The Joker is one of the most iconic characters in comic book history. Serving as a villain and often a nemesis for Batman across stories set in Gotham City, the DC Comics legend has never been given one singular, definitive baack story in comics. Multiple stories have blended together over the years and in different mediums, offering up versions of what might be the character's past but no one can say for sure where the character's story truly begins. Joaquin Phoenix's Joker did, however, offer up a heavy dose of insight in regards to this film's version of the Clown Prince of Gotham -- while also preserving a good bit of the mystery surrounding him.
In Joker, Arthur Fleck was a mentally ill resident of Gotham working as a clown and taking various jobs to make ends meet. As his mental health deteriorated following several bad beats in his life (for example: getting beat up by teenagers, scolded on a bus for trying to make a kid laugh, and fired from his job), he began a descent into complete madness and developed a sort of blood lust. His first kill came on the subway in Gotham when three Wayne Enterprises employees were harassing a young woman before they turned their attention to him.
After Arthur, the soon to be Joker, killed these three men -- he did not feel the remorse which he expected to. Instead, his descent into madness continued, only to be paired with a handful of possibilities regarding his past and parents.
One scenario, according to Arthur's mother Penny, was that he was the son of Thomas Wayne. Penny had previously worked for the Wayne family and she claims that her and Thomas developed a relationship which lead to Arthur being born and kept a secret as means to preserve Thomas Wayne's public appearance. This would mean that the Joker and Batman are ultimately brothers.
The second scenario called for Arthur to have a different father -- one who is not Thomas Wayne but still is one who abandoned him and his mother during his earliest days.
The third scenario is that Arthur was adopted by Penny and his biological parents are somewhere out in the world. This is the story which Thomas Wayne claimed to be true, though the possibility of him having doctored the paper work as a means to preserve his own public image comes into play.
"That was the idea, the idea that all of 'My past is multiple,'" Joker director Todd Philips told ComicBook.com. "I like to think of my past as multiple choice, it's a little bit of like, 'Wait, did that happen? Did this?' It's really kind of fun when you make a movie with an unreliable narrator. There is no greater unreliable narrator than Joker. He's an unreliable narrator and he's Joker, so it's sort of like a double whammy, and so I think that lends to people's reaction to the movie and I like that people don't really know what happened. There are certain things if you see it again, on a second viewing, you'll notice about that white room at the end that kind of picks up at the beginning, and you go, 'Oh, wait a minute, that's interesting.' Its kind of one of those."
After Arthur Fleck fully embraced his willingness to kill, having brought death to his own mother and former co-worker, he fully embraced himself. His dialogue become more fluid and thorough. His movements become more concise, especially when he danced his way down a staircase and on to the Murray Franklin show. He had decided to be referred to as "Joker" in this time.
Before the movie concluded, Joker revealed himself to be without any political motivations. He was simply acting to act and inciting chaos in the process. He would go on to kill talk show host Murray Franklin, get arrested, get freed from the police car, and use his own blood to for the classic Joker smile across his face. Meanwhile, a random Gotham citizen inspired by the Clown would follow the Wayne family out of their movie theater and kill both Thomas and Martha, leaving Bruce Wayne orphaned, beginning his path to become the DC Comics legend known as Batman.
From there, Arthur Fleck would be locked away in a mental institution and it would be unclear if the movie as a whole was a part of his imagination or if all really happened.
Joker is now playing in theaters.