The Joker is easily one of the most compelling comic book villains ever written. Therefore, it was no surprise that the live-action film, starring the magnificent Joaquin Phoenix as the titular character was a much-awaited release. However, unlike a lot of comic-book superhero films of recent times, the Joker is very different.
It doesn't borrow heavily from any comic book story arc and instead pays homage to some of Martin Scorsese's films like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. And while it does provide the Joker with a solid and definitive origin story, it was pitched to Warner Bros. as a stand-alone film with no promise of a sequel. But despite being so unique, it has its fair share of Easter eggs and other references that connect the film firmly to the wider Batman universe. How many did you notice?
10 The Film Is Set In Gotham
The film is set in 1981. We know this for sure because we see Thomas Wayne's family go to the movies and the films being shown were Excalibur and Zorro The Gay Blade both of which had a 1981 release. The city too is full of grit, squalor and urban decay - where the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. And yes, it has eerie parallels to New York.
But we know right away, that this dark city where crime festers and is full of dissatisfied working-class people like Arthur Fleck, is none other than Gotham, the fictional city associated with Batman, where the caped crusader tried his level best to maintain law and order.
9 Arkham Asylum Plays A Big Role
In the comics, Arkham Asylum is the place where the Joker is imprisoned after being diagnosed as clinically insane. But of course, it cannot contain him for long and he frequently breaks out to create chaos for the Batman. In this film, the asylum is replaced with the Arkham State Hospital.
Before the film begins, we are led to believe that Arthur spent a reasonable amount of time here for an undisclosed mental illness. Later, the Joker returns here to get hold of records that hold the key to his past and true identity. And by the end of the film, he is captured and incarcerated here, before committing another murder and breaking free again.
8 The Joker Wants To Be A Stand-Up Comedian
In the comics, the Joker has several conflicting origin stories, though none of them are regarded as the definitive one. In Alan Moore's dark and influential retelling The Killing Joke, the Joker was an engineer who quit his job to be a stand-up comedian, but that plan soon fizzled out.
In the film we have Arthur Fleck who lives with his mom, works as a clown-for-hire, scribbles jokes in his diary and dreams of being featured on live television. And that dream is accidentally fulfilled when a video recording of him, trying out a stand-up comedy act and failing, is broadcast on the Murray Franklin show and he is invited to guest star in it.
7 Alfred Pennyworth, The Butler, Has A Cameo
Alfred Pennyworth is the eponymous butler to Bruce Wayne, always making sure that the house is kept in order. He is there to answer Batman's every beck and call. In the film, he isn't identified by name, but his commanding presence is still felt.
The Joker travels all the way to the Wayne mansion and sees a young Bruce, lounging near the gardens. He shows him some of his magic tricks and tries to make him smile and is interrupted by the butler who not only ushers the kid away but tells Arthur to never return.
6 We Meet A Very Young Batman
The Joker is such an iconic villain, it almost seems that Batman, as a superhero is incomplete without him. Similarly, the Joker movie too would have felt out of sorts, without the screen presence, no matter how minimal of Batman. Of course, in this film, Bruce hasn't transitioned to Batman yet.
He is just a rich, white kid, with a strange sad look in his eyes. And he has no idea who the Joker is or the destiny that awaits him. The scene where Arthur and Bruce meet for the first time and look eye-to-eye at the gates of the Wayne mansion, is both memorable and heart-breaking, in the light of everything that will come after.
5 We Know Why Batman Is Just So Rich
In the film and comics, Batman is just insanely rich, with a huge sprawling mansion that he can disappear into and the coolest gadgets that grant him superhero powers. As a hero, he uses his privilege to protect society from the bad guys and maintain the law within the city. But his stash of wealth is almost always taken for granted.
But here, the film calls him out on his privilege, by revealing how his ancestral wealth was built on the exploitation of those more unfortunate than him. His father, Thomas Wayne is revealed to be a greedy capitalist, who pretends to have the city's best interests at heart but is only there to further his own political and financial roles.
4 The Joker Was On A Talk Show
Robert de Niro's highly entertaining cameo in the film was inspired by Scorsese's film King of Comedy. But there may be another reference. In the comic The Dark Knight Returns, the Joker appears on the “The David Endocrine Show” before he commits another crime. He also kisses another guest star. The film too does something similar.
Arthur Fleck is invited to guest star in a talk show and he uses this opportunity to introduce himself to the world as the Joker. He also kisses a fellow guest unannounced, confesses to the murder of the three guys and even shoots dead Murrary Franklin while the show was being broadcast.
3 The Joker Passes By William Street
William Street is pretty famous in the Batman universe. Easily a stand-in for Wall Street, several of the fight sequences in the Dark Knight Rises took place here. In the film, Arthur Fleck stalks his next-door neighbor and follows her on her way to work.
She disappears down a building on William Street, even as Arthur hidden in the shadows, watches her. The street name could also be an indirect reference to comic book artist Bill Finger, credited as the co-creator of Batman.
2 We Witness The Murder Of Batman's Parents
The traumatic murder of Batman's parents played a key role in turning rich boy Bruce Wayne into a caped crusader. And the Joker concludes with this pivotal moment as well, marking the crucial moment where Bruce becomes Batman while Arthur Fleck embraces his clown persona.
As the rioting in the city intensifies, one of the rioters dressed in a clown mask, shoots down Thomas Wayne and his wife in an alleyway, while a young Bruce looks on in shock. The scene cuts to the moment where the real Joker is standing atop a car and wipes the blood around his lips in a smile. It is a gruesome moment where the characters unwittingly and unknowingly have embraced their destinies.
1 All It Takes Is One Bad Day...
In the film, the Joker tells us how he'd been having a "bad" day, almost as an excuse to justify his criminal behavior. And in a way, the film highlights how social apathy turns ordinary people placed in toxic circumstances into psychopaths and serial killers.
This is a direct reference to another moment in the comic The Killing Joke where the Clown Prince of Crime says, "All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy".