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"For my whole life, I didn’t know if I even really existed. But I do, and people are starting to notice."
Arthur Fleck
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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 Sophie Dumond, Frances Conroy as Arthur's mother Penny, and Robert de Niro as Murray Franklin, a talk show host. Other cast members include Marc Maron, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, and Shea Whigham. Hildur Guðnadóttir composed the soundtrack.

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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 — and while he hasn't made any promises, the actor has stated that he was interested in further exploring this iteration of the character.

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

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Previews: Teaser, Trailer.


Joker contains examples of:

  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: When Arthur goes on Murray's show, he slowly adopts a smarmy affect that continuously pronounces his name as "Muh-RAY" instead of "Murr-ee".
  • Actor Allusion: Joaquin Phoenix's disastrous 2010 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman has led many to joke that the Murray Franklin scene to be his "second worst late night performance".
  • Adaptational Context Change: In most incarnations of the story, Thomas and Martha Wayne are killed in a random street robbery gone violent or a hitman put on them by Gotham's mob. In this version, their killer targeted them and went for the kill during an Eat the Rich riot.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance: Unlike almost every other Joker-focused story where the titular villain debuts after Bruce Wayne has begun his Batman career, in this continuity Arthur Fleck is an adult well in his thirties while Bruce is still a kid. The end of the movie even serves as the impetus for Bruce's eventual Super Hero Origin.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: How this movie treats the Wayne household, Bruce aside. 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. Furthermore, 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.
    • It is worth noting that we only ever see both characters through the perspective of an embittered, mentally-disturbed individual with an unreliable at best view on the world. Furthermore, both only ever directly encounter him after he has approached Thomas Wayne's young son in a fashion that few parents/guardians wouldn't at least view as suspicious or potentially threatening. These are hardly circumstances in which either is likely to be at their warmest and friendliest in general, or specifically towards him.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Arthur Fleck starts off as an optimistic, albeit depressed Stepford Smiler who really just wants to bring happiness to Gotham; and, as he slowly devolves into becoming Joker, he becomes a vengeful leader of rioters who refuses to be treated like trash any longer, even sparing those who had done no harm to him such as Sophie and Gary. Both of Arthur's personalities stray pretty far from the usual characterization of the Joker: thoroughly, unfathomably sadistic to the point where he kills on a whim just to make a joke about it, and generally so vile that he earns a 0% Approval Rating reputation from even other Bat-Rogues.
  • 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.
  • An Aesop: Mentally-ill people are still people, and are just as deserving of love, kindness, and respect as anyone else. Had there been better support for the person that Arthur was, then he may not have become the Joker.
  • All There in the Manual: The man who Arthur meets outside Wayne Manor, played by Douglas Hodge, is only confirmed to be Alfred Pennyworth by the official cast list; his name is never mentioned in the movie.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Arthur's uncontrollable laughter is a real medical condition, called the Pseudobulbar affect. Ironically, because of the popularity of the character, it is often unofficially referred to as "Joker Syndrome".
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Not Penny, who is diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But Arthur, whose disorder is stated to be uncontrollable laughter, but towards the end it becomes clear, by becoming muddier, that while he may or may not have brain damage from being abused as a child that makes him laugh at inappropriate times, he certainly seems to have at least one personality disorder, as well as some kind of dissociative disorder, and that's not even getting into his depression and apparent bipolar disorder.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Anti-Humor: The one joke that Arthur actually tells in full definitely qualifies.
Arthur: Knock knock.
Murray: Who's there?
Arthur: It's the police, ma'am. Your son's been hit by a drunk driver. He's dead!
  • Appropriated Appellation:
    • In this world, "Joker" starts off as a word Murray uses to mock Arthur while playing his comedy club tape. He later asks Murray to introduce him as such, although Murray doesn't immediately get the full personal significance of it.
    • The protesters start calling themselves "clowns" and wearing clown masks everywhere after Thomas Wayne contemptuously refers to them as such on TV.
  • 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. Lastly, Arthur brings up the name before killing Penny, stating that he has "never been happy for one minute in [his] entire fucking life."
    • "You think this is funny?"
  • The Artifact: Downplayed. The Ascended Meme of Joker blaming society for treating him like trash during his "another joke" with Murray Franklin, which was added by Joaquin Phoenix, makes his previous speech with the audience about the system choosing what's right and wrong lose some rhythm, as Arthur is meant to have said system during the joke.
  • 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 as originally written said "a system"), so it's not clear if he was doing this deliberately.
  • Aside Glance: In the police car near the end of the movie, we get one from the now fully fledged Joker.
  • 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. By Joker's apparent final murder, he appears to have given up needing any rationalization to kill people.
      • Arthur meets his first three victims while they gang up to harass a woman in a subway train before turning to gang up on him; he kills the first two 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 (except for, quite understandably, when Arthur casually admitted on live TV to having killed three people) and offered him an opportunity to further his career.
      • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • 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. It's even lampshaded by Sophie who jokes that she was hoping Arthur would come in and try to rob it.
  • 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 a Fantasy Sequence 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 as to why he doesn't kill him.
  • Beneath Notice: Arthur, dressed as an usher, is able to sneak into the theatre and talk to Thomas Wayne in private in the gents room.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Joker's real name, "Fleck," is German and could be translated as "stain (of dirt or paint)" — or as "taint," which hints at the omnipresently dirty setting of Gotham, the unknown things lurking in both the Joker's and Penny's pasts, and that there is something very wrong with both of them.
  • 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.
    • After getting thrown into Arkham and murdering his therapist, the film ends with Arthur playing cat-and-mouse with an orderly.
  • Bleed 'em and Weep: Played with. After killing the three Wayne Enterprises employees, Arthur runs away and locks himself in a public bathroom, on the verge of a panic attack. However, he starts dancing to cope with what he’s done afterward, and it’s after this that he begins to build up his confidence.
  • *Bleep*-dammit!: The wall of TVs playing out Murray's murder censor Arthur's Precision F-Strike beforehand, yet still leave the gunshot unedited and uncensored.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: 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, earning the film an R rating. The film also lacks the stylised Gorn of most other R-Rated comic-book media such as Watchmen and the Deadpool films, instead presenting the violence in a much grittier and more realistic manner akin to Logan.
  • 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 Mean 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 not uncontrollably — but willingly — at a "joke" he was thinking of while being interviewed by an Arkham psychiatrist.
    • 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.
    • Earlier in the film, the Wall Street kids (whom every rich elite in Gotham were trying to victimize) told Arthur to "stay down" as he was lying on the floor while they were beating him up, yet the crazy riot group (whom the rich elite in Gotham were trying to demonize) were urging Joker to "get up" as he was lying on the car hood after they saved him from police.
  • Boom, Headshot!:
    • The three Wall Street guys on the train are beating up Arthur when Arthur suddenly starts shooting. The first shot hits one of them in the head.
    • Arthur shoots Murray Franklin in the head during Murray's own talk show, shouting "You get what you fucking deserve!"
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Murray Franklin and Joker. While Murray is a bit of a Jerkass, he is nonetheless correct that not everyone is as rotten as Joker is claiming they are and that Joker's throwing a pity party just to justify his own horrific acts. On the other side, while Joker was never exactly the pinnacle of sanity, he is definitely correct that the main reason he is who he is now is because everyone uses his illness as an excuse to beat him down and everyone he knows has either abused him or thrown him under the bus, so he has genuine reasons behind his nihilistic ideology.
  • Bottomless Magazines: While not as excessive as most examples, in one particular scene, Arthur fires 8 rounds from his six-shot .38 snubnose without being shown reloading the gun. This is possibly a sign of his Sanity Slippage. Possibly a Conservation of Detail if he reloaded offscreen, given the time between shots.
  • Brick Joke: The three drunken Wall Street guys that Arthur kills are poorly singing at one point before they terrorize him. Following his admission of killing them on Murray's show, he offers his rationale in the form of a quip: "They couldn't carry a tune to save their lives."
  • 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, Thomas Burke, 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. Murray is also at least partly inspired by Dave Endochrine, from The Dark Knight Returns, who similarly meets his fate on the wrong side of the Joker's ire after giving him an interview on live television. 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" who 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, pushes the impoverished over the edge into a fully fledged Eat the Rich movement.
  • Cassandra Truth: Arthur's boss doesn't believe his explanation behind the complaint from one of his clients saying he disappeared without even returning their sign, of a gang of teenagers stealing it then jumping him with it, and tell him it's coming out of his paycheck.
  • Casting Gag: Robert De Niro being cast as Murray Franklin is an ironic role reversal of The King of Comedy, in which he played a Loony Fan to Jerry Lewis's popular late-night talk show host who has extremely awkward interactions with Murray's staff and does something horrible on live television. 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 starring a mentally-unbalanced loner railing at society helps, too.
  • Chased Off into the Sunset: At the end, Joker is trying to leave the asylum he's been committed to, but starts getting chased by an orderly (who most likely has back-up coming).
  • Chekhov's Skill: Arthur's habit of banging his head makes for a weird example. In one brief flashback, we see him banging his head against a door at a mental hospital, and after being fired from his clown job we see his head is strong enough to completely break the glass wall of the phone booth he's in. It comes up later when, as he's struggling to pry his mom's hospital records from a clerk's hands, him smashing his head against the barrier gets the clerk to loosen his grip out of shock.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Before he fully becomes the Joker, Arthur is almost constantly smoking. It's presumably one of the few things that alleviates his constant stress and depression at all.
  • Continuity Cameo:
    • When Arthur speaks to Bruce through the gate at Wayne Manor, he is sent away by the Wayne's British butler, whom the cast list confirms 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 Joseph Chilton a.k.a. Joe Chill.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: While standing before a group of rioters, Arthur uses a nosebleed he got from a car crash to paint a clownish smile on his face.
  • Cradle of Loneliness: In his bed, Arthur cradles the pillow where his mother used to sleep.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Crucified Hero Shot:
    • A variation. Arthur viewed from behind with his arms outstretched becomes an Arc Symbol when he feels triumphant.
    • After killing the men on the subway, Arthur tries to come to terms with his actions with an interpretive dance. By the time he finishes, he's calmed himself and may even feel he actually brought some street justice on the men, he's sporting the pose for the first time.
    • We see it again after his first stand up routine and he kills it. Well, supposedly.
    • It later shows up right before he takes the stage at Murray Franklin's show, though this time Arthur is holding the pose to replicate the effect, since he's trying to keep his confidence before he goes on.
    • We finally see the effect in full force during the film's climax, where Joker is standing on top of a police car and spreading his arms to the thousands of protestors cheering him on.
  • 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: Easily the darkest live-action Batman film ever filmed. 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 Waynenote , but the former is a Butt-Monkey because of his kindness and the latter is only a little boy in this movie. It is also the most grounded comic book film ever made since The Punisher flicks — there are no fantasy elements of any type at all to be found, apart from the throwaway "super rats" joke.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: During a call from Murray's people, an emaciated, unstable Arthur is fondling himself in his underwear for a brief second.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype:
    • Arthur is easily one of the crudest, bitterest deconstructions ever portrayed of what it means to be the Butt-Monkey and The Chew Toy. From the aggressors' perspective it can be very funny, but seeing the context from the opposing side can be quite a invoked Tear Jerker perspective. Bullies generally believe they get away with humiliating and mistreating more vulnerable, passive, and shy people than themselves. The point is, this is not the case. Arthur demonstrates that dealing with physical and psychological abuse on a regular and consistent basis will bring inevitable and negative repercussions.
    • To a lesser degree, Thomas Wayne is this for Non-Idle Rich. Instead of being a worldly figure who will bring order to the city, he is an arrogant jerk with a vague understanding of suffering, but little compassion for it.
    • Arthur is also a deconstruction of Insane Equals Violent. Insane people fall to violence not because they are inherently evil, but because their mental illness is compelling them to perform impulsive actions; in Arthur's case, he's impulsively and violently reacting against a society that alienated him.
  • Deconstruction: Of The Joker himself. Not only does the film totally de-glamorize the entire idea behind The Joker, the case of many expies of the character, and all the invoked coolness, toughness, badassery, lethality and smartness that his previous counterpart was best known for, it make him look vulnerable, mentally ill, awkward, pitable, and absolutely pathetic. Arthur is not an ultra-intelligent criminal mastermind who regularly terrorizes Gotham with outlandishly destructive schemes (at least, not yet). He becomes a serial killer over the course of the story, but he's nowhere near the super-terrorist the comics make him out to be. This makes sense as Arthur lives in Perpetual Poverty, and has No Social Skills; he could never gather the resources nor the manpower to deliberately corral people over to his side and enact violence upon the populace. The only reason he's as much of a "threat" as he is is because people impose and project their own fears and/or needs upon him—everyone assumes that the three Wayne employees were murdered to make a political statement, and are quite surprised when Arthur explains he killed them "because they were awful" - and though he did, the in-universe populace thinks he's just doing it for shits and giggles when he had very good reason to do so. His seemingly random murders of people close to him are the result of slights (perceived or otherwise), not because he feels like it. All these attributes make him the most realistic version of the character ever filmed, eventually showing that, by the end of the day, someone would have to go through hell to become as twisted as The Joker. It's to the point where neurocriminologist Adrian Raine, who studied the psychology of violent criminals for over 40 years, was floored by how realistic Arthur's transformation into a violent sociopath is depicted.
  • Diegetic Switch: A rather ambiguous one, that could change how you see the movie. At the end, we hear Sinatra's That's Life playing... and then, Joker starts singing along.
  • 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 Franklin 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, especially the former.
    • 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.
  • 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: Arthur snaps and becomes the Joker, killing several people before confessing to his first three murders and then killing Murray Franklin live on TV. His actions subsequently start a riot that leads to the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, which puts Bruce down his fated path. 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 after apparently killing his therapist and presumably escaping the asylum entirely to cause more chaos. The only silver lining is that Gotham may be at its breaking point now, but one day, a protector will rise up when the city needs it most.
  • 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.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Arthur tells a knock-knock joke about a mother son being killed by a drunk driver, no one is amused.
    Dr. Sally: No, no no no no, you cannot joke about that!
    Murray: Yeah, that's not funny, Arthur. That's not the kind of humor we do on the show.
  • 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/symbolizing the rich elite.
  • The '80s: The film is set in the backdrop of 1981, in the midst of an economic recession.
  • 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.
  • Escalating Brawl: With two cops on his heel, Arthur incites a brawl on the subway train that quickly escalates and leads to an impenetrable Mobstacle Course for the cops.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Though he is happy to shoot a married couple to death in cold blood for the crime of being wealthy, Joe Chill will not shoot their eight-year-old heir who's just standing there.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: Randall, Arthur's ex-coworker and who inadvertently got him fired and sliding towards insanity, visits Arthur over being blamed for giving him the gun that got Arthur fired. Arthur responds by stabbing him through the face and neck several times, then slamming what's left into the wall.
  • Eye Scream: Arthur stabs Randall in the eyeball right after stabbing him in the neck.
  • Failed Dramatic Exit: 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 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 tries cluing him in.
  • Famous Last Words:
    • "Hold him steady, hold him steady." — Wall Street man #1
    • "Stay down, freak!" — Wall Street man #2
    • "HEYYYY! HEEEELP!" — Ryan/Wall Street man #3
    • "And besides, you can imagine what people would say about Thomas, and me, and...what they'd say about you." — Penny Fleck
    • "I just wanna--" — Randall
    • "Call the police, Gene. Call the police." — Murray Franklin
    • "Stop laughin', you freak. This isn't funny." — Cop #1
    • "We have the whole fuckin' city on fire because of what you did." — Cop #2
    • "Hey, pal!" — Thomas Wayne
    • "Do you want to tell it to me?" — Arkham Psychiatrist
  • Fan Disservice: Arthur - a skeletal shell of a man - has several scenes in his underwear. At one point, we even see him fondling himself.
  • Fantasy Sequence: 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.
  • Finger-Forced Smile: In the first scene, Arthur is shown forcing himself to smile in this manner. Later, he tries the same thing on a young Bruce Wayne.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: On Murray's show, Arthur defends killing the three Wayne employees by saying they were "awful". Moments later, he uses the same word to describe Murray himself. Unfortunately, Murray doesn't take the hint.
  • Flatline: Subverted; after Arthur kills his mom in her hospital bed, her heart monitor beeps indicate a slowing heartbeat, but her death is followed by complete silence, not a flatline.
  • Footprints of Muck: At the end, Arthur is trailing red footprints in the halls of Arkham Hospital, suggesting that he may have killed the psychotherapist he was seeing.
  • 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.
    • After Arthur discovers his mother's affair with Thomas Wayne, Penny yells during an argument with him that he's going to kill her. Sure enough, he later on does just that.
    • 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 be 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.
    • Arthur repeats Sophie's "shoot myself in the head" gesture back at her after they meet in the elevator, providing us two instances of Foreshadowing. The first is one the movie itself spells out later by showing a flashback to this scene to indicate that it served as Arthur's inspiration to commit suicide on Murray's show. The second is Sophie's reaction, which is her being understandably creeped out by how he returns the gesture to her; this is not a woman who would consider Arthur as a romantic partner, even without taking into account the aforementioned stalking.
    • 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.
    • Arthur occasionally bashes his head into things when releasing pent-up aggression, and doesn't seem any worse for wear after the fact. Later on, it's revealed he suffered severe head trauma as a child.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • While Arthur's mother is legitimately delusional, a freeze frame shot in her file reveals she was lobotomized.
    • 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 passes Arthur) who were inspired by his murders of the three.
  • 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.
  • Gainax Ending: The final scenes in the asylum cast doubt on the "reality" of everything we've seen and veers into surreality.
  • 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 Struggle: Happens between a cop and a protester in a subway train.
  • 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, finishing off one who attempts to stagger away, references several scenes from Death Wish. This time, though, rather than being a man from "civilized society"'s reaction to poor and Black "thugs," a poor person confronts upper-class "thugs."
  • Hope Spot: When Arthur ends up on Murray's show for real, he seems overjoyed, and despite previously mocking him on TV, Murray encourages him to tell a joke and the audience cheers him on. But then, Arthur ruins it by choosing to make a tasteless joke, and the interview only goes downhill from there.
  • Horrible Housing: Arthur Fleck's apartment building is poorly-lit, badly-maintained, and cramped, to the point that his mentally ill mother Penny continuously writes to Thomas Wayne in hopes that he'll move them somewhere better. In contrast, the Wayne estate in the film is incredibly large for a family of three.
  • 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 Franklin — who ridiculed him on national TV — doesn't help matters.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Sure, Murray, have a clown-faced man on your show without screening him for weapons while there are 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.
    • Also, why would Arthur keep the gun Randall gave him in his pants, where it can easily slip out, especially when doing a dance involving stomping the ground repeatedly is a part of your clown routine? Why not in his jacket pocket or in a hidden holster?
  • Ignore the Disability: Invoked in Arthur's joke book, where he writes "The worst thing about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you DON'T."
  • 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 almost completely different from his comics canon and usual portrayals to the point it's hard to imagine him becoming a criminal mastermind and fearsome nemesis to Batman, and those few characters from the DC universe that also appear have different characterizations. With how realistic everything is, it's difficult to imagine that the events in the movie could lead to the fantastical adventures of Batman and the Joker.
  • Ironic Echo: Murray Franklin's Signing-Off Catchphrase — "Good night, and always remember: that's life!" — is repeated by Arthur after killing him, serving as something of a summary of his words and deeds.
  • Irony: The rich are shown watching Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, a classic film to highlight how "cultured" they are to contrast the lower class rioters. Modern Times, however, is entirely about the struggles of the poor and unemployed, with the elite in that film depicted with some scorn.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Arthur really didn't mean any harm when interacting with the kid on the bus. But the kid's mom has every right to be wary of any stranger her child interacts with, especially in a Wretched Hive like Gotham.
    • 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.
    • It doesn't matter how innocent his intentions are or how much of a Corrupt Corporate Executive you are, if a strange man walks up to your child and sticks his own fingers in the kid's mouth, few reactions other than to yell at him to never touch your son again are justified.
  • Jump Scare:
    • In-Universe; after brutally killing Randall, Arthur turns to the traumatized Gary and lunges at him with a scream before immediately backing off, showing it to be a joke.
    • When Arthur plays around with a loaded gun and it accidentally goes off, scaring him and leaving a hole in the wall,
  • Karma Houdini: The teenaged thugs who mug and assault Arthur at the beginning are among the few people to suffer no consequences for ruining Arthur's life in the film. Arthur is willing to forgive the teens for just being kids acting out.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Arthur gets this treatment twice. First by the teenagers in the back alley and again by the three yuppies on a subway train.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: The audience will be on Arthur's side for shooting three violent rich drunk guys who were beating the shit out of him, and the first two killings are arguably done by Arthur in self-defense. Even if the last guy was trying to get away it doesn’t make him any more sympathetic as he still harassed the lady earlier and joined the other two in beating Arthur.
  • Killing in Self-Defense: Zig-zagged. When Arthur shoots the three rich thugs, he is indeed shooting in self-defense because they 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 (though it still counts as well deserved Kick the Son of a Bitch moment).
  • 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. The other companies involved in the production, DC Films and Bron Creative, have their logos appear after the end credits.
  • Lost in a Crowd: Arthur is able to evade the two detectives pursuing him in full Joker getup by infiltrating a train full of clown protestors, stealing a mask from one of them (inciting a brawl), and backing away.
  • Lost in Translation: Any non-English speaking country where Joker's name is traditionally untranslated loses the origin by Appropriated Appellation given to it in this film.
  • 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.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The ending implies that Arthur is somehow aware that, after watching his parents get murdered, young Bruce is on his way to becoming his main source of fun in the future.
    Joker: ...I was just thinking of a joke.
    [Scene cuts to young Bruce, staring in shock at the corpses of his parents.]
    Psychiatrist: You wanna tell it to me?
    Joker: ...You wouldn't get it.
  • Mean Boss: Arthur tried being a street clown advertising a closeout sale, but after his "EVERYTHING MUST GO!" sign is stolen and then smashed (into his face) by a group of teenagers, Hoyt (his boss) takes money from his paycheck to pay for it, refusing to believe Arthur's story that the teens simply jumped him for fun. He later fires Arthur for bringing a gun to a hospital, but this action is far more justified.
  • Meaningful Echo: "You get what you fucking deserve."
    • First said by Arthur immediately before killing Murray.
    • Said later by Joe Chill immediately before killing Thomas Wayne during a riot.
  • Misaimed Fandom: An in-universe example; Arthur's murders of the Wayne Enterprises employees are widely interpreted as being motivated by class anger, to the extent that his clown mask becomes a symbol of an anti-capitalist/anti-elite populist movement. In fact, Arthur killed them partly in self-defense and partly out of his own personal rage and anger, and claims to be apolitical. In general, he seems to lack any political agenda beyond general personal frustration and rage at being ignored and downtrodden, and the only interest he appears to have in the movement is the personal validation he gets out of finally doing something that people are paying attention to. Any political angle to his crimes is merely people projecting their own ideas onto them.
  • Motive Rant: Arthur lets out an iconic one before killing Murray, declaring that his transformation into Joker, as well as the (mostly inadvertent) horrors he's inflicted upon Gotham, is what the whole city deserves for disregarding him.
  • Movement Mascot: An In-Universe example occurs after Arthur kills (first in self defense and later with vengeful intent) the three employees of Wayne Enterprises (seen by witnesses as being done by an unknown guy dressed as a clown), which is perceived by a large, unhappy section of the populace as an act of rebellion against the system. This manifests into various protesters wearing clown masks, later exacerbating the situation into anarchy and full-on riots.
  • 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 Jerkass boss, and the punk street kids who literally mug and assault Arthur at the beginning of the film.
  • 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.
  • My Card: Played for Drama; at the start of the film, Arthur has to carry around a card to give to people that explains his uncontrollable laughter if he offends them.
  • Mythology Gag: Has its own page.
  • 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.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: After murdering the three tormenting him on the train, Arthur returns home and kisses Sophie. The kiss is later revealed to have never actually happened.
  • 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.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: It's implied Murray's team getting Arthur on a show is kind of making up for their initial mockery... and it's also what gets Murray murdered on live television and really triggers Arthur's change into the Joker.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • Arthur is on the receiving end of one delivered by the teen thugs at the film's beginning.
    • The officers pursuing Arthur get one from the subway riding clown mob later on. It's so severe they're both hospitalized, in critical condition.
  • No Sympathy: Arthur gets jumped by some teens at the beginning of the movie, and as a result his boss Hoyt demands he return the sign they smashed over his face or else he'll deduct it from his next paycheck.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Arthur being incarcerated at Arkham at the end of the movie shows that the GCPD managed 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.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: When Randall "gives" Arthur a gun, it is made reasonably clear that he is using the nice conversation as a cover because you can't just say in public that you're illegally selling someone a gun, even mentioning that Arthur can "pay him back later". Later we find out that Arthur asked Randall to sell him a gun, and realize that Arthur had forgotten about that and took the "gift" at face value.
  • Origin Story: For the Joker, but in a twist the movie also depicts the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne and thus the origin of Batman.
  • Pastiche: Of early Martin Scorsese works, such as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.
  • Pensieve Flashback: Arthur, as his current self, appears in a flashback of his younger mother being interrogated.
  • 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 the Saul Bass version of the Warner Bros. logo at the beginning.
  • Power Walk: Arthur is seen triumphantly walking in slow motion from the subway station where a brawl between the protesters and the police force has broken out.
  • 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:
"I used to think that my life was a tragedy. But now I realize... it's a fucking comedy."
  • Arthur delivers a spiteful one to Murray on his talk show under the thin guise of a second joke 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!"
  • Joe Chill adopts "You get what you fucking deserve" for right before he offs Thomas Wayne.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Arthur's metamorphosis into the Joker is the point of the film.
  • Protagonist Title: Joker is the film's (eventual) Villain Protagonist.
  • "Psycho" Strings: There is one recurring track that is a rising half-second beat, accompanied by booming bass drums. This plays in such scenes such as The Reveal regarding Sophie and Arthur's interaction being all in the latter's head, and before Arthur shoots Murray.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: Gotham has been sent into chaos, Arthur Fleck has given himself up to the Joker, and he has left a trail of bodies in his wake, with many more to come. But by doing so, he has now become responsible for creating his own undoing.
  • Reading Foreign Signs Out Loud: To avert this, all handwritten text in the movie is digitally altered in the French, German, Italian and Russian versions to appear French, German, Italian or Russian. Curiously, all printed text in the movie is left in English.
  • 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. It's entirely possible that the delusional Penny wrote the note herself... but also equally possible that Thomas Wayne used 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.
    • 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. The adoption angle throws a spanner into the works. Arthur 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.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The Reveal that Sophie was never dating Arthur puts their previous interactions in a new light. Much of how she treats and talks to Arthur is noticeably very Wish Fulfillment (directly telling him that's he's funny and proudly taking his side when seeing a newspaper about the subway murders) and, quite apparently, her daughter is never brought up in conversations between the two.
  • Riddle for the Ages: 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 and he pulled strings to 1)have her committed, 2)lobotomized and 3) have fake adoption papers made?
    • 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 is worth noting that throughout the film we never actually see him doing anything constructive to uplift Gotham's people out of poverty — he mostly alternates between taking his family out to film screenings and giving condescending interviews.
    • 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 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?
    • Did Arthur really have the Pseudobulbar Affect (and if so, was it caused by the head injuries he endured as a child) or, as he claims, was he genuinely finding it all funny and had always been trying to suppress it?
  • 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 (Part 2)" (fittingly, Glitter has become infamous for his own crimes).note 
  • Ruder and Cruder: Joker is the most profane film featuring the Joker, featuring no less than 25 F-Bombs. Most of the other films featuring him have one or two, tops.
  • 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.
    • When Arthur and Bruce meet, they're wearing jackets that are a similar shade of brown. Arthur's is cheap and weathered, while Bruce's is finer and in better condition, highlighting how they're connected beyond their status.
    • 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.
    • When he visits Arkham to look into his mother's records, Arthur is wearing a jacket in the same yellow as the brick walls and a shirt in the same red as the pipes, showing that Arkham is where he belongs.
  • Sanity Slippage: Arthur's whole arc is about how he slowly loses his sanity and becomes the Joker.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Arthur kills every single parental figure he has throughout the movie, directly murdering his mother, Penny, and Murray, whom he looked up to like a father figure, while the riots he incited lead to the death of Thomas Wayne, who may or may not be his biological father.
  • Sequel Hook: While the film is self-contained in nature, the last sequence — in which the Joker realizes that he's created an enemy in the now-orphaned Bruce Wayne, and he then makes an attempt to escape from Arkham — qualifies... Presuming that anything that happened in the last third of the film is real.
  • 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.
  • Shear Menace: Arthur attacks Randall with a pair of scissors.
  • 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.
    • When Arthur, still in clown makeup after having been fired from his job, interrupts three drunken yuppies harassing a woman in the subway with his uncontrollable laughter, one of them starts to sing "Send in the Clowns" from Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music as he and his buddies surround Arthur before beating him up. The Frank Sinatra reprise of the same song plays over the end credits.
    • Jackson C. Frank's soulful folk song "My Name is Carnival" features in the soundtrack and is discussed in dialogue.
    • The comedy club that Arthur performs at is called "Pogo's", no doubt a reference to the most infamous real-world Monster Clown in history, John Wayne Gacy, aka Pogo the Clown. Arthur's Joker makeup is directly inspired by Gacy's clown makeup, besides.
    • When Arthur first steps out on stage as Joker for Murray's show, Joaquin Phoenix seems to be channeling some of Cesar Romero's good old-fashioned Ham and Cheese.
    • Shortly after Arthur shoots Murray live on air, the film cuts to a rack of broadcasting center monitors alternately showing various news anchors reporting the murder and footage of Arthur's appearance on the show before and after the murder. This is stylistically very similar to the final scene of Network which also depicts a television personality being shot dead live on air, and the chaotic media reaction immediately after.
    • Not to forget, The Dark Knight. In the very same scene as above, Joaquin Phoenix's Joker can be seen grabbing hold of the camera, repeating Murray's sign off to the audience. The framing is very similar to Heath Ledger's Joker sending self-made tapes, demanding Batman to step up and challenge him.
    • One of Murray’s guests is named Ethan Chase, a reference to Zach Galifianakis’s character in director Todd Phillips’ Due Date.
    • Word of God states that the only intentional "Easter Egg" to previous Batman works was young Bruce sliding down the pole of his playset.
    • And assuming that's true, the line "Do I look like the kind of clown that could start a movement?" was in no way meant to remind anyone of "Do I really look like a guy with a plan?"
    • When in Sophie's apartment, Arthur mumbles "I had a really bad day", seemingly in reference to The Killing Joke, whose main theme is how one bad day can drive you into madness.
    • Murray Franklin's show, aesthetically, is extremely similar to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It even uses the same "on tonight's show" screen as the Antenna TV reruns of Johnny Carson!
  • 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.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: After Arthur throws a pity party on Murray's show for how poorly the world has treated him, the latter says that murdering the Jerkass Wayne employees is no justification for his actions, as not everyone is as awful as Arthur thinks. This makes a furious Arthur call him awful for publicly humiliating him by playing a video of his failed comedy performance and then inviting him on his show just to make fun of him. Murray counters by saying that those actions are nothing compared to what happened after Arthur killed those three men, including riots, two critically injured policemen, and a dead rioter, all of which amuses Arthur, much to Murray's disgust. It's these words that culminate Arthur's breakdown and finally push him to murder Murray.
  • 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.
  • Signs of Disrepair: When he leaves Haha's after being fired, Arthur passes under a sign that reads "DON'T FORGET TO SMILE". He uses a marker to scribble out the middle words so it now reads "DON'T SMILE".
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Zig-Zagged. The film reveals that Arthur was a repeat victim of physical and psychological abuse by Penny and her boyfriend, Penny herself possessing an Ambiguous Disorder that gives her a very loose grasp on reality that eventually allowed this abuse to happen. The authorities eventually found out about the abuse and had her committed, yet by the start of the film Arthur is still in her life, implying that she still had (or had regained) custody of him. Considering the film takes place from Arthur's point of view and his own grasp of what is actually happening is suspect, it is unclear how much of this is true considering real life social services would not allow a child anywhere near a parent who kept them under such conditions, especially children that were adopted (that is, if he was adopted).
  • Society Is to Blame: In Arthur's opinion, his actions aren't his choice, but a natural consequence of being ignored and treated like dirt.
  • 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's Gotham resembles the impoverished part of New York City, where Nolan's Gotham resembles the cleaner side of Chicago.
    • Also to the early DC Extended Universe films. Like Superman, Arthur is depicted as a troubled messianic figure who occasionally adopts the crucifix pose, like Batman, he's broken from decades of failure, and like Wonder Woman, he has an absent father and an overprotective mother. The similarities end there, as Arthur descends into madness and murder spree while the aforementioned characters find Heroic Resolve and eventually overcome their existential crisis to become/revert back to being heroes and save the day. DCEU Joker was depicted as a thin, but well-toned crime lord while Arthur is a skeletal clown-for-hire. The death of Thomas and Martha was shown as a major catalyst in the DCEU, but in Joker it's simply a by-product. While the heroes in the DCEU are shaped into the best versions of themselves by their families and friends, Arthur is corrupted by these same influences.
  • 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.
  • Steel Eardrums: Downplayed; Arthur's ears ring for a bit after shooting the Wall Street punks but are otherwise unfazed.
  • Subways Suck:
    • Arthur gets attacked in a subway train.
    • Two police detectives are beaten within an inch of their lives by angry clown protesters on a subway platform.
  • 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.
  • Suicide as Comedy: In-universe: Arthur decides to shoot himself on Murray Franklin's show as the punchline to a joke, though at the decisive moment, he changes his mind and kills Murray instead.
  • Surprise Car Crash: The police car with Arthur in it gets suddenly T-boned by protesters in a hijacked ambulance truck. The officer driving is killed on impact, and Arthur narrowly survives.
  • Symbolic Blood: When Arthur gets beaten by the teens in the beginning and is lying on the floor, the prop flower on his lapel starts leaking water, looking like a wound that leaks blood.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: Arthur demolishes the time clock in anger after being sacked from his job.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Arthur gets his store sign stolen and is brutally assaulted with it by a group of teenagers. They never face any repercussions for this.
  • 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.
  • There Are No Therapists: A sad subversion. There is a therapist and Arthur desperately wants help, but since she has been burned out by a thankless job, she is terrible at it. Then, she loses her job as well, screwing her and Arthur over.
  • 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 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 neighbor 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 as 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 impossible.
  • Train Escape: Arthur manages to shake two pursuing cops in the subway with the help of similar-looking protesters and an Escalating Brawl.
  • Uncertain Doom: 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 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.
    • Arthur rants that people only care about the three men he killed because they were yuppies that worked for the richest man in the city, and no one would care if he was the one killed. As Murray points out, it's filled with self-pity and justifications for his actions, but it's still true.
    • Considering how bad Gotham is and how cruel everyone comes off in the movie, Arthur certainly makes a good point too about how people are so mean to each other without knowing what other people are going through.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Zigzagged. Arthur Fleck is wanted by the police for first-degree murders but the support he gets from the wave of clown-masked anarchists he inspired to rise up against the corporate elite rich are able to cancel out and overshadow the relatively small power the police has over Fleck. Though it's the Joker that the anarchists revere and support, not Fleck. And it's Fleck that the police want.
  • Visual Pun: Arthur forgot to punch out of his shift. So he punches the clock off the wall.
  • The Voice of a Generation: The film provides a big example in which after all he suffers, Arthur Fleck is invited to The Murray Franklin Show. First he takes it as an honor, but later he realizes that he was invited to the program just so Murray could mock him. So, when he appears on the show, he uses it as his opportunity to talk about how terrible the city is, how sick it has become and how he has become the Voice for the Voiceless; the everyday downtrodden people like himself whose cries go ignored. Later comes The Reveal that it was Arthur who murdered the Wayne trio, and shortly afterwards Murray Franklin receives his comeuppance as well.
  • Vorpal Pillow: After realizing what his mom allowed to happen to him, Arthur visits her in the hospital and kills her by smothering her with a pillow.
  • 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:
    • Arthur finds a letter from his mother to Thomas Wayne. One sentence stands out:
      Penny Fleck: "Your son and I need your help."
    • 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?
    • During his interview with Murray, Joker delivers one of the Internal Reveal variety:
      Joker: It's been a rough few weeks Murray, ever since I... killed those three Wall Street guys. ...There is no punchline. It's not a joke.
    • More one for the movie as a whole and In-Universe than any individual plot twist:
      Joker: What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner, with a SOCIETY, that ABANDONS him, AND TREATS HIM LIKE TRASH?!
      Murray: Call the police, Gene, call the police.
      Joker: I'LL TELL YOU WHAT YOU GET! You get what you FUCKIN' DESERVE!
      (Joker whips out his gun and shoots Murray in the head.)]]
  • 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 acts 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.
  • World of Jerkass: The only persons from the entire cast who are not certified assholes are Sophie Dumond and Gary. Within the first five minutes of the film, Arthur is abused and beaten by a group of punks just because, and it gets worse on from here. Even normally sympathetically portrayed Thomas Wayne has his Jerkass aspects played up. It is eventually Lampshaded by Arthur himself during his time in Murray Franklin's show.
  • 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...

 
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Joker (2019)

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.

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5 (9 votes)

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