Inspiration is a significant component of any film. No matter the story, the subject, or the genre, filmmakers and writers use stories and films that came before them to build their own creations. Perhaps it's a lighting choice, an element of the character, something large or something small. For comic book movies that inspiration extends to previous stories including the characters and when it comes to the upcoming Joker, director Todd Phillips had two very specific inspirations -- an iconic Joker story and a classic silent film that originally influenced the creation of the character to begin with.
Speaking at a press conference at the Venice International Film Festival, Phillips explained how he was able to "pick and choose" elements to bring his take on the iconic Batman villain to life.
"What was fun about it was we were able to kind of pick and choose certain elements from the comic book past, the past comic books, and use kind of what we wanted here and we'll use a little bit of that so there's a little bit, I guess, of Killing Joke with the idea of a failed stand-up comedian, but you know another big influence on this movie and the thing that inspired the original creators of Joker was the silent film The Man Who [Laughs] which is really where this started," Phillips said. "It's funny because the co-writer Scott Silver emailed me this morning, our first emails back and forth he was saying congratulations, this is exciting, and he sent me our first emails back and forth and I was reading them, and it was all about The Man who [Laughs]. I almost forgot that in the process that being such a big inspiration for us."
For those who aren't familiar, The Man Who Laughs is a 1928 silent romantic drama, an adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. The story (roughly) follows the story of Gwynplaine, a man who was disfigured into having a permanent grin as a child after his father was executed. Gwynplaine's (played by Conrad Veidt) distinctive appearance served as an inspiration for the Joker's appearance. The title of 2005's Batman: The Man Who Laughs by Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke is itself an homage to the film and Hugo's novel.
However, even with some very specific inspirations overall, that doesn't mean that star Joaquin Phoenix's performance itself is influenced by any previous portrayals of the character. Phoenix said that he had to approach Joker his own way.
"For me what the attraction to make this film, this character, was that were going to approach it in our own way, so for me, I didn't refer to any past iterations of the character," Phoenix said. "It was just something that felt like it was our creation in some ways, and I think that's what was really important for me and key to it."
Joker stars Phoenix (Arthur Fleck/Joker), Zazie Beetz (Sophie Dumond), Robert De Niro (Murray Franklin), Brett Cullen (Thomas Wayne), Frances Conroy (Penny Fleck), Marc Maron (Ted Marco), Douglas Hodge (Alfred Pennyworth), Josh Pais (Hoyt Vaughn), Bryan Tyree Henry, Bryan Callen, Shea Whigham, and Glen Fleshler. You can find the official description below.
"Drama. Joker centers around the iconic arch-nemesis and is an original, standalone story not seen before on the big screen. The exploration of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a man disregarded by society, is not only a gritty character study but also a broader cautionary tale."
Joker hits theaters on October 4th.