mental illnesses are devastating to the less fortunate, who have no way to deal with them and makes the society alienate them. With no easy way to treat their illness, this leaves them with no choice but to further descend down their insanity, until one day it takes them over and has them reacting violently to the society that alienated them.
  • Determinator: After experiencing heavy physical abuse virtually his entire life, Arthur's body has become incredibly resilient in spite of what his wiry frame would suggest, and he bounces back from physical trauma very quickly. While running from a couple of detectives, he's hit hard enough by a taxi to smash the windshield yet gets right back up and keeps on running, and later in the same day he's in a major wreck when a police cruiser he's riding in is t-boned by a speeding ambulance, on the side of the car that Arthur is riding in, only to be knocked unconscious and wake up a minute later fully able to stand and move around, only coughing up a little blood to show for it. He also frequently rams his head into things with serious force and doesn't even seem fazed, which connects to the fact that the most severe trauma he experienced as a child was head trauma.
  • Disabled in the Adaptation: Unlike the comics' Joker (who, Depending on the Writer, is just Obfuscating Insanity to avoid actually serving prison time or getting on death row for his crimes), Arthur suffers from real issues, including Pseudobulbar affect, depression, and hallucinations. All of this save his depression is revealed to be untrue, however. His laughter at inappropriate times turns out to be the result of a twisted sense of humor, not a mental illness, and his "hallucinations" turn out to merely be daydreams and fantasies that the audience is led to believe are real, though Arthur himself never shows any evidence of truly believing these fantasies are real.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Randall and Murray were jerks to Arthur (to varying degrees) but their jerkishness stopped well short of Penny's child abuse/neglect and the three WayneTech suits who tag-teamed Arthur on the subway. They certainly didn't deserve to horribly die for what they did.
    • This version of Thomas Wayne was also not as nice as his usual depiction, but he and his wife did not deserve to be gunned down at random.
  • Downer Beginning: The film opens with a visibly distressed Arthur forcing himself to smile. The following scene is when delinquents steal his sign and then beat him up with it. It doesn't get any happier from there.
  • Downer Ending: Inevitable for a movie that's a tragedy, but holy shit. Arthur snaps and becomes the Joker, killing several people before confessing to his first three murders and then killing Murray live on TV. His actions subsequently start a riot that leads to the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, which of course puts Bruce down the path of becoming Batman. Arthur is then arrested and gets locked up in Arkham, having completely lost his mind — and since he is in Arkham, he is last seen running from an orderly and presumably escaping the asylum entirely to cause more chaos. On top of that, we neither know the fates of Sophie or her daughter, nor what became of the doctor that Arthur sees at the end, although all are implied to be murdered at Arthur's hands: Sophie and her daughter by the ensuing police/ambulance sirens and loud knocking and shouting down the apartment building's hall, and the doctor by Arthur's bloody footprints as he walks down the hospital's hall. The only silver lining is that Gotham City may be at its breaking point now, but many years from now, a source of hope will emerge.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • The audience knows that Arthur Fleck will end up becoming the Joker as a Foregone Conclusion, and that everything happening is slowly pushing him to psychopathy, but part of the tension comes from how exactly the Joker makes his first debut and what exactly finally pulls him over the edge.
    • The meeting between Arthur and Bruce. In the film itself it shows how detached Arthur is becoming, as he doesn't see anything wrong with a grimy stranger playing with and touching a random child, even if his intentions are innocent, and both Bruce and Arthur know nothing about the other. But anyone who knows anything about the characters will be aware this is the pivotal moment where the future Batman first meets the person that will become his arch-nemesis, the Joker.
    • Similarly Thomas Wayne's comments about how people who hide behind masks are "cowards" and that he'll kill Arthur if he ever touches his son Bruce again are both obvious nods towards the eventual future of Gotham, and the inevitable relationship that will blossom between Bruce and Arthur in the years to come.
  • Driven to Suicide: Played with. During his rehearsals to appear on Murray's show, Arthur ends them with pretending to shoot himself, implying he intends to commit suicide on live, national television. However, he ultimately changes his mind, deciding to murder Murray on live, national television instead.
  • Eat the Rich: The entire story is set during a massive economic recession. Arthur shoots three corporate suits who harass and beat him on the subway and it's reported that these rich types were killed by a clown, which starts a trend of protesters wearing clown masks and accompanying signs. This even explicitly gets reported in news papers as a "kill the rich" movement. This is exacerbated because of Thomas Wayne, who is running for mayor, when he tries to appeal to the lower class while also denouncing the clown, which has the opposite effect and ends up with him denouncing the lower class itself. The Waynes are murdered in part due to the clown-faced riots happening at the same time and are specifically targeted for being part of the rich elite.
  • Empathic Environment: Early in the film, when Arthur goes back home to his apartment, he has to grudgingly climb up a long flight of stairs uphill in the evening, with an overcast or rainy sky in the background, to symbolize his daily everyday struggles. Near the end of the film, when he dons the Joker suit and make up, he merrily dances down the stairs on a sunny afternoon, to symbolize his descent into insanity.
  • The End: The film ends with a traditional "The End" title card, superimposed over a shot of Arthur being chased around by an Arkham orderly in the background.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Subverted with Arthur. Arthur clearly loves his mother and defends her even as Alfred and Thomas both separately insult her. That changes, however, when he realizes that she lied to him about everything and let him get abused, and he kills her for it.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: On his big appearance with Murray Franklin, Joker makes several uncomfortable and misanthropic jokes that leave the audience confused before things take a turn for the worse. His "subjectivity of comedy" speech carries the heavy implication that he never had Pseudobulbar Affect at all, just a twisted sense of humor that the rest of society doesn't understand or appreciate.
  • Eye Scream: Arthur stabs Randall in the eyeball right after stabbing him in the neck.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: Arthur is approached by two police detectives while he waits outside a hospital, and they question him about some suspicious reports given by his former employer. Arthur casually tells them off and even flicks his cigarette away before trying to walk inside, but slams into the glass door. As it's an exit door, he stands there waving his hands for a moment trying to get the motion sensor to activate, but has to wait for another person to walk through as one of the detectives tells him it's exit only.
  • Fan Disservice: Arthur's bare, skeletal torso makes several appearances.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The card Arthur gives to the lady on the bus explaining his laugh says that it's a condition that stems from mental disorders or brain injuries, foreshadowing that his condition is actually from brain trauma and not from mental illness.
    • When Arthur plays with his gun for the first time, he briefly points it at Penny's couch, hinting at her death later on.
    • Arthur fantasizes about being an audience member of the Murray Franklin show and having an intimate fan-hero interaction with him. The audience is only subtly clued in that it's a fantasy and not a memory of Arthur actually being on the show some time in the past when he's revealed to be sitting on his mother's bed still watching the TV, with the fantasy ending as the show ends. Later on, after much flirtation, dating, and physical intimacy between Arthur and Sophie without obvious indication to the audience that it isn't real, it too turns out to be fantasy when Sophie reveals to the audience that she's not familiar with him and only barely knows his name. When Arthur doesn't respond in shock, indicating that he himself never truly believed they were together, that's when we finally know that it had actually only been Arthur fantasizing about her all along.
    • Going along with the above, Sophie seems to very forgiving of being stalked through the streets by her mentally ill neighbor. This is a pretty big indicator that this confrontation (and all of their interactions past that point) didn't actually happen.
    • After Arthur kills the three Wayne Enterprises workers and he goes to Sophie's apartment to kiss her, her apartment number is "9". When he goes to her apartment again, her apartment number is different, meaning that all his interactions with her were just fantasies.
    • While rehearsing what he's going to do on Murray's talk show, Arthur thinks of doing a knock-knock joke and then pulling a gun out to shoot himself in the head. When he finally appears on the show, he tells a different joke to Murray and instead of shooting himself in the head, he shoots Murray himself in the head.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: In-universe. Joker grabs hold of a studio camera and bids Gotham good night after he kills Murray Franklin.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: A bit of an understatement. Arthur goes from someone who is essentially a random, well-meaning loner to one of the most evil supervillains in fiction.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: The Joker gets called out by Murray on the latter’s show about how he tries to throw a pity party about how people treat him to justify his inhumane crimes.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Arthur starts out as a heavy chainsmoker even for the era, growing even worse as Joker who is smoking constantly whenever not running from the cops or confronting victims.
  • Gun Nut: Randall gives Arthur a gun for protection and giddily mentions he has connections for more.
  • Homage Shot: The progression of the scene where Arthur shoots the three finance bros from Wayne Investments who harass him and a woman on the train dead is lifted wholeseale from the train scene in Death Wish. This time, though, rather than being a man from "civilized society"'s reaction to poor Black "thugs," a poor person confronts upper-class "thugs."
  • Humans Are Bastards: Discussed. It’s merely what Arthur eventually thinks. Nearly everyone Arthur is involved with is a Jerkass who feels no remorse in wronging other people, most of all himself. This factors a lot into his descent to villainy; the world is inherently messed up and no one deserves a good life. He does get called out on this, being told that not everyone is as bad as he thinks they are, but the fact that the person who tells him this is Murray — who wronged him rather badly — doesn't help matters.
  • Idiot Ball: Sure, Murray, have a clown-faced man on your show without screening him for weapons while there are citywide clown-themed riots happening all over the city. Better yet, don't have Arthur removed by security and instead argue with him after he's confessed to three murders. That will work splendidly for you.
  • Imagine Spot: When Arthur watches Live! with Murray Franklin with his mother, he has a daydream where he attends a live taping of the show, gets noticed by Murray himself, and is invited onto the stage while the audience cheers for him and Murray says some incredibly kind words to him, then gives him a strong, sincere hug.
  • In Name Only: The film takes only the broadest of strokes from the DC universe to paint a more grounded and realistic character of Joker that is unique to the film, not to mention the Gotham City he lives in. The Joker's personality, habits and backstory are completely different from his comics canon and usual portrayals, and those few characters from the DC universe that also appear have different characterizations.
  • Insult Backfire: Thomas Wayne insults protesters by calling them "clowns". Then they start wearing clown masks.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Murray is not exactly wrong to call out Arthur for the increasing crime in the city, and he also isn't wrong when he says not all people are as bad as Arthur thinks they are.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The teenagers that randomly steal Arthur's sign and subsequently jump him did so for their own sick amusement.
  • Killed Offscreen: It's heavily implied that Arthur may have murdered Sophie when he breaks into her apartment. Upon realizing that his time with her was just a fantasy of his, Arthur looks her in the eyes and does the same "shooting yourself in the head" gesture like she did when they first met, before we immediately cut to him doing an Unflinching Walk through the hallways outside her apartment, and doesn't appear in the movie again.
  • Killing in Self-Defense: Subverted. When Arthur shoots the three rich thugs, he is indeed shooting in self-defense in the case of the first two, who had been assaulting him. But then he tracks down and empties his gun into the third one, who was already wounded and trying to escape, thus voiding any justification of self-defense.
  • Logo Joke: Because the film is set in 1981, it opens with that era's Warner Bros. logo, the famous Saul Bass-designed three-bar W which transitions into the Warner Communications logo. However, the color pattern is slightly different from the original design, as it retains its color scheme of primarily black with red accents throughout the sequence.
  • Matricide: After he finds out the truth about Penny and what she's done to him, Arthur kills her just before he goes on Murray's show.
  • Morality Pet: Sophie to Arthur. Until we learn that their relationship was all a daydreaming fantasy.
  • Mugging the Monster: The vast majority of the plot consists of the other characters mistreating or wronging Arthur in some way. Every single one of them directly or indirectly suffers for it... save one Karma Houdini of a boss.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: While the movie shows how and why he became Joker, it's a bit vague on Arthur's origins. He may be Thomas Wayne's bastard or was adopted by Penny, we don't know much about what happened to him when Penny was institutionalized or how he reunited with her, and because of his chronic daydreaming, we can't know for sure which reveals are true or false.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Wall markings of the Amusement Mile, Gotham City's old amusement park in the comics, can be seen in the first set stills. As well as graffiti referencing the Mad Hatter.
    • The cinema has a poster for Excalibur and a marquee advertising Zorro, the Gay Blade, Blow Out, and Wolfen, which date the film's setting to 1981. Coincidentally or not, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice used the same Excalibur film/poster in the same way in its flashback opening with the Waynes going out of a cinema (which also takes place in 1981) right before Thomas and Martha get murdered and leave Bruce as an orphan.
    • Batman (1989) controversially made the Joker himself the killer of Bruce Wayne's parents, rather than a random petty crook. Here it's a random person again, but it happens during a riot Joker helped instigate (and is the reason the Waynes try taking a back alley) and doing it to emulate him, complete with a clown mask and quoting Arthur almost verbatim when shooting Thomas.
    • At one point, Arthur mentions that he's had a very bad day.
    • A possible reference to Batman happens when young Bruce is going to meet Arthur at the Wayne Manor gate. He slides down a fireman pole, like Adam West’s Batman before he usually went to face the Joker.
    • Joker's talk show appearance in the film is very clearly influenced by a similar scene in The Dark Knight Returns. Right down to it not ending well for the host or the people watching.
    • In Dark Knight Returns, the Joker kills Dr. Ruth (yes, that Dr. Ruth) by giving her a toxic kiss. This is alluded to in the film when he greets a Dr. Ruth Expy with a big kiss on the lips, causing the host to ask if she's OK.
    • The social worker Arthur sees twice in the film (before the department's funding is cut) is named Debra Kane — also the name of a Child Protective Services caseworker in the novel Batman The Ultimate Evil. A very fitting homage, given what we find out later about Arthur being abused as a child.
    • The rioters modeling themselves after Arthur/the Joker may make them a Canon Immigrant of the Jokerz from Batman Beyond, gangsters (many from poorer backgrounds) who emulate the Joker in admiration of him.
    • The "super-rats" segment on Murray Franklin's show and in the news references Ratcatcher, an obscure D-list villain who could mind control rats and is set to appear in James Gunn's The Suicide Squad.
    • While the Joker's iconic suit is red in this film as opposed to purple, outdoor lightings make it look a bit more purplish, possibly unintentionally giving off a resemblance to Joker's ruby-colored suit in Batman (1966).
    • Arthur takes a moment to enjoy a Charlie Chaplin film. The Joker, in most continuities, is a fan of classic comedians, with Chaplin being one of his favorites.
    • In the final scene, Arthur was being evaluated by an African-American female doctor at Arkham, who could be a nod to the Batman: The Animated Series character Dr. Joan Leland, another African-American female doctor at Arkham who was also notably responsible for bringing in Dr. Harleen Quinzel in the series finale episode "Mad Love" adapted from an Eisner Award-winning one-shot special-issue graphic novel of the show's tie-in comic The Batman Adventures, which leads to Harleen to first meet and fall in love with the Joker and caused her to become Harley Quinn.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: When looking at the few trailer shots of the clown mask-wearing people and Joker putting a similar mask on in the subway train, one gets the impression that Arthur becomes a criminal mastermind ala The Dark Knight at some point, forming a criminal gang with clown masks and triggering riots on purpose. In the film, he's actually alone all along, has no mass chaos-motivated goals and gets lucky during a chase in the subway, and the riots and their clown theming are entirely accidental and partly stem from his murder spree.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Murray Franklin is the host of America's most popular late-night talk show, with the power to make or break a comedian's career by inviting them on the show for a conversation (which explains Arthur's fantasy of going on the show). However, Franklin can also be a Jerkass, as demonstrated when he does book Arthur on the show to follow up on his earlier airing of Arthur's disastrous stand-up set, making fun of this "joker" as a novelty act. In other words, he's the DC equivalent of Johnny Carson. Though there's some Jon Stewart thrown into there, with Stewart’s snarky persona and at times hard hitting questions.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Arthur being incarcerated at Arkham at the end of the movie shows that the GCPD manages to arrest him and quell the riot.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: In a pivotal moment in the third act, Arthur's scenes with Sophie are replayed. It is revealed that Sophie was never there; all this time, Arthur had been simply fantasizing about them dating.
  • Pastiche: Of early Martin Scorsese works, such as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.
  • Period Piece: The film is set in 1981 (as evidenced by the fact Zorro, The Gay Blade, Wolfen, Excalibur, and Blow Out are playing in theatres), and the time frame is also felt in the general technology, aesthetics, Arthur being able to smoke inside public buildings, and using an altered version of the Saul Bass version of the Warner Bros. logo at the beginning.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Similar to Heath Ledger's version, the Joker's Monster Clown appearance is no longer the result of a chemical bath. Instead, it's simply makeup that was left over from his career as a party clown. This is a deliberate choice, since the film's intention was to ground the character in a realistic, more believable story and setting.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Arthur delivers one to Murray on his talk show, just before shooting him in the head.
    "What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society THAT ABANDONED HIM AND TREATS HIM LIKE TRASH?! I'LL TELL YOU WHAT YOU GET! YOU GET WHAT YOU FUCKIN' DESERVE!"
  • Protagonist Title: Joker is the film's (eventual) Villain Protagonist.
  • Reading Foreign Signs Out Loud: To avert this, all handwritten text in the movie is digitally altered in the German and the Russian versions to appear German or Russian. Curiously, all printed text in the movie is left in English.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Arthur's poor income, smoking habits, and the number of anti-psychotic drugs he used have resulted in a skeletal frame.
    • This Joker's villainy manifests as a week-long spree of killing people he feels have wronged him. Unlike most versions he is not a super intelligent hypercompetent criminal mastermind, because obviously a mentally ill outcast has neither the people skills nor the resources to run a criminal syndicate.
    • Arthur is presumably barred from owning a firearm due to his diagnosable mental illness. (Which later turns out may in fact be brain damage) He still manages to obtain a gun practically without effort through illegal means, which particularly makes sense when you realize what a rathole Gotham is, with people apparently being attacked on the streets at borderline random on at least a somewhat regular basis.
    • What kind of people would actually follow a "criminal clown" like the Joker? A combination of violent thugs carried away with mob violence and people who have been pushed so far by the squalor and urban decay of Gotham that his crude anarcho-nihilistic message actually seems genuinely inspired.
    • After he's injured by one of the anarchists ramming the police car he's in, Arthur seemingly embraces the identity of the Joker and is applauded by the crowd of cheering, clown-faced rioters. After a Fade to Black, we reopen on Arthur receiving psychiatric evaluation in Arkham, because obviously 1) catching Arthur is going to be the police's number one priority thanks to the riots, and 2) having just been in a car accident, Arthur is in no condition to escape from them again. Too bad the latter judgment proves to be false since Arthur's body's been used to intense physical abuse since early childhood.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Randall gives Arthur a gun for self-defense even though he is not allowed to carry one. First thing he does with it is accidentally shoot his apartment's wall while dancing.
  • Red Is Violent: Arthur wears a red shirt when he has well and truly snapped and smothers his own mother. Also, the jacket and pants to his Joker costume are such a specific shade of purple that they appear red in certain shots.
  • Related in the Adaptation: Subverted, but is nonetheless a plot point. Arthur discovers a letter from his mother saying that he is Thomas Wayne's illegitimate son, but soon after confronting Thomas about it he was told of Penny's true colors and his adoption. This serves as the final straw for Arthur to fully snap.
  • The Reveal:
    • Arthur was never dating Sophie, he was just fantasizing about dating her. We're shown Arthur's tendency to daydream and fantasize early on in the film even while he's still on his meds, and there's no evidence that Arthur ever truly believed that Sophie was his girlfriend. The audience is led to believe she is, but that's simply because we're seeing his fantasies play out as if they're real. When he enters her apartment and she doesn't seem to be familiar with him, he doesn't show any confusion or upset like he would if he truly thought she had been his girlfriend all this time. There's no "What are you talking about? You're my girlfriend!" or anything like that. It's a surprise to the audience alone, not to Arthur. This proves that it wasn't delusion or hallucination as a result of going off his meds, contrary to popular belief, but mere fantasy that the audience is played into believing as true.
    • Arthur was adopted by Penny, has no relation to Thomas Wayne and was horribly abused by his foster mother's boyfriend. However, a scene in which Arthur finds a tender note to Penny from "TW" muddies the waters somewhat. Of course, it's entirely possible that the delusional Penny wrote the note herself... but also equally possible that Thomas Wayne use his connections and money to get Arthur's adoption papers faked as part of a scheme to discredit Penny, so he could get out of supporting her and Arthur.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Was Arthur actually Thomas Wayne's son, or was his mother really delusional?
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: It is reported on the radio and in the newspaper that Gotham's rat infestation is growing in both size and numbers due to the deteriorating condition of the city, with them being dubbed by the media as "super rats". Rats appear in the background of several shots, and are shown to be close in size to an average house cat.
  • Rotten Rock & Roll: While in full clown makeup, Arthur has a moment on the stairs where he dances insanely to the backdrop of Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll". (Fittingly, Glitter has become infamous for his own crimes.)
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • In the opening scene, Arthur sits at a mirror and pulls the sides of his lips down to make an exaggerated frown, then pulls them up to create a huge smile. Both of his faces are an absolutely perfect imitation of the theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy (even down to the tear falling from the right eye), themes that are crucial in Arthur's character.
    • Arthur has to walk up a huge set of stairs to get home every day, and every time he does it, he's hunched over and sluggish, like he's being weighed down by life's harsh realities. As the Joker, he dances down the same steps, now brimming with confidence and grace, while also descending deeper into insanity.
    • As a young Bruce stands over the corpses of his parents, rats are seen scurrying away from the boy. This is undoubtedly a hint towards what will become of him.
  • Sanity Slippage: Arthur's whole arc is about how he slowly loses his sanity and becomes the Joker.
  • Setting Update: A specific example: as usual, the Wayne couple die after watching a Zorro movie in theaters with young Bruce, but many previous versions (either set in The '40s or having 1940s-ish Ambiguous Time Periods) had them go to see The Mark of Zorro. The film is set in 1981, so they go to see Zorro, the Gay Blade, which came out at the time.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The teaser trailer uses a cover of "Smile", Charlie Chaplin's original composition from Modern Times. To double down on it, Fleck is even shown being thrown out of a cinema that's advertising a showing of that very film.
    • Films from 1981, including Excalibur, Blow Out, Zorro, the Gay Blade and Wolfen appear on signage.
    • Jackson C. Frank's soulful folk song "My Name is Carnival" features in the soundtrack and is discussed in dialogue.
  • Sickbed Slaying: Arthur Fleck kills his mother Penny while she is laying in the hospital bed hooked up to machines due to a stroke, by smothering her with a pillow.
  • Stalker with a Crush:
    • Arthur follows Sophie around town when he becomes interested in her.
    • Arthur's mother is revealed to have been one to Thomas Wayne, which was the reason she was let go by the Wayne family. She later came up with a delusion that Arthur was her love child with Thomas, and wrote him a letter to that effect with the aim of re-insinuating herself into his life.
  • Show Within a Show: Live! with Murray Franklin, a popular late-night show hosted in Gotham. Arthur's stand-up is featured on it and he's eventually invited on.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy — especially its second installment The Dark Knight. It's a stand-alone feature film based on the main villain of The Dark Knight, and, much like Nolan's take on the Batman mythology, takes a more realistic approach to the character. The only difference is that the movie deconstructs the philanthropist reputation of the Waynes and the wealthy superhero narrative of the comic books by showing the lives of Gotham's underclass and how Thomas and Bruce Wayne's class status indirectly contributes the societal evil. While The Dark Knight takes a Humans Are Flawed worldview in the end, Joker takes a straight-up Humans Are Bastards view. Furthermore, Todd Phillips' Gotham resembles the impoverished part of New York City, where Nolan's Gotham resembles the cleaner side of Chicago.
  • Start of Darkness: The film is a theoretical origin story for its titular character, a comedian who decides to make people smile in a gruesome fashion due to a combination of emotional trauma and mental illness.
  • Suddenly Sober: The three Wall Street punks in the subway car are obviously smashed and/or high off their asses. One of them in particular is sat in a seat with a Thousand-Yard Stare, barely able to respond to his compatriots. When Arthur goes on a rampage, he's the only one who even comes close to escaping.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Arthur gets his store sign stolen and is brutally assaulted with it by a group of teenagers.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Arthur tries his best to be a good person, but the constant pressures of society, the endless tide of misfortune he suffers, and mockery from the public eventually push him over the edge.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Arthur never once actually eats any of his meals onscreen, instead always resorting to a Cigarette of Anxiety before he can. This contributes strongly to his near-skeletal frame, and even his own mother comments that he needs to eat more.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Numerous scenes are made ambiguous because of Arthur's deteriorating mental health and how the film doesn't separate between his hallucinations and reality. For example, we see late in the film his entire relationship with his neighbour Sophie was fabricated in his mind.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The entire production team of Murray Franklin's show, including the man himself. They let a relatively unknown comedian come onto their taping without properly vetting him beforehand to make sure he isn't unstable, and then they do not even try to properly search him for any sort of weapons or dangerous objects before the show, all while there are violent clown-themed riots going on and they would have cause to be worried about a man dressed like a clown. Then, after Arthur admits on national television that he killed at least three people, Murray's response is to angrily antagonize him further which leads to Arthur killing him as a punchline.
    • Randall decides to give a gun to Arthur, the coworker everybody at the clown-for-hire business regards as creepy, then throws Arthur under the bus when the gun lands him in trouble. This gives Arthur more than enough reason to violently kill him.
  • Tragic Dream: Before becoming Joker, Arthur wanted to be a stand-up comedian. His instability makes this pretty much impossible.
  • Uncertain Doom:
    • The last time we see Sophie Dumond, she's alone with Arthur and clearly fearing for her life. In the next shot, Arthur is walking out of her apartment with a smile on his face. It doesn't help that when Arthur returns to his apartment, sirens, loud door-pounding, and yelling can be heard in the background. Her ultimate fate seems to be up to interpretation.
    • It is implied that Arthur kills or at least injures his psychiatrist at Arkham State Hospital in the ending. He is shown exiting the interview room with blood on his shoes.
  • Unreliable Narrator:
    • Arthur is a chronic daydreamer who fantasizes about being closer with people than he really is. We see this first with his fantasy about being an audience member of the Murray Franklin show and having an intimate moment with his hero, but it's used against the audience later and with much more subtlety with Sophie and his increasingly intimate interactions with her. We're shown these events as if they're real, but they're another fantasy playing out in his head all along. It would be debatable if these were fantasies or full-on mentally ill delusions and hallucinations if Sophie wondering who he is when he enters her apartment were to trigger any kind of surprise or upset in Arthur, but they don't. Arthur knows they were never together; the audience doesn't. He had merely been fantasizing about her the whole time. This makes one wonder just how much of what we see is real and how much of it is Arthur fantasizing.
    • Penny counts as one, at least in-universe, when she claims that he is Thomas Wayne's illegitimate son. We later learn that she is delusional and not only lied about this, but also about Arthur's adoption.
  • Villain Has a Point:
    • While Murray is right that not everyone is as bad as Arthur thinks, Arthur is right to point out that Murray only brought him on the show to humiliate and make fun of him...presuming, of course, that Murray made that decision himself instead of the network.
    • Arthur is legally barred from owning a gun and gets fired for carrying one, though he does live in a Crapsack World where people are liable to get attacked at random. Possibly a subversion, since him getting his hands on a gun is what ultimately enables his descent into insanity, proving that he really shouldn't have had access to one.
  • Visual Pun: Arthur forgot to punch out of his shift. So he punches the clock.
  • Waving Signs Around: A very dark Call-Back established in the trailer with Arthur starting out in sign-spinning, evolving into the Joker causing picketing and protests for his scheme.
  • We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties: Murray Franklin's show cuts to a test screen after Joker murders Murray on the air.
  • Wham Line:
    • When Sophie sees Arthur sitting on her couch, what she says reveals that she was never really dating him.
      Sophie: Your name's Arthur, right?
    • Earlier, Arthur finds a letter from his mother to Thomas Wayne. One sentence stands out:
      "Your son and I need your help."
  • Wham Shot:
    • The entire sequence where we flash back to Arthur and Sophie together, which reveals that she was never with him in the first place.
    • For people familiar with Batman lore, the Waynes come out of a theater showing Zorro, the Gay Blade.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?: Done in-universe, Arthur's actions get interpreted as political statements of the destitute Gothamites despite just being random act of violence. Murray even asks him if he is part of the protestors only for Arthur to say he is just dressed as a clown.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Arthur is intensely abused, bullied, and humiliated before he snaps and turns into the Joker.
  • Wretched Hive: As always, Gotham City. Especially so because the city is being gripped by an economic recession, causing severe social tension, infrastructural decay, piles of trash on every street corner, and no Batman yet to pull Gotham out from its filth. It's just the sort of town where a random nobody could go crazy just trying to make a living...

"I used to think that my life was a tragedy. But now I realize... it's a fucking comedy."

Alternative Title(s): Joker

Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report