The Possible Inspirations For Joaquin Phoenix's Joker Makeup

Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker with John Wayne Gacy

The first image of Joaquin Phoenix's Joker is a gritty and menacing interpretation of the iconic villain, but where was the inspiration for his clown makeup derived from? The evolution of The Joker on the big screen has resulted in some wildly varied character designs and, with the villain a firm favorite of many DC fans, this has sometimes led to frustration within the Batman faithful.

Back in the mid-2000s, many Joker fans recoiled in horror at the news that romantic-comedy regular Heath Ledger would be portraying the Caped Crusader's arch nemesis. Any such doubts were swiftly put to bed when images of Ledger in costume began to surface and the actor went on to deliver a universally praised performance. While Ledger's Joker would always be an impossible act to follow, the reveal of Jared Leto's highly stylized version of the villain was met largely with derision and his fleeting appearance in Suicide Squad did little to alter those opinions.

Related: Joaquin Phoenix's Joker Reveal Is Incredible (& So Much Better Than Leto's)

Clearly, first impressions are very important when it comes to The Joker and after images of him sans clown makeup were revealed last week, it's now Joaquin Phoenix's turn to face fans' judgement. Directed by Todd Phillips, the Joker movie will be entirely separate to the DC Extended Universe, taking place in an alternate Gotham pre-Batman.

With unsettling smeared clown paint and green-tinged locks, Phoenix's Joker attracted a positive reception from fans on social media and took the character as far away from Leto's tattooed gangster as possible. Love or hate Phoenix's look, it's difficult to deny that the image leaves a lasting and menacing impression and, given the possible inspiration behind the clown makeup look, that perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise.

John Wayne Gacy

John Wayne Gacy Pogo Clown

John Wayne Gacy was a notorious serial killer in Illinois during the 1970s who was ultimately convicted and executed for the murders of 33 young men and teenagers. Disturbingly, Gacy was known to work as a clown at children's parties, hospitals and charity events, going by the names "Pogo" or "Patches." Naturally, the media would dub him "The Killer Clown" after his arrest. Gacy designed and applied his own clown makeup and although many in the clown profession would, understandably, attempt to distance their business from the serial killer in the years to follow, several of them pointed out the while clowns tend to use rounded shapes in their makeup to avoid looking scary, Gacy opted for sharp demonic points, emphasizing the amateurish and sinister nature of his clown appearance.

While no one from Warner Bros. has come out and admitted that a serial killer provided the inspiration for their latest Joker design (and, frankly, none are likely to), the similarities are too abundant to ignore. The wide red mouth with pointed edges. The high, azure blue eye paint with a hint of black. While certainly not an outright imitation, it seems likely that Gacy's Pogo the Clown provided some level of inspiration to the appearance of Joaquin Phoenix's Joker.

Related: Is This Really Joaquin Phoenix's Finished Joker Look?

This rather clearly sets out the Joker movie's intentions. Phoenix has previously stated that his interest in playing the villain was in making a dark, low-budget character study and if this is indeed the direction the Joker movie is headed, basing the villain's makeup on a real-life serial killer is an effective way of highlighting that this Joker will be presented like the murderous criminal he is, rather than the kooky troublemaker other interpretations have opted for.

The Tramp/Hobo Clown

Those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the clown profession may not be aware that there are, in fact, several different types of clown performance. Although, somewhat characteristically, The Joker doesn't fit neatly into any of them, the villain does share much in common with the Tramp and Hobo types. Indeed, according to the ISCA (International Shrine Clown Association), a Tramp clown is recognized by his shaggy, unkempt appearance with red around the mouth to give an unshaven and burnt impression. Often seen with painted-on tears, Tramp clowns tend to wear ragged three-piece suits and the performer would usually use their own hair, ruffled up, instead of a wig. Tramp clowns have a sorrowful attitude and a resentment towards the world, while their Hobo counterparts look distinctly cheerier, characterized by a painted smile and more open eye shapes.

Generally speaking, the character of The Joker throughout his history has incorporated elements of both the Tramp and Hobo clowns, and Joaquin Phoenix's makeup also shares several consistencies with the descriptions provided. The blue teardrop and wide, red smile mix together elements of the Tramp and Hobo types of clown, while his suit and messy hair embolden the image of someone down on their luck and angry at the world around them.

Related: Joker's Gotham Subway Map Is Packed With Easter Eggs - Including Snyder and Nolan

Bearing in mind Joker will be an origin story, it perhaps makes sense that Phoenix's look would be similar to that of the Tramp. The Joker is typically known to be a purveyor of disorder and chaos; a rebel against social structures and norms and although he hints that some tragic event earlier in life made him that way, re-tellings and inconsistencies mean that fans can never be sure of the truth. In Joker, there's a strong possibility that viewers will see the villain's first sense of being dealt an unfair hand by the world and, just like the Tramp clown, the Joker is going to be angry at those he feels have wronged him.

Page 2 of 2: Connections Between Joker And Previous Batman Movies/Comics

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Key Release Dates
  • Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
  • Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
  • Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
  • The Joker release date:
  • Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
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