Joker is a 2019 American psychological thriller film directed and produced by Todd Phillips, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver. The film, based on DC Comics characters, stars Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker and provides a possible origin story for the character. Set in 1981, it follows Arthur Fleck, a failed clown and stand-up comedian whose descent into insanity and nihilism inspires a violent counter-cultural revolution against the wealthy in a decaying Gotham City. Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, and Marc Maron appear in supporting roles. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, Joker was produced by Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Films in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, Bron Creative and Joint Effort.
Phillips conceived Joker in 2016 and wrote the script with Silver throughout 2017. The two were inspired by 1970s character studies and the films of Martin Scorsese (particularly Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy), who was initially attached to the project as a producer. The film loosely adapts plot elements from Batman: The Killing Joke (1988), but Phillips and Silver otherwise did not look to specific comics for inspiration. Phoenix became attached in February 2018 and was cast that July, while the majority of the cast signed on by August. Principal photography took place in New York City, Jersey City, and Newark, from September to December 2018. Joker is the first live-action theatrical Batman film to receive an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association.
Joker had its world premiere at the 76th Venice International Film Festival on August 31, 2019, where it won the Golden Lion, and was released in the United States on October 4, 2019. While Phoenix's performance, the direction, editing, musical score, and cinematography were praised, the dark tone, portrayal of mental illness, and handling of violence divided opinions and generated concerns of inspiring real-life violence. Despite this, Joker was a box office success and set records for an October release. It grossed over $1 billion, the first R-rated film to do so, and became the sixth-highest-grossing film of 2019 during its theatrical run. The film also received numerous accolades. At the 92nd Academy Awards, it earned a leading 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, winning Best Actor for Phoenix and Best Original Score for Hildur Guðnadóttir.
Party clown and aspiring stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck lives with his mother, Penny, in Gotham City in 1981, which is rife with crime and unemployment. Arthur suffers from a neurological disorder that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times, depending on social services for medication. After Arthur is attacked by delinquents, Arthur's co-worker Randall gives him a gun for self-defense. Arthur pursues a relationship with his neighbor, single mother Sophie Dumond, and invites her to his upcoming stand-up routine at a nightclub.
While entertaining at a children's hospital, Arthur's gun falls out of his pocket. Arthur is fired when Randall lies to their manager that the gun was Arthur's own. On the subway, still in clown makeup and depressed by the layoff, Arthur is ridiculed and beaten by three drunk businessmen of Wayne Enterprises after breaking into laughter while they harass a woman; he shoots two of them in self-defense and murders the third as he attempts to flee. The killings are condemned by billionaire mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne, who calls those envious of more successful people "clowns". Demonstrations against Gotham's rich people begin, with protesters donning clown masks in Arthur's image. Funding cuts shut down the social service program, leaving Arthur without his therapy and medication.
Sophie attends Arthur's stand-up routine, which goes poorly; he laughs uncontrollably, and his jokes fall flat. Arthur intercepts a letter from Penny to Thomas, alleging that he is Thomas's illegitimate son, and berates his mother for hiding the truth. Arthur goes to Wayne Manor, where he meets Thomas's young son Bruce, but flees after a scuffle with family butler Alfred Pennyworth. Following a visit from two police detectives investigating the train murders, Penny suffers a stroke and is hospitalized. Arthur's idol, popular talk show host Murray Franklin, mocks Arthur by showing clips from the comedy routine on his show, calling him a "joker".
Arthur sneaks into a private movie theater event and confronts Thomas, who tells him that Penny is just delusional and not his biological mother. In denial, Arthur visits Arkham State Hospital and steals Penny's file, which states she was a narcissist who adopted Arthur while working as a housekeeper for the Waynes in the 1950s. Penny then raised Arthur with her abusive boyfriend, who was later arrested and died in jail. For allowing the abuse, Penny was sent to Arkham State Hospital, where she maintained that Thomas truly was Arthur's father and that Thomas had fabricated the file in order to hide his relationship with Penny. Distraught, Arthur returns home and enters Sophie's apartment unannounced. Frightened, Sophie asks him to leave, revealing their relationship to have been a figment of Arthur's delusions. The following day, Arthur murders Penny at the hospital by smothering her with her bed pillow.
Arthur is invited to appear on Murray's show due to the popularity of his stand-up routine clips. He is visited by ex-colleagues Gary and Randall. Arthur brutally kills Randall out of revenge but spares Gary for treating him well in the past. The two detectives find Arthur, now wearing a colorful suit and face paint, and pursue him onto a train filled with clown protesters. One detective accidentally shoots a protester, thus inciting a riot, while Arthur escapes.
Before the show goes live, Arthur asks Murray to introduce him as Joker, a reference to Murray's mockery. Arthur waltzes out to applause in a lewd manner, and the mood changes when he begins telling morbid jokes, confesses to the train murders, rants about how society abandons the downtrodden and mentally ill, and berates Murray for mocking him. When Murray criticizes him and threatens to call the police, Arthur shoots and kills him. He is arrested for the murders he committed as riots erupt across Gotham. One of the rioters corners the Wayne family in an alley and murders Thomas and his wife, sparing Bruce. Rioters in an ambulance crash into the police car carrying Arthur, freeing him; he stands atop the car, starts to dance to the cheers of the crowd, and smears blood on his face in the shape of a smile.
At Arkham State Hospital, Arthur laughs to himself about a joke. When asked what it is, he tells his psychiatrist: "You wouldn't get it". He attempts to escape the hospital, leaving behind bloodied shoeprints as an orderly pursues him.
- Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck / Joker: A mentally ill, impoverished party clown and stand-up comedian disregarded by society, whose history of abuse causes him to become a nihilistic criminal with a clown motif. Phoenix had been interested in a low-budget "character study" of a comic book character, and said the film "feels unique, it is its own world in some ways, and maybe It might as well be the thing that scares you the most."
- Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin: A talk show host who plays a role in Arthur's downfall. De Niro said his role in Joker pays homage to his character from The King of Comedy (1983), Rupert Pupkin, who is a comedian obsessed with a talk-show host.
- Zazie Beetz as Sophie Dumond: A cynical single mother and Arthur's "love interest". Beetz, a "huge fan" of Phoenix, said that it was "an honor" to co-star with him, and that she learned a lot working with him on set.
- Frances Conroy as Penny Fleck: Arthur's mentally and physically ill mother, who formerly worked for Thomas Wayne. The Canadian actress Hannah Gross portrays a young Penny.
September 27, 2019