- "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 the titular protagonist villain of the 2019 psychological comic book thriller-film of the same name.
Arthur Fleck is a mentally unstable failed comedian who, following his great lack of success and respect, loses his sanity until he becomes a nihilistic and psychopathic mastermind known as the Joker, aiming himself to create an anarchistic mutiny against the rich population of Gotham City and make Gotham smile in his way.
He was portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix.
The man who would later be known as the Joker was born in Gotham City as Arthur Fleck, the son of Penny Fleck and an unknown father. When he was raised by his mother and her boyfriend, they were abusing him physically and mentally, until a neurological condition was created in him, which caused him to develop uncontrollable laughter.
As he became an adult, in 1981, he often learned how to control his laughter problem with the help of a therapist to obtain medications to help himself handle the problem and later his depression, dissociative personality disorder and psychopathy.
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.
Arthur, alongside his mother, as like many residents in Gotham and the US, are 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.
He was working late at night, and, 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 taking his fake clown hair to put on, they starting beating on him. He then snapped, quickly grabbing the gun from his pocket, and shooting 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 shot him in the head. Pausing momentarily to contemplate what he had done, he sprinted up the stairs, and ran all the way home.
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 and later when his mother was asleep, he was hiding in their fridge.
After coming out, he was dancing to a music show on TV while holding his gun, until his mother had an illness episode, rushing her to the hospital.
In the hospital, Arthur was afraid of losing his mother. Upon the serial murders he committed, Arthur flees away to his home, where he was investigated by two GCPD detectives. He denied anything he did. Before getting a stroke, Penny told Arthur of his true parentage, as well as her early life with Wayne.
On the TV, he saw that a humiliating video of himself performing stand-up comedy was shown in Franklin's show. In the video, Arthur's pathological laughter was shown during the stand-up performance, which Franklin used to humiliate Fleck in living, driving him mad.
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. 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, Bruce 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 wakes up in his home, and 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 the co-worker 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 cowers in the corner. Arthur lets him go, and unlocks the door for the short man, 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 would be thinking of committing suicide in living, but after achieving so much love from the Clowns, he abandons it and his purpose of bringing laughter and joy to the world, aiming himself toward the Clowns' ongoing mutiny.
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 taunts him 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 suddenly whips out his gun and shoots Franklin in the face, 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 is giving a speech to the camera he is holding to his face, 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 bloody in his mouth to his cheeks, creating a wide red smile, now completely accepting what he has become and becomes the popular leader of the Clowns, achieving his goal of making Gotham smiling via anarchy.
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 an FBI psychiatrist as he laughs 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 FBI psychiatrist who was interviewing him as his shoes are bloody, celebrating his glorious victory with laughter and dancing 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.
- Three Wayne Enterprises employees (shot dead)
- Penny Fleck (smothered with pillow)
- Randall (stabbed with scissors)
- Murray Franklin (shot in the head and then chest)
- FBI Psychiatrist (implied to have killed)
- Thomas and Martha Wayne (shot dead by a demonstrator)
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 mother and her boyfriend due to being the estranged son of a billionaire, something Arthur later takes as hatred toward the rich and the powerful.
As a result of being abused, Arthur dives deeply into psychopathy, depression and even dissociative personality disorder, 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, he was falling in love with it, further becoming a psychopath despite being terrified.
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 picturing a series of their meetings. As he was returning home, he would dive deeply further into his insanity by entering into the fridge after writing some bad jokes. 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 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 estranged father, Arthur was in denial of how his father was denying his existence, yet shown joy with meeting Bruce Wayne, his estranged brother and yet-to-be his arch enemy.
Ruling out as a bad boy of the society, Arthur was banished from his true home to his filthy small home, where he unleashed the Joker into the light by killing a former friend of his, loving it so much until he became the clown anarchist he is.
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, and, he later developed himself to become the leader of the Clowns after killing his TV idol in front of a horrified crowd, yet, he was already inside of his insanity, so he burst out in a crazy laughter.
When he was rescued from the hands of the police, something the society would bring toward him to mistreat him, by the Clowns, he was fully accepted as their leader. By doing so, he was allowing the ultimate dark, psychopathic, murderous and nihilistic criminally insane Joker to come out into the great light, and managed to achieve one goal; to being beloved by society in his lowest points and to make Gotham smile.
That was enough to finally make Arthur happy, even when 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.
Powers And Abilities
Arthur has no superhuman special powers, yet he had a variety of abilities such as;
- 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.
- "Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?"
- "School, as a kid, 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 going to be a comedian."
- "I fucked up. I’ve done 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, ain’t it? Me on the telly?"
- "When you bring me out, can you introduce me as Joker?"
- This is one of the few Joker incarnations to be portrayed as a truly sympathetic character, another being the version of The Killing Joke, the version seen in Flashpoint and the Joker that appeared in Batman: The Telltale Series and it's sequel, Batman: The Enemy Within.
- Likewise, this is one of the very few incarnations of the Joker to be depicted as having mercy from others at some sorts, as demonstrated when he spares Gary from brutally killing him like Randall for treating him well previously.
- 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.
- 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.
- This incarnation of the Joker, as well as the film itself, has been well received by both critics and comic book fans, despite initial skepticism on the film's success considering the uneven reception that films in the DC Extended Universe have met as of currently. Some have been going as far as to suggest that Joaquin Phoenix's performance of the Joker has outranked the legendary portrayal of the late Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight, which is regarded as the best Joker in the film.
- The announcement of Joaquin Phoenix's Joker was likewise not well received by Jared Leto, who plays the Joker in the DC Extended Universe since Suicide Squad. Reportedly, Leto was displeased with the existence of multiple different contemporary Joker characters. Ironically, Leto's portrayal of the Joker is considered the most negatively received received by fans. Jared Leto's anger may have been justified by the fact that most of his scenes in Suicide Squad were removed from the theatrical court and only appeared as a secondary character.
- Leonardo DiCaprio, who also portrayed Calvin Candie in Django Unchained, King Louis XIV in The Iron Mask and Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, 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.
- 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.
- 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.