Warner Bros. has revealed the first trailer (see above) for “Joker,” which is directed by Todd Phillips (the “Hangover” trilogy) and arrives in theaters on October 4. Before you say, hey, that guy makes comedies, consider that Martin Scorsese and Bradley Cooper are part of the producing team. That’s no joke.
It’s an origin story about the clown-faced Batman villain with a scarily rail-thin Joaquin Phoenix donning the grease-paint and a red rubber nose. Phillips, who co-wrote the script with Scott Silver, was inspired by Scorsese’s gloomy urban dramas such as “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.”
We have seen various iterations of one of the Caped Crusader’s greatest foe of all time but this one really digs deep and goes super dark, making you feel sorry for the creepy fellow. “My mother always tells me to smile and put on a happy face,” says Arthur Fleck before he sinks into his mentally askew alter ego. “She told me I had a purpose to bring laughter and joy to the world.” But when you are bullied as a lonely outsider, it is hard to find happiness let alone share it, especially on the mean streets of Gotham City. Someone is heard saying, “Gotham has lost its way.” Just like Arthur.
We get a glimpse of his personal notebook filled with so-called jokes, with one notation saying, “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you DONT,” with the “O” drawn as a smiley face. “Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there?” Some might be saying that about the whole world today of late. At one point, Jimmy Durante — an old-school clown — is heard singing Charlie Chaplin‘s “Smile.” And who else but “The King of Comedy” himself, Robert De Niro, shows up briefly on a stage.
Each era apparently gets the Joker they deserve. The flashy role has been previously been played by an array of talents, all with their own spin. There was a prankster-ish Cesar Romero on the 1966 TV series. Jack Nicholson went a bit more threatening in 1989’s first big-screen version, Tim Burton‘s “Batman,”while bopping about to Prince songs. Heath Ledger won a posthumous supporting Oscar for his off-kilter leering lunatic in 2008’s “The Dark Knight.” A mossy-green-haired Jared Leto in 2016’s “Suicide Squad”was over-the top twisted. Most recently, actor Cameron Monaghan was the Clown Prince of Crime on TV’s “Gotham.” Various voice actors including Mark Hamill, Brent Spiner and Zach Galifianakis have spoken for the Joker in animated form.
But Phoenix, who always pours his heart and soul into his performances, might just be the first Joker who makes us feel his pain in a way that perhaps we all can relate to. As he says at the end of the trailer, “I used to think my life was a tragedy, but now I realize that it’s a comedy.” And a frown is an upside-down smile. Could the Joker be a vehicle for another acting Oscar win? Stayed tuned.