File this one under: I’m not surprised, and I’m too numb to be disappointed. Todd Phillips, the director of the Joker movie that looks like the reincarnation of Taxi Driver to your conservative cousins, is out here supporting a fan theory that Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck isn’t the Joker. Rather, Arthur Fleck inspires someone else to eventually assume the mantle and become the famed villain that terrorizes Gotham City.
It is an absolutely dumb theory that zaps away the one interesting thing about Joker. It also invalidates whatever pretentious bullshit Phillips had about Joker, because it was Phillips himself who bragged about getting to “sneak a real movie” in the form of a comic book adaptation. But now that it’s Todd Phillips himself, of all people, suggesting the theory makes me confident that the guy just doesn’t have a clue, and that we’re all a bunch of clowns.
So the theory goes, Todd Phillips’ Joker isn’t an origin about one man bullied by society to become the famous villain. It’s just one guy who adopts the name Joker, and way off-screen in a story that isn’t captured at all in the picture, someone else is inspired by Arthur Fleck to become the Joker.
There’s the significant age gap between Arthur Fleck and Bruce Wayne, the latter of whom appears as a child and before the murder of his parents. Because of this, it’s apparently incomprehensible that Batman and the Joker can’t co-exist in this timeline. Instead of just letting that slide, someone somewhere came up with the bone-headed idea: Well, what if it wasn’t the Joker?
It’s stupid. It’s the sort of theory that makes online entertainment writers’ eyes glaze over, and actual professionals in the industry would keel over laughing. But Phillips, who believes his brand of comedy that defined The Hangover movies is too edgy for 2019, said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times that the theory has merit. Long deep sigh…
“Maybe Joaquin’s character inspired the Joker,” Phillips said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “You don’t really know. His last line in the movie is, ‘You wouldn’t get it.’ There’s a lot going on in there that’s interesting.”
What garbage. Because if it’s true, one: What was the point of all this? What do we gain from a movie with a well-known and very specific character, and trying everything to subvert expectations, only to reveal the entire film isn’t actually about that character?
Two: Nothing in Phillips’ movie gives this weight. We do not see any other “Joker” protestors of significance. We do not see any redheaded boys watching the TV, suffering the trauma of witnessing a city erupt into chaos, smiling devilishly alone at home. If Phillips wants to play the big boy game of meaningful directing, then Phillips, as the voice of god in this story, needs to own up whether or not his movie is or isn’t about the Joker.
Three: What’s Phillips’ deal? He made a big stink about how he wanted to make a real movie, not a dumb comic book movie for kids. Yet such fan theories that populate movie sites are elementary-grade film discourse, a way to poke and prod at bits and traces to answer questions that are entirely misguided in the first place. Martin Scorsese is the benchmark Joker aspires to, yet in the decades Scorsese has told stories, no one’s asked him if The Departed exists in the Goodfellas universe.
That line Phillips quotes really gets me. “You wouldn’t get it.” Maybe I don’t! And if this is the game Joker is playing, I truly don’t want to.
Joker is out now in theaters.