With Todd Phillips’ newest psychological thriller Joker (2019) coming to theaters on Oct. 4, we couldn’t help but dish up some background facts on the movie before its release. Set as a standalone origin story for the iconic villain, the film focuses on a gritty character study of Arthur Fleck, a social outsider played by Joaquin Phoenix. But before you watch this film, here are a few things you should know.
Firstly, the film takes place in the 80s. The 1980s was a significant time for the Batman franchise. However, this means that this story takes place long before the Joker starts tormenting Batman in Gotham. Before Arthur Fleck becomes the joker, he is known as a failed stand-up comedian who is disregarded be society. Soon, he is driven insane and takes on the persona of Joker, a psychotic anarchist who wreaks havoc across Gotham. The movie is taking inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, which came out in 1983. Scorsese was briefly attached to the project, but had to leave due to scheduling conflicts. As the Joker movie shots in Brooklyn, it clearly is showing an 80s New York City-vibe.
In interviews, Joaquin Phoenix has suggested that Joker won’t be the typical CGI-filled action film that Marvel and DC fans are accustomed to. Instead, the studio plans to deliver a low-budget character study. Based on the brief descriptions of the script, cast, and some set photos, there’s ample speculation that Joker will be taking inspiration from a comic considered one of the greatest stories of all time: The Killing Joke, which follows a very similar narrative.
Thirdly, Phoenix is known to undergo some elaborate transformations when preparing for a role, such as when he played Johnny Cash in Walk the Line (2005) or Jesus Christ in Mary Magdalene (2018). When preparing for his role as the Joker, he once again faced a physical challenge. In order to emulate the traditionally scrawny villain, the actor has to slim down considerably. Joker co-star Zazie Beetz revealed that Phoenix’s weight loss was so significant that it actually limited potential for reshoots after the production completed filming.
While many will compare Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker to Jack Nicholson’s 1989 portrayal and more likely Heath Ledger’s 2008 performance, Phoenix’s adaptation of the Joker brings a new spin to the character. IGN Entertainment’s Jim Vejvoda described Phoenix’s performance as the Joker as engrossing and “Oscar-worthy.” Similarly, Brian Viner of The Daily Mail singled out Phoenix’s performance as a “breath of fresh air” and that he “does not offer the standard comic-book caricature of villainy.
The Joker has always been a chilling and demented character. However, the film definitely cranks up the darkness factor. Eric Eisenberg of CinemaBlend said, “You’ll definitely feel like you’ll need a shower after seeing it, but once you’ve dried off and changed clothes, you’ll want to do nothing else but parse and dissect it.”
In other words, this is one comic book movie that parents might want to think twice about bringing the kids.