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If you were hoping for a Joker movie full of references and homages to the character's lengthy comic book history, or perhaps even a Joker movie that stealthily quasi-adapted one of the Clown Prince of Crime's most famous stories, you're out of luck. According to writer/director Todd Phillips, his upcoming take on the character starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role is not taking its cues from anything but a very simple idea for an origin story.
“We didn’t follow anything from the comic-books, which people are gonna be mad about,” Phillips told Empire. “We just wrote our own version of where a guy like Joker might come from. That’s what was interesting to me. We’re not even doing Joker, but the story of becoming Joker. It’s about this man.”
From the moment it was announced, Joker felt like a surprising, if intriguing, choice for Warner Bros. Pictures at a time when its DC Comics-based slate continues to evolve in the wake of Justice League. This is an R-rated, lower budget, out-of-continuity take on one of DC's most profitable characters, an attempt to take The Joker and reframe him in a film with a tone that's closer to Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy than it is to Aquaman.
To pull it off, Phillips turned to Phoenix, who stars as Arthur Fleck, a man who transforms into The Joker through a series of misadventures. From the beginning, even when he thought the film couldn't necessarily get the Oscar winner in the room, Phoenix was a dream choice for Phillips and company.
“We had a photo of him above our computer while we were writing," he said. "We constantly thought, ‘God, imagine if Joaquin actually does this.’”
Phoenix ultimately agreed, and that means we're getting an exciting new interpretation of the character who's already been played by Oscar winners Jack Nicholson, Jared Leto, and Heath Ledger.
As for the decision to avoid the comics in this version of the Joker story, there's actually an unexpected sense of logic to that. After all, most comics starring The Joker don't even attempt to explain his origins, offer his real name, or even give a sense of what drives him. He is, as Ledger's version of the character put it, "an agent of chaos," more force of nature than man.
Some comics, like Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke, have delved into where The Joker came from, but they're few and far between, and often the various explanations for the character are simply treated as lies Joker has told to keep people guessing. In that way, we could end up viewing this film as another imaginary story in the head of the Clown Prince, or we could just sit back and watch as a man's reality warps around him. Either way, it's going to be an interesting ride.
Joker is in theaters October 4.