The closest thing the film has to an antagonist (apart from Thomas Wayne) is Murray, who is a late night comedy show host. Late night comedians pretty much make a living off ridiculing and humiliating others, so some people see it as Laser-Guided Karma when a late night comedian gets comeuppance at the hands of the very person they ridiculed. Ironically, at the same time the film was released Todd Phillips himself had made an infamous statement complaining that no one can write good comedy anymore because too many people feel insulted.
The entire plot focuses on Thomas Wayne as the symbol of the rich elite who don't care about the city. It's a fictionalized, extremely violent version of Occupy Wall Street wearing clown masks instead of Guy Fawkes.
It is possible to read a pro-gun control/pro-security message into this film, considering that it was ridiculously easy for Arthur to get a gun for "self-defense" and then murder people with it. Later, Franklin fails to screen Arthur for weapons when he's appearing on his show, resulting in his death. The film's plot would not be possible if Arthur could not get a gun. Other weapons would not have been nearly as effective, and regardless Arthur definitely needed to be screened.
It is possible to read pro-gun arguments in the film. Arthur is constantly attacked and victimized with nobody to help him, which is why he resorts to arming himself with a gun in the first place. Without the gun, it's very possible he would have been killed by the Wayne businessmen assaulting him in the subway. Sophie could have potentially defended herself if she was armed when Arthur broke into her apartment. In addition, due to gun control laws, Arthur is ineligible to own a gun due to his mental illness, but he manages to bypass the law anyways. Which of course can lead straight back to a pro-gun-control argument that the laws aren't strict enough, or an anti-gun-control argument that no matter how strict the laws are some will find ways around them. Either way, the fact is that though Arthur isn't allowed to wield a gun, he was not able to defend himself until he had one. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
While the audience is supposed to blame Arthur's turn to evil on the mistreatment of society, one could interpret it as because of a lack of positive father figures instead. Throughout the film, Arthur is constantly searching for a father. He seems to view Murray Franklin as a kind of father figure, and he finally snaps when Franklin inadvertently brushes him aside. Arthur also tries to get help from Thomas Wayne, believing him to be his father, and demanding a hug. Arthur's adopted father was incredibly abusive. It's possible that even in a bad society, Arthur would've struggled along if he only had a good father.
Though it's up for debate how accidental it is, you could walk away from the movie with the Aesop that a little positivity can change the world. While this doesn't happen in the movie, Arthur's struggle largely stems from nobody giving a shit about him and the viewer is left with the impression that if just one person valued him, things would have gone completely different. It's worth noting that this is an Aesop that a lot of other Batman properties are fond of.
Was Randall planning to get Arthur fired by giving him a gun? Or was his concern for Arthur's safety genuine and he only acted selfishly once the gun had been discovered? Or even a third possibility, that he may have been planning to rope him in on something illegal. He did say that Arthur could "pay him back later".
Given how sleazy this version of Thomas Wayne is portrayed as it's still not totally outside the realm of possibility that he really did forge documents to cover up his relationship with Penny, and Arthur truly is his son. It would explain why Penny is diagnosed as a Narcissist despite not displaying any of the traits outside of being a possible fantasist with a Lack of Empathy. It's mentioned that her boyfriend beat her as well as Arthur and a true narcissist would never let anyone get with hitting them. Also Thomas and Arthur look vaguely similar, both tall and pale with black hair and aquiline features.
The Clerk seemed sympathetic to Arthur, but clearly didn't want to face any personal liability. An argument could be made that if Arthur had simply asked for the appropriate form, and come back with a forged signature the Clerk wouldn't have questioned it.
We're never given any indication that Murray personally made the decision to have Arthur's video on the show nor to have him personally appear on the show as a target for mockery, and he seems quite friendly, and is shown to be uncomfortable with mean-spirited humor. It's possible that he died for a decision made by his Producers that he didn't even approve of.
Did Arthur already plan on shooting Murray after the suicide rehearsal, or did Murray making fun of him for using a 'Knock Knock' joke make Arthur change his mind about killing himself and instead go on his rant and then kill Murray?
Was Arthur at least partially aware that Sophie spending time with him was all in his imagination? Perhaps his hallucinations of her were his way of keeping himself some form of company, and his act of barging into her apartment was his way of affirming to himself that his fantasies with her were just that.
How far do Arthur's delusions spread beyond his imagined relationship with Sophie? How much of what we see is real? Did he really deliver an impassioned monologue that explained his motives? Were there really riots in his name? Hordes of clown-clad followers? Or is that what it takes to be as much of a psychotic megalomaniac as the Joker — a delusional belief that everyone's in your corner?
At the end of the movie, has Arthur truly found happiness in his newfound role as The Joker? Or has he given into the role out of some morbid sense of obligation, having realized that nobody ever really cares about him, but just the persona he developed? Right as he paints a bloody smile over his mouth, you can clearly see his eyes are watery, though they may be tears of joy, and the aforementioned smile can be interpreted as a Broken Smile.
Is the whole movie just another origin story that the Joker has invented for himself, taking place in his head in the future?
If the above is the case, is that why Thomas Wayne has taken a level in jerkass? Could it be that the Joker remembers him as being worse than he actually was? Or does the adult Bruce Wayne remember him as a better man than he actually was, due to never having seen how he treated other people and the fact that Gothamites remember him as a hero of the downtrodden? A combination of both?
And You Thought It Would Fail: Similarly to the Spider-Man-less Venom, nobody would expect that the Joker could carry his own film without Batman. And while it received good-to-mixed reception with American critics, it managed to be a much larger box office success both domestically and worldwide than anyone could have predicted (even beating the aforementioned Venom's October opening weekend record), and even won the Leone d'Oro award at the 76th Venice Film Festival, which is nothing to scoff at. There was also the fact that it was very different to other comic book movies and most everything about it was often deemed Audience-Alienating Premise — it was all proven wrong and the movie found a sizeable audience and much praise among it.
Angst Aversion: The film's detractors find it to be too grim and nihilistic to enjoy, without any sympathetic characters.
Hildur Guðnadóttir's score for the movie is at once beautiful, terrifying, and tragic. The long violins and ethereal choir in "Bathroom Dance" in particular expresses both the menace and the humanity in Joker. "Subway" in particular sounds utterly unhinged and pooling with evil, showing that Joker has finally been unleashed from the cocoon that was Arthur.
Captain Obvious Reveal: Many were only surprised at the reveal that Arthur's relationship with Sophie Dumond was all in his head because they didn't know they weren't supposed to have figured it out already.
Cliché Storm: Most of the negative reviews dismiss the movie as being a retread of the familiar "abused loner becomes a psychopath" story, drawing specific parallels to Scorsese's previous films such as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.
Arthur bringing a gun into a children's hospital? Not funny. Arthur unintentionally tormenting a group of disabled kids in the hospital? Not funny. Arthur singing "If you're happy and you know it, stomp your feet" to a group of kids that includes one in a wheelchair, accidentally dropping his gun, and then awkwardly trying to pretend that didn't happen? Now that's funny.
The stand-up comic who's performing before Arthur at the club has an absolute zinger:
Comic: Women approach buying a new car the way they do with sex. Is it big enough? Is it safe? Will it kill me? Men are different. It's like a parking lot. Oh, theres a spot. And theres another one. Oh, you have to pay? Nevermind. Ooh, handicapped... hope nobody sees.
Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: Similar to Angst Aversion further up, one of the most common criticisms of the film is that there are almost no likeable characters to be found in the film, with the possible exceptions of Sophie and Gary. And Sophie doesn't really count because most of her interactions with Arthur have been hallucinated by him.
Draco in Leather Pants: The Joker has always received this from some fans, but the humanizing of the character in this film allows it to reach new heights. Some see him as a hero of lower-class rebellion. For his part, Phillips has confirmed people are not supposed to sympathize with Arthur as his crimes grow more heinous.
Ensemble Dark Horse: Despite not being all that heavily involved in the movie's plot, Gary is a surprising bright-spot for many fans, thanks to being a non-stereotypical portrayal of a person with dwarfism and being one of the few completely sympathetic people in the movie.
Arthur putting on the full Joker outfit for the first time is scored with "Rock and Roll" by Gary Glitter, a once beloved entertainer who is now known only for his criminal actions although he was actually even worse than the Joker.
The movie theater where Arthur confronts Thomas Wayne is playing Modern Times. The song "Smile" that is played in both the trailer and movie of Joker was a song written for Modern Times. Also, Modern Times was about the underprivileged Tramp trying to survive The Great Depression which isn't too far off from one of this movie's themes about the struggling poor trying to survive while the rich benefit.
Bruce's outdoor play area has a pole that he slides down, like in the 1980s Batman TV series, in which the Joker wore a red outfit, like here.
Arthur may have been adopted by his mother or he may be the son of her and her abusive boyfriend or he may indeed be the illegitimate son of Thomas Wayne and Penny Fleck. Either way, as always both he and we are in the dark as to his true origin.
Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Virtually all of the movie's negative press has come from the US, often attributed to the country's particular current socio-political issues, while it has gotten nigh-universal praise from foreign critics — perhaps exemplified by the Venice Film Festival where it got a standing ovation and won the Leone d'Oro grand prize.
As noted below, Ledger's Straw Nihilist "agent of chaos" interpretation of the Joker was exploited for memes railing about how "we live in a society" and calling for people to "rise up", whether ironically or sincerely. The trailers appear to line up with the memes at least in a superficial way, as society appears to spawn this Joker and mobs are causing civil unrest. The film itself confirms this with flying colors, as it showcases Gotham tormenting Arthur into a slow transformation into the Joker, to the point where Arthur actually says the word "society" prior to killing Murray Franklin, possibly resulting in an Ascended Meme.
The European French dubbing actor of Arthur/Joker, Boris Rehlinger, dubbed none other than Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne/Batman in the DCEU.
The Brazilian dubbing actor of Arthur/Joker, Hélio Ribeiro, also dubbed the Red Skull in Marvel's movies, making our page image for Even Evil Has Standards quite amusing.
This isn't the first time Brett Cullen played a role in a Batman-related film. He played Congressman Byron Gilley in The Dark Knight Rises, the sleazy politician who was kidnapped by Selina Kyle in that film. Now, he played the Adaptational Jerkass Thomas Wayne in this film who is implied to be a sleazy politician not unlike his character in TDKR, and he once again is involved with one of Batman's Rogues Gallery — this time the Clown Prince of Crime himself.
Whether it's ironic or completely sincere, "We live in a society" jokes and memes (which predate this film, originally using Heath Ledger's Joker) surged after the release of the first trailer along with comments saying along the lines of:
Random YouTube Commenter: 1989 Joker: Thrown into a vat of acid. 2019 Joker: Thrown into society.
After footage from Venice of Arthur ranting and shooting Franklin — with added Italian subtitles for non-anglophones in the crowd — leaked online, people started pairing his yelling face◊ with "SOCIETÀ".
The meme even garnered new heights when in the film, Arthur does end up saying "..in a society", giving the meme ascended status! Helps that it was revealed that Joaquin Phoenix threw in the word "society" when the script originally had him say "..in a system".
People are having a field day comparing the Joker to other fictional clown actors. Most notably Flappy Bob, due to similar designs.
The line "I used to think my life was a tragedy. But now I realize... it's a comedy" is used to overdramatically describe one's own Butt-Monkey status, jokingly indicate a Start of Darkness, or just captioning any picture of a character dressing up like a clown once or twice.
Captioning any picture of a group of people with "X tickets for Joker please".
A scene of the Joker dancing on a staircase quickly became ripe for meme edits, a bizarre number of which also involved Emo Peter Parker.
After the popularity of the Emo Peter addition, a meme bounced around various fandom sub reddits adding in relevant characters dancing on the steps. When the movie came out, People starting shopping in Peter Parker and company into other scenes of movie, with captions of what "the boys" were doing after/before dancing.
Joker running from the police and then getting hit by a car, used as a labeling template.
The protestor with the "WE ARE ALL CLOWNS" sign has been appropriated on Twitter as a meme to mock groups of people that are deemed doing something clownish.
"YOU GET WHAT YOU FUCKIN' DESERVE!"Explanation (spoilers) Joker's Pre-Mortem One-Liner before executing Murray Franklin
El Bromas Explanation A meme popular among spanish speaking countries that makes fun of Spain's translation of movie titles, a particularly baffling mistake since Spain didn't even translated the title of this one, it has now become a nickname for this particular Joker
Arthur may be a troubled man with serious mental issues, but the moment he starts his transformation into the Joker is when he kills the third Wayne employee. At least for the first two he killed them out of self-defense, but he actively pursued the last one, who was trying to run for his life. And he only gets worse from there.
It is revealed that Penny Fleck and her boyfriend crossed the line when they mistreated Arthur when he was a child.
Arthur dancing down the stairs to the tune of "Rock and Roll" garnered many comparisons to the similarly ridiculously emo Peter Parker dance. Yet it became so beloved since it shows Arthur's detachment from reality and his absurd mentality.
"We live in a society" memes aside, the reason that Joker's speech at the end about how he believes that society is awful works because of Joaquin Phoenix's delivery, along with the rest of the movie going out of its way to show that, as horrible as the Joker is, he's not wrong aboutGotham.
No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: With all the press and criticism it received over its content, the film still made over $96 million on its opening weekend, immediately putting it into profit territory thanks to its $55 million budget. Even memes poking fun at the film did nothing but popularize it.
This isn't the first time Thomas Wayne has been portrayed in a less-than-positive light. He was made into an outright villainous figure in Batman: The Telltale Series, compared to this version being more of a dick than usual.
The moral of this film — that villains are made by the abuse of others around them and not solely because they were born different — has been done before, being the message of Live A Live via the origin story of Odio.
Rooting for the Empire: While Arthur went too far in his retribution, a few viewers were rooting for him when he finally got fed up with being bullied and harassed. So when hes on the train and he once again gets harassed and even assaulted, people rooted for him when he took out his gun and shoots his attackers.
The scene where Joker silently does a slow dance in a bathroom after killing three Wayne Enterprises employees who harassed him on a train.
The scene where the Joker dances down the steps to the tune of "Rock and Roll". It's even featured on one of the film's posters.
The talk show scene, where the Joker rants about his mistreatment from society and ultimately guns down Murray on live television.
The shot of the Joker painting a smile onto his face using his blood.
Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: The ugly truth is that there are some criminals and nihilists that do what they do when they are pushed to the breaking point by the wrong side of society. The movie makes it clear that while Arthur was an oddity due to his mental illness, he was ultimately made into the monster clown he's known as now by the toxicity of others around him. The only way to prevent such things from happening is to treat everyone with kindness, even people who are seen as weird. The film is extremely heavy-handed on this front, given how relentlessly terrible Arthur's treatment from others is until he becomes the Joker, but the relentlessness of it matches the depth of his villainy later on and makes him sympathetic in a way that couldn't have been achieved otherwise.
Many have complained that Sophie, considering that her relationship with Arthur is all his imagination, could be removed from the plot entirely with little effect. She's considered to be a waste of Zazie Beetz. This may be an unforeseen consequence of the rewrites that overhauled Sophie's character.
Murray Franklin. Given how he is one of the few sympathetic and reasonable characters, as well as a major inspiration to Arthur, several critics and audiences wished he had more screentime and plot relevance. While his death is genuinely tragic and horrifying, some felt that this scene would've had more emotional weight had audiences spent more time with Franklin. Also counts as a waste of Robert De Niro.
True Art Is Angsty: A lot of the praise towards the film is centered around its no-nonsense, grim, and outright depressing (bordering on nihilistic) portrayal of an apathetic, self-destructive society that many note at times seems to deserve the Joker. Phoenix himself is praised for his compelling performance as Arthur Fleck, and how he was able to add a deep layer of tragedy to a character known for basically embodying Crosses the Line Twice.
Unfortunate Implications: Much of the controversy surrounding the film revolves around the fact that the Joker, a homicidal maniac, is portrayed as a character who was driven to madness by the Crapsack World he lives in. Although the intention was meant to be a cautionary tale of how an unpleasant society can create people like the Joker, somepeopleaccused the film of being sympathetic towards real-life mass murderers since this is often used as the justification for their actions. It was also quite understandably not shown in the Aurora theater that suffered a massacre during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: Some clueless parents are taking their kids to see this movie, unaware that it is rated R. Alamo Drafthouse has to issue a PSA to said parents about not taking their kids to see it, as it is not kid friendly at all. At least one theater in the Goodrich chain placed signs at the ticket office stating that the movie was a hard "R", listed a content warning, and stated that they'd be strictly carding younger-looking ticket customers.
What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?: Joker's actions inspire a riot that is eerily similar in message to Occupy Wall Street, with clown masks instead of Guy Fawkes masks, and with heavily increased violence.
What an Idiot!: Murray Franklin does not screen the rather unstable-seeming Arthur for weapons when he goes on the show, and later keeps talking to Arthur even as he begins a nihilistic rant rather than call security. This directly causes his death.
The news of Martin Scorsesenote however, Scorsese eventually left to focus on The Irishman and Bradley Cooper's involvement got people very interested in this filmnote Particularly in the latter's case, since his directorial debut was very warmly received by critics and audiences alike, and the hype was built even further when Joaquin Phoenix was announced to play the title role.
Audiences have been very receptive to the early stills of Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur, as he manages to channel the Joker even while he still looks normal.
The 2 minutes of leaked footage showing Arthur's altercation with a clown. To elaborate, this scene was filmed with a single camera from a distance so that you couldn't hear anything, featured a Joker who didn't have his purple suit or clown face, and the very concept of a Joker origin story was already being viewed with bewilderment. As soon as people got a glimpse of Joaquin Phoenix in-character, there was nothing but praise for his performance.
The film's premiere at the Venice Film Festival was met with near-unanimous praise, with an 8-minute standing ovation and many calling Phoenix's performance Oscar-worthy.note Which if it happens would make the Joker only the second character who two different actors won Oscars for playing, after Vito Corleone. It went on to win the Leone d'Oro award, the festivals top honor, and historically a sign that a film would be a major contender for an Oscar nomination.