- "What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?! I'll tell you what you get, you get what you fucking deserve!"
- ―Arthur Fleck[src]
Arthur Fleck, later known as Joker, is a failed comedian who, following his great lack of success and respect, loses his mental stability until he becomes a nihilistic, sociopathic killer calling himself Joker, aiming himself to make Gotham smile in his way.
The man who would later be known as the Joker was born to unknown parents before being allegedly adopted in Gotham City by Penny Fleck and an unknown father. When he was raised by his adopted mother and her boyfriend, they were abusing him physically and mentally, until the trauma to his brain caused him to develop Pseudobulbar affect, a condition characterized by sudden moments of uncontrollable laughter or crying. In Arthur's case, his PBA would cause him to laugh uncontrollably during moments of intense stress and sadness.
As he became an adult, in 1981, he frequently visited a therapist to obtain medications to try and help himself handle the problem and later his depression and psychoticism. Despite being on seven different medications, Arthur at one point requests that his medication be increased because they were not making him feel better.
Ever since that he was younger, Arthur sought to become a popular comedian worldwide so he can bring laughter and joy to the world, which his mother raised him to believe in, and, even kept his true family lines as secrets for him.
To achieve his life goal, Arthur had taken the job of an advertising clown for a talent agency, so he can use the future salary he would get to help his mother to heal from her illnesses and to help himself.
Despite this, when he was on duty as the clown, holding the agency's sign in front of the goers of Gotham, a group of teenagers had stolen the sign, causing him to chase them into an alley where they broke the sign on him and beaten him violently, leaving him broken, sad and mad, increasing his fragile sanity problems. The next day at work, Arthur recieved a gun from his co-worker Randall.
Arthur, alongside his mother, as like many residents in Gotham and the US, were fans of the Murray Franklin Show, a late-night talk show led by Murray Franklin himself. Arthur fantasized himself attending the show in the audience and being warmly called out by Franklin himself who tells him that he wishes he has a son like him.
Despite his failures and despite his attempts to take care of his mother in their shared small rotten apartment in Gotham, Arthur developed an obsession with a banker and a single-mother named Sophie Dumond, a young beautiful cynical woman, after he meets her in an elevator.
He imagined himself being with her the entire time, and trespassed her home.
After having been working late at night when he was fired from his job as a clown after Randall's gun fell out of Arthur's pocket at a children's hospital, Arthur later went on a subway home. In the subway, he was watching how a young woman was being harassed by three young and wealthy men. Suddenly, he started laughing uncontrollably, drawing the attention of the bullies, and saving the woman. After they sang at him mockingly and took his fake clown hair to put on, they knocked him to the floor and started beating him. Arthur then snapped, quickly grabbing the gun from his pocket and shot one, and then another. The third man ran, while Arthur shot him in his buttocks. After chasing him out of the subway car and onto the platform, he shot him again. As he was trying to crawl up the stairs, Arthur executed him by shooting him three times in the back. Pausing momentarily to contemplate what he had done, he sprinted up the stairs and ran into a public bathroom to hide. Inside, Arthur slowly danced as his slow transformation into the Joker started. Arthur then made his way home, fantasizing about entering Sophie's apartment and making out with her.
The triple murder kick started the rise of a social anarchistic movement known as The Clowns, which cause massively destructive riots against the rich and the powerful population, doing riots even in Thomas Wayne's speech of becoming a mayor for Gotham (only for his plan to get rid off the poor and to destroy their homes).
Returning home, Arthur took a short shower, and his mother was watching Franklin's show on TV, whilst Arthur's mental health was further degraded as he was writing jokes in his notebook.
Some time later, Arthur imagined Sophie attending Arthur's stand-up routine, which went poorly; he laughed uncontrollably and had difficulty delivering his jokes. After coming home, Arthur intercepted a letter from Penny to Thomas Wayne which stated Arthur was his son. Taking his parentage to the Wayne Manor, Arthur later met a young but emotionless Bruce Wayne, performing magic tricks to try and make him smile. He also met Alfred Pennyworth before getting rudely dismissed by him.. Following a visit from two Gotham City Police Department detectives investigating Arthur's involvement in the train murders, Penny started hyperventilating and suffered a stroke. By the time Arthur came home from Wayne Manor, the paramedics loaded Penny into an ambulance which Arthur was allowed to enter as well.
In Gotham General Hospital, Arthur was afraid of losing his mother. Outside the hospital, Arthur was questioned by two GCPD detectives about the subway murders. Arthur denied any involvement in the case.
On the TV inside the hospital, Arthur saw that a humiliating video of his failed stand-up comedy performance was shown on Franklin's show. In the video, Arthur's pathological laughter was shown during the stand-up performance, which Franklin used to humiliate Fleck.
Arthur soon sneaks into a private screening of Modern Times in order to personally speak with Thomas Wayne who rudely denies that he is his father, stating Arthur's mother Penny is insane and obsessed with him which leads Arthur into a mental breakdown while triggering his pathological laughter. In response to his laughter, Thomas punches him in the nose and warns him to not touch his son again.
Confused and upset, the very next day Arthur visits Arkham State Hospital to find his mother's file and meets a clerk in charge of storing files of patients there. He quickly takes notice of Arthur's unstable demeanour and pauses in horror when looking into file, when he refused to release the file to Arthur, he steals it anyway and is saddened and distraught to find out that what Thomas Wayne said was true; Penny is indeed delusional and that he isn't Arthur's biological father. Not to mention, when Arthur was a child, a young Penny who was obsessed with Thomas Wayne let her boyfriend physically and emotional abuse him which contributed to his mental health and pathological laughter.
When Penny woke up the next day, he reflected on his life, and grew more and more agitated with her, until, he roughly grabbed a pillow out from under her head, and suffocated her to death.
The Rise of The Joker
Later, Arthur recieves a phone call from a representative from the Murray Franklin Show who informs him that the clip of his performance recieved amazing feedback and that Murray Franklin wants Arthur on the show, to which Arthur agrees. Arthur prepares his makeup for the show. His doorbell rings, and two previous co-workers come by his house, with the guise of checking up on him. It turns out, however, that the visit was an excuse for Randall who gave him the gun to make sure Arthur and he had their stories straight. Becoming upset, Arthur grabs a pair of scissors from his back pocket and stabs it into his neck and eyes, slamming his head repeatedly on the doorframe, until he was dead. He slumps back beside the body, while the other co-worker, Garry, cowered in the corner. Arthur lets him go and unlocks the door for him, kissing him on his bald head while he does so, saying that he was the only one who was nice to him.
In his restroom, he dyes his long hair green, and, puts on the rest of the clown makeup on his face before donning a luxury clown-like suit and shoes he had kept in secret, before leaving home to dance on the stairways, now fully as Joker.
Send in The Clowns
The two GCPD detectives see him dancing as Joker on the stairways until he stops and sees them. He escapes by running into the subway but not before he is hit by a taxi. In the subway, for his luck, a riot of the Clowns movement was occurring, and, he used it to hide and escape before being invited to Franklin's show.
When he was preparing for his performance in the show, he considered committing suicide on air.
In Franklin's show, he is dancing, before he discusses with his beloved TV idol on himself. Joker then proceeds to tell morbid jokes before eventually admitting to murdering the three young men in the subway. Franklin decides to take advantage of the situation for ratings by carrying on with the show instead of shutting it down. Franklin later scolds Arthur for what he did, driving Joker who is already insane to begin a rant about how he and society have wronged him. Snapping at the peak of his psychotic rage, Joker abandons his plan of commiting suicide and suddenly whips out his gun and shoots Franklin in the forehead, killing him instantly on live television and in front of a horrified audience. As screaming spectators stampede out of the studio, Joker lets out a genuine laugh of insanity, before getting up, and shooting Franklin's dead body in the chest. As he says "Good night, and always remember: That's life!" before laughing, he is tackled by officers and arrested.
As he is being driven through the streets, the Clowns are out in full force, rioting, destroying property, burning cars, and killing people, as Arthur smiles, and is cheered and pointed at by the rioters. Suddenly, two clowns in an ambulance ram into the side of the car, knocking Arthur out and killing the officer. They realize who he is, and gently and slowly bring him out of the broken window of the car, placing him on the hood.
Despite being injured, he spreads the blood in his mouth to his cheeks, creating a wide red smile, now completely accepting what he has become.
During the massive riots, one of the clowns kills Thomas and Martha Wayne and takes Martha's pearls, much to Bruce's horror. This makes Joker indirectly responsible for the creation of Batman.
Imprisonment at Arkham
Upon succeeding in everything he had ever wanted to achieve despite failing to bring laughter and joy, it is implied that he either turned himself in or eventually got caught by the authorities, which led him to Arkham's jail division. He is then being interviewed by either an FBI shrink or a psychiatrist as he laughs presumably at the thought of Bruce Wayne ending up as an orphan like him and of what's yet to come between the two, much to the shrink's curiosity. It is implied that he immediately killed the psychiatrist who was interviewing him as his shoes are bloody, as he dances down the hall before being pursued down the halls by Arkham orderlies. It is also implied, due to his actions in Gotham City, he became known worldwide as an infamous and controversial figure whose impact on society will be long-lasting.
Arthur Fleck is a middle-aged man with silk-long-black brown-hair, he is also pale and skinny man with no muscles nor fat. He was often wearing a casual brown jacket, brown pants and even a grey buttoned shirt.
As Joker, he would put on clown-like luxury red, orange, yellow and brown bright suit and shoes, and, dyed his hair in bright green with painting his face with clown makeup, drawing tear-like blue eyelashes around his eyes, while his mouth was drawn in bright red like a big evil or sad smile.
Ever since he was born, Arthur Fleck always wanted to bring laughter and joy to the world, aiming to do so by becoming a famous comedian. However, he was often physically and mentally abused by his adoptive mother and her boyfriend.
As a result of being abused, Arthur dives deeply into nihilism, depression and even psychosis, until he develops pathological laughter created by the abuse.
Despite his mental health, Arthur would have never thought of giving up on his goal to be a popular comedian, and, when he goes to achieve this goal, he takes the job of a clown for a talent agency. As he was abused again by a group of teenagers, Arthur was recalling how he was eating trash from society.
Hence, Arthur's fragile sanity began to be broken, and, he was still not giving up and found somewhat of joy in his mother and Sophie Dumond, until, he was watching how he is humiliated by society again, this time by his beloved TV idol Murray Franklin.
Using the subway to return home, Arthur once again fell into the rich society's dirty hands when he was saving a young woman from being harassed by 3 businessmen. Using his laughter issue to harass him, Arthur would later carry out his weapon to kill them off, and further becoming a sociopath despite being terrified at what had happened before calming down in a public bathroom.
Developing an obsession of loving Sophie, he was stalking her and even came out to a date with her in a diner, even though he was merely picturing their meetings. As he was returning home, he would dive deeply further into his insanity over time. Feeling uncomfortable with how the world treats him, Arthur later saw how the Clowns movement takes all of its rages against the rich population, and he would love to see their anarchistic riots.
Broken, sad and depressed, Arthur always loved taking care of his adoptive mother, until she was telling him his true origins, in which he would unleash the monster he would become against her, doing so in great sadness and pain. Upon meeting his supposed estranged father, Arthur denied Thomas' statements that they were not related.
Arthur would eventually kill Randall, to which he showed satisfaction and relief. As Joker; Arthur loved being completely freed from his depressed life he used to have, liking to think that his life is a comedy now rather than a tragedy. After killing his TV idol in front of a horrified crowd, he burst out in a crazy laughter.
When he was rescued from the hands of the police by the Clowns, he painted a wide Glasgow smile with his own blood, allowing the ultimate dark, sociopathic, murderous and nihilistic criminally insane Joker to come out into the great light. Arthur had seemingly managed to achieve one goal; to being beloved by society in his lowest points and to make Gotham smile.
Assuming this happened, it may have been enough to finally make Arthur happy even when seemingly recaptured by authorities. All of this establishes Arthur as a tragic figure who desired appreciation, even if it meant becoming one of Gotham's worst criminals.
- Very High Intelligence: Arthur was endowed with exceptional intelligence, so wise and sophisticated that even though he did not know how to handle the Clowns anarchy around him, he used his intelligence to outsmart the detectives investigating him and mastered his skill of carrying out anarchistic actions.
- Skilled Marksman: He was also capable using a gun, shown when he killed those three guys on the train who were harassing him, one of whom was a considerable distance from Arthur.
- "Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?"
- "I hated school as a kid. But... my mother would say, “You should enjoy it. One day you’ll have to work for a living.” No, I won’t, ma. I’m gonna be a comedian!"
- "I fucked up. And did some bad shit. And I’ve been thinking real hard about it. It’s so hard just to try and be happy all the time."
- "It’s fucking crazy, isn’t it? Me on the telly?"
- "When you bring me out, can you introduce me as Joker?"
- ”You know what really makes me laugh? I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it's a fucking comedy.”
- ”Have you seen what it's like out there, Murray? Do you ever actually leave the studio? Everybody just yells and screams at each other. Nobody's civil anymore. Nobody thinks what it's like to be the other guy. You think men like Thomas Wayne ever think what it's like to be someone like me? To be somebody but themselves? They don't. They think that we'll just sit there and take it, like good little boys! That we won't werewolf and go wild!”
- “I just hope my death make more cents than my life.” (As written in his journal)
- “Do I look like the kind of clown that can start a movement?”
- ”When I was a little boy and told people I was going to be a comedian, everyone laughed at me. Well, no one's laughing now.”
- "Comedy is subjective Murray, ain't that what they say? All of you, the system that knows so much, you decide what's right or wrong. The same way that you decide what's funny or not."
- "I killed those guys because they were awful. Everybody is awful these days, Murray. It's enough to make anyone crazy."
- "I do. And I'm tired of pretending it's not."
- "No. They couldn't carry a TUNE to save their LIVES!"
- "Ugh, why is everybody so upset about these guys? If it was me dying on the sidewalk, you'd walk right over me! I pass you every day and you don't notice me, but these guys, what because Thomas Wayne went and cried about them on TV?"
- "Playing my video. Inviting me on the show. You just wanted to make fun of me. You're just like the rest of 'em."
- "You're awful, Murray."
- "I've got nothing left to lose. Nothing can hurt me anymore. My life is nothing but a comedy."
- "There is no punchline. It's not a joke."
- "It's just, you know, it's been rough few weeks, Murray. Ever since I... killed those three Wall Street guys."
- "The worst part about having mental illness is that people expect you to behave as if you don't."
- "Goodnight. And always remember: That's -"
- "How about another joke, Murray?"
Behind the Scenes
- Joaquin Phoenix's preparation for the role was so intense that he would lose 50 pounds of his normalized body weight, not even eating or drinking for long periods.
- To find the "perfect laughter", Phoenix was watching and attempting to copy people with pathological laughter disorder. This disorder is shown in the film.
- Joaquin Phoenix is the sixth actor to portray the Joker, and he is the third adult actor to do so at the age of 44, alongside Jared Leto who was also portraying Joker at the age of 44.
- Leonardo DiCaprio was originally approached by Warner Bros. to play the Joker, but Joaquin Phoenix was cast instead. According to director Todd Phillips, Phoenix was his only choice for the role. On the other hand, Phoenix accepted the role because it was the kind of comic book film he wanted to make and because he would not have to appear in sequels as the film is intended to be stand-alone.
- Although Joker was announced as a stand-alone origin story, director Todd Phillips mused in an interview with Los Angeles Times that perhaps the Joker that will come to battle Batman once Bruce Wayne grows up will not be Arthur Fleck, speculating that maybe Arthur inspired the man who becomes the Joker (like Jerome Valeska) in the future or he channeled from the Three Joker story arc. This is a possibility, considering that Arthur gets imprisoned at the end and that the film is set in the early 80s and would make Arthur an old man in the present day, and as there will be no sequels to the film however, Joaquin Phoenix opines that Arthur indeed became the Joker who would face Bruce Wayne as Batman and expressed interest in making a sequel to Joker.
- Fleck is one of the few incarnations of the Joker to be portrayed sympathetically. This had also been done with the character in Batman: The Killing Joke, which the film took inspiration from, the Flashpoint version of the character, and "John Doe" in Batman: The Enemy Within.
- This is one of the very few incarnations of the Joker to be depicted as having a form of mercy from others, as demonstrated when he spares Gary from a brutal killing like Randall for treating him well.
- It has been debated whether the events of the film really happened or not, as Arthur is explicitly shown to be prone to hallucinations and is unable to determine that those hallucinations are fake. Fans however have also pointed evidence that the events were real and Arthur did indeed become the Joker before being captured during the riot and taken to Arkham.
- The film's director has stated that the ending was intentionally meant to be unclear whether it happened or not.
- This is the second Joker that replaces Joe Chill as the man responsible for the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, the first being the Joker from the 1989 movie. The only difference, however, is that while the 1989 Joker outright murdered the Wayne couple (accompanied by Chill, who didn't expect him from killing them), the 2019 Joker just inspired with his anarchy and sense of justice which led one of the Clowns to shoot the Waynes, making him responsible for their deaths albeit indirectly.
- This is the fourth version of the Joker in media to be given an actual name and backstory, following Jack Napier in the 1989 Batman movie and Jeremiah Valeska in Gotham.
- This is one of only three Joker incarnations whose backstory does not involve falling into a vat of chemicals and permanently being disfigured by them to resemble a clown, the other two being the Nolanverse version and Martha Wayne from the Flashpoint story arc.
- The scene where Joker kills the TV Host (Murray Franklin) on the TV Interview in the show he invited is very similar to the adaptation reimagining for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.