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First Official Joker Trailer is No Laughing Matter

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment) sm

The Whole World Smiles with You…

It’s here, it’s finally here! After months of speculation, countless hours of debate, and a plethora of fan theories equal parts intriguing and absurd, DC has released the first official trailer for Joker. Directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck; a mentally-ill standup comedian on a descent into madness. It would indeed appear that this is the origin story of a Clown Prince of Crime, but is Fleck the Clown Prince?

The film is set in 1980s Gotham City. The trailer seems to be a strung together attempt to better help visualize Fleck’s wavering psychosis to the audience.  We see Fleck meeting with his presumed psychologist, then a quick cut to a very Oedipal bathing scene, followed by a late-night joke-writing session. Pause the scene just right, however, and you’ll see a quote of Fleck’s, “the worst part about having a mental disease is that people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” Now, notice the change in the font size, how the handwriting almost becomes childlike and messy as he goes further down the page. It’s almost as if Phillips is trying to symbolize that Fleck’s insanity is bubbling just beneath the surface, contained at the moment to the privacy of his journals. 

All of this leads up to Fleck’s “one bad day”. He’s attacked, beaten, and humiliated: an event which seemingly severs his already loose grip on reality. Now, he sees the funny side, now he’s always smiling. Joker feels different; it’s dark. Not just dark for a “superhero movie” but dark-dark; scary-dark. Now as amazing a trailer as Joker is (and it is amazing) it still leaves audiences no better off than they were before, with far more questions than answers. Like who exactly is Arthur Fleck? How will Batman factor in, if at all? And does Joker have anything to do with any previous Batman film to come before it?

“Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there?”

Now according to Polygon, Joker is a film unto its own. It has no frame of reference and follows no continuity in the DCEU. Instead, it’s an attempt for DC to follow in the footsteps of Marvel by exploring various interpretations of their characters simultaneously. 

Unlike previous iterations of the Joker, this movie carves out an origin story for the character — the Joker before he was the Joker, exploring the life of Arthur Fleck as he descends from small-time stand up comedian to the clown prince of crime. The movie is said to lean hard on Martin Scorsese influences, particularly the director’s 1982 dark comedy The King of Comedy.

Now I will admit my ignorance regarding Scorcese and The King of Comedy influence; I’ve never seen the film myself. But with what limited research I have done, it seems like a completely plausible and possible direction, one which I wouldn’t be upset about in the slightest. A Scorcese-fueled Joker flick; who wouldn’t want that? I am not so quick, however, to entirely dismiss Joker as having no ties to any previous DC films.

“Smile and put on a happy face…”

Jump ahead to 1:32 in the trailer and Fleck is watching a television interview with a very familiar guest. It’s Brett Cullen, who played the Congressman in The Dark Knight Rises. To me it seems sloppy and far too intentional for Cullen to be doing anything other than reprising his role; he even appears younger on screen. It’s also important to consider what he says to the television reporter: “what kind of coward would do something that cold-blooded? Someone who hides behind a mask.” Is he speaking about the Joker or could it possibly be someone else?

Another interesting encounter takes place at 1:47 minutes in. Fleck is with a young boy, separated by an iron fence. He reaches his hands through the bars, putting his fingers in the young boy’s mouth. Fleck then turns his cheeks upward into a wide grin. This might sound a little “crazy” but it’s my belief that this boy is, in fact, Heath Ledger‘s Joker.

“I used to think that my life was a tragedy. But now I realize – it’s a comedy.”

Now before you call me insane, hear me out. In The Dark Knight when Ledger asks for the first time, “you wanna know how I got these scars?” he explains that it was his father who first “put a smile on his face.” It’s possible that he could have been speaking metaphorically and alluding to this actual event. Yes, it’s a stretch but stay with me.

Remember the opening scene in The Dark Knight where The Joker robs the bank and kills the bus driver? The mask that Ledger wears in that scene has the same identical facepaint as Phoenix’s/Fleck’s Joker makeup. Ledger’s Joker could have been inspired by Fleck’s, and the mask worn was an homage to his idol and teacher. I am also aware that the mask worn by Heath Ledger was, in fact, his own homage to Cesar Romero, so don’t even try to go there. 

Audiences are tired of cheering for the good guy; they’re tired of watching the hero always win. It’s time to tip the scales in the opposite direction, time to introduce a little anarchy into the equation. I myself simply cannot wait. Joker hits theatres everywhere October 4th; it looks like it’s going to be a long summer. 

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Jordan Claes

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