Almost a week ago, director Todd Phillips dropped a creeper of a show. DC comic book fans around the world became transfixed by Joaquin Phoenix organically transforming into the maniacal menace loathed and loved: The Joker. The two-minute trailer became instantly divisive on social media, with many wondering whether the world really needs another origin story that sympathizes with a mass-murderer. Check out the trailer for yourself below, and then read on for some frame-by-frame commentary.
00:00-00:04 – An establishing shot of a city skyline as dusk approaches. If this is Gotham, it’s not the gloomy, seedy, Gothic-inspired metropolis audiences are accustomed to. Perhaps Gotham City was just like any other bustling city filled with opportunity and hope before the darkness settled in permanently. Does this imply that Joker somehow caused Gotham’s bleak facelift?
00:05-00:12 – A female voiceover questioning someone named Arthur is provided before cutting to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker sitting opposite his presumed therapist. The woman asks whether it “helps to have someone to talk to,” which in turn derives a pleased smirk from Joker. Clearly, this Arthur character appreciates an audience. The name Arthur is typically linked to men of stature, nobility, and honor – none of these qualities fit the Joker we’ve come to fear. Is this man we’re being introduced to someone of inherent goodness whose mental illness gets the better of him?
00:13-00:32 – The next segment depicts Arthur walking aimlessly through the streets, eventually arriving at his lonely apartment where he recalls memories via voiceover of his mother, played by the vigorous Frances Conroy. The resounding advice Joker remembers from his mother – who we can probably assume has passed away – is to keep on smiling and radiate his internal happiness to others. A codependent relationship to a mother who appears to be his only champion doesn’t seem like a good preparation for adult life.
00:33-00:42 – Here we witness Arthur making an honest living; he’s twirling a sign alerting passersby of a store liquidation while donning a clown suit. A local group of men steal Arthur’s sign and then attack him when confronted. Joker seems traumatized by the encounter, unable to comprehend the random hostility of others.
00:43-1:12 – Joker addresses his concerns to the audience that society is becoming a crazier place. In his twisted mind, the only way to succeed is to conform but on his own terms. The next several frames are stitched together as a montage set to Jimmy Durante’s “Smile.” Arthur/Joker meets a character played by Zazie Beetz at a diner, who either plays a friend or potential love interest. Then he’s seen heading to Arkham State Hospital, our first confirmation that this story is indeed set in Gotham City. Joker looks visibly uncomfortable in the next shot: he’s in an ambulance as a strapped-in patient is convulsing on a gurney. Following that, Arthur is seen behind an interaction cage, asking “What?” in response to Brian Tree Henry’s character, either a visiting friend or hospital employee. From all appearances, it appears as though Arthur voluntary commits himself, or perhaps he’s there for exploitative research purposes.
1:13-1:16 – In contemplative Martin Scorsese fashion, Joker looks into the mirror at himself in sinister white makeup. After forcing a smile, Arthur gives up and appears sad, either realizing his mother’s confidence in his exuberance isn’t enough…or being a clown in makeup for pay isn’t enough to co-exist with the citizens of Gotham.
1:17-1:29 – It’s unclear if the trailer is unfolding chronologically, but Arthur is back in his previous day job clown outfit, this time on a subway train. Business men physically assault Arthur to the ground upon witnessing both his presentation and his uncontrollable laughter. Joker’s laugh seems to paradoxical in that provides resistance to societal harassment yet distances him further from it.
1:30-1:52 – The second part of the montage begins, as Joker now seems to roaming as a free agent of anarchy. He is seen committing petty crimes, creating a major disruption at the subway stop that incurs the wrath of what appears to be a police officer played by Shea Whigham. Joker is on the loose and clearly feeling himself.
1:53-2:07 – Joker’s “Taxi Driver”-esque vigilantism looks to be in full swing. He uses comedy as a platform to spread his doctrine, and clearly takes inspiration from a fellow bigshot comedian played by Robert De Niro. Whether this is an homage to Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” De Niro certainly hasn’t hung up his comedian cap to the thunderous applause of onlookers. That insane someone in the crowd then creates a legion of his own to revolt against the rule of law. The final moment has Joker applying his infamous green hair dye, taking the necessary steps towards completing his iconic look.
2:08-2:25 – Joker walks down a hallway in his classic purple tuxedo holding a bouquet of flowers, likely to commemorate ill tidings. Whatever Arthur is about to do, he’s mentally committed himself to it, though the look he gives before the elevator door closes is one of remorse. This is a wounded man who clearly wrestles with morality, though it’ll be up to the viewing audience whether his mental illness deserves any modicum of sympathy.