Is Joaquin Phoenix actually THE Joker in Joker? That’s the question many fans were left with after watching Todd Philip’s character-driven new take on Batman’s greatest foe, which tells the story of a failed stand-up comic and mentally unwell man named Arthur Fleck who eventually becomes a serial killer after suffering various injustices.
Sure, the film ends with him dressed as a clown, calling himself Joker and inspiring great civil unrest – but some fans have noted the age disparity between the middle-aged Fleck and the future Batman, Bruce Wayne (who appears in the film as a child), doesn’t line up with traditional interpretations of the two characters, while Fleck’s own backstory and lack of organised criminal activity is a bit of a departure from the comics as well.
So if Arthur’s too old, or doesn't quite fit the Joker bill in other ways, who will Bruce Wayne battle when he comes of age as Batman? (We do see his parents murdered in Joker, suggesting that Batman will still arise one day.)
Well, director Todd Phillips has a bit of an idea…
"Maybe Joaquin's character inspired the Joker," Phillips told the LA Times.
"You don't really know. His last line in the movie is. 'You wouldn't get it.' There's a lot going on in there that's interesting."
In other words, while Arthur – who didn’t have much of a knack for criminal mastermind-ing anyway – may not become the Joker, it could be that his on-air murders and dramatic flair caught the attention of someone else, who could adopt the name and persona themselves when facing Gotham's Dark Knight in later years.
And if that sounds like a familiar explanation, well, that’s because we’ve seen it in Batman-related media before.
In TV prequel Gotham, a character named Jerome who greatly resembles the Joker appears for a number of episodes, only for the series to suggest that he may have merely inspired a future holder of the title rather than becoming the Clown Prince of Crime himself.
Phillips' possible explanation (which has been seized on by a number of fans) suggests something similar, albeit in a slightly less offbeat Gotham City that's not already half-infested with super-villains like the one of the TV series.
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Whatever the truth, clearly there was an awful lot of clown-related violence in Gotham even before the Joker started his deadly tricks. What a circus.
Joker is in UK cinemas now