The first photos of Joaquin Phoenix in Todd Phillips' Joker movie have arrived, and they reveal an intriguing link to the Joker's famous comic book origin story, The Killing Joke. The movie is not a direct adaptation of that story, but from what we've heard so far, it appears to have echoes of it. Phoenix's proto-Joker is called Arthur Fleck, and he is a failed comedian (just like the character in The Killing Joke) who has moved in with his ailing mother, Penny (Frances Conroy).
Telling the Joker's origin story is intrinsically controversial, as many DC fans believe that the character's mysterious background is part of his appeal. Christoper Nolan's The Dark Knight toyed with this idea, with Heath Ledger's Joker offering two different explanations for how he "got these scars," with no indication of whether either of the stories are true. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's celebrated graphic novel The Killing Joke offered up the most famous and widely-accepted origin story for the Joker, but its status as DC Comics canon is uncertain and changing.
The new photos from the set of Joker, which can be viewed over on Just Jared, show Arthur exiting the office of Ha-Ha's Talent Booking - presumably the talent agency run by Marc Maron's character - and encountering a grumpy clown (a set video shows him pulling the clown's nose off and throwing it into the road). Other photos show that the agency is located on Amusement Mile, a part of Gotham City that, in the comics, is home to an amusement park. In The Killing Joke, the Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and brings him to a rundown carnival. The name of the carnival isn't revealed, and it doesn't appear to be Amusement Mile, but this is nonetheless a strong thematic link to Moore and Bolland's graphic novel, and further indication that Joker will draw on elements of The Killing Joke.
The Killing Joke has been adapted quite recently, as an animated film that was generally considered a disappointment by fans who had been eagerly anticipating it. Even so, another direct adaptation so soon probably wouldn't be the best idea, and it doesn't look like that's what Phillips is making. For starters, neither Batman nor Commissioner Gordon will appear in the movie (at least, as far as we know) and the plot details we've heard so far fit with earlier reports that Joker is inspired by Martin Scorsese's 1982 film The King of Comedy.
Several core elements from The King of Comedy are present within Phillips' movie: a failed comedian who lives with his mother, a woman who catches his interest, and a celebrated talk show host. If Joker does follow the plot of Scorsese's movie, then it may well be about Arthur Fleck developing an obsession with De Niro's talk show host that eventually tips over into stalking and kidnapping. The idea of this being blended into a Joker origin story is definitely intriguing, and it would make sense for the movie to borrow from the Joker's famous comic book origins. Strangely enough, the appearance of Amusement Mile is actually the first solid connection to the world of DC that we've seen from this movie.
Joker is arguably the most interesting DC project that Warner Bros. has lined up for next year. Between its modest budget, the fact that it's seemingly disconnected from the rest of the DC Extended Universe, and the mystery surrounding it, it's hard to know exactly what to expect. Hopefully a few more set photos will emerge in the coming weeks, and will pull back the curtain a little more.
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018