The first official trailer for the Jokermovie has revealed more about the DC Film than most fans may realize – and we’re covering it all in our trailer breakdown! For the fans who thought that any Joker movie would need Batman, the first look at director Todd Phillips’ movie blows that assumption out of the water. Joaquin Phoenix’s tragic hero has more than one story to tell, from the looks of it. Now, the only question is whether it will be a comedy, a tragedy… or both.
No matter where the movie lands, the trailer shows quite a bit of the overall arc of the movie (while still using much of the footage fans already saw in the various Joker set photos and leaks). Giving an origin story to a character who is famously without an explicit origin, the Joker movie was suspected to be just one possibility. One deep, dark, and dingy look at what kind of real-world circumstances could create a villain as maniacal as Batman’s most iconic nemesis. But the first trailer doesn’t skimp on Easter Eggs, shout-outs, and references to Joker’s DC Comics history.
Of course, the entire story is going to be more complicated and likely much messier, considering the themes of mental illness, psychotic breaks, and citywide madness. But the Joker trailer cares more about getting its big ideas across than explicit plot points. So let’s break down some of the most enticing, most faithful, and most fan service-y moments the first Joker trailer has to offer. Needless to say, there will be potential SPOILERS incoming.
15. Joker’s Social Worker is a Kane
As tempting as it may be to see a future Joker speaking to what could be a therapist, and make the connection to Harley Quinn (back in her ‘Dr. Harleen Quinzel’ days), the reference is actually to the creator of Batman. At least, we’re assuming it is, since the odds of Arthur’s social worker being named “Debra Kane” by total coincidence seems even more unlikely.
For the casual comic fans, that’s an almost certain reference to Bob Kane, who along with Bill Finger is credited with creating Batman. And yes, Bob did have a daughter, Deborah. Interestingly enough, Kane’s role in creating the Joker for Batman #1 is disputed, with many citing Jerry Robinson as the creator with Finger. Either way, none of it would’ve happened without Kane, so the nod is deserved (and hopefully one of many).
14. Before Joker, Come The Jokes
Some viewers may see Arthur scribbling his idea of ‘jokes’ on a notepad and assume that he is bound for a career in stand-up comedy, just like his origin story chronicled in Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” graphic novel. But before they get ahead of themselves, we would advise a closer look at the actual jokes for an insight into Arthur’s sense of humor. And his state of mind, too. “Why are poor people so confused? They don’t have any cents.” Add in jokes about insomniacs who can’t sleep, things that need to “loosen up,” and it’s obvious the tension is building in Arthur whether it’s showing on the outside or not.
Then there is his final joke, which appears to be his most heavily favored, written larger than any other: “The worst part of having a mental illness is… people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” That’s a message worth dissecting and considering in the mind of every viewer, but for now, we’ll simply take it as face value, and assume that Arthur is mentally ill, and knows it. And more importantly, he is struggling to make his life work in the face of it.
13. Pinkie & Blue Boy in Joker’s Home
This may be the most intriguing detail layered into the background of Joker, and it’s hard to guess how many fans will ever notice it, either in the trailer or the finished film. There are two paintings barely visible on the wall of Arthur and his mother’s home, but for art history fans, the two pieces are impossible to overlook. They are “The Blue Boy” and “Pinkie,” respectively. And while painted at two different times, by two different artists, they found eachother in California’s Henry E. Huntington Gallery. They’re even hung opposite one another, doubling down on the quiet desperation and longing expected in Arthur’s life.
The layered significance can only be guessed at until director Todd Phillips sheds some insight, but fans can spin their own theories. The “sad” connotations of the portrait of a “Blue Boy” are obvious, as is the irony that the wealthy boy was actually the son of a merchant known by artist Thomas Gainsborough. Even stranger? Gainsborough was painting in the style of Anthony van Dyck, specifically his portrait of King Charles II as a boy. And wouldn’t you know it, Charles II is a key player in the story of The Man Who Laughs, the Victor Hugo novel which inspired the original Joker when it was adapted to film in 1928. Intentional, or kismet?
12. The Legacy of ‘Holmes’ Pharmacy
The trailer uses shots of its version of New York City–sorry, we mean Gotham, to help establish the basic tone, not to mention what looks to be the exact setting of the film. Where previous versions of Gotham have blended the modern era with the 1940s elite, the Joker trailer seems closer to the late 1960s, or early 1970s. But before viewers get too focused on the cars in the background, the fashion being worn by Gotham citizens, or even Arthur… pay close attention to the pharmacy Arthur may be heading for a prescription. The “Holmes Pharmacy” may be pointed to instantly as a nod to Sherlock Holmes, an omni-present figure in the lore of Batman, the world’s (other) greatest detective.
And while this may be a hint of the Dark Knight coming in Arthur’s story, it’s also a name tied to one of the most terrible, tragic, and twisted moments in Batman history. At the time, Batman fans and historians noted the irony that “Holmes” would also be the surname of the man who perpetrated the terrible ‘Dark Knight movie theater shooting’ in Aurora, Colorado. We’re not suggesting that Phillips or the film crew made this allusion intentionally–more than likely, it is a tragic coincidence–but it emphasizes the narrow line between the legend of Batman, and the most recent case of what press couldn’t help but refer to as a ‘real-world Joker.’
11. The Pagliacci Mask Easter Egg
By now most fans will have noticed that the clown makeup worn by Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur both before and after his transformation into the ‘Joker’ identity seems familiar. The white, blue, and red color scheme was instantly called out by Batman die-hards for its resemblance to the same mask worn by Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight’s opening heist scene. The colors are swapped to keep it from being a total knockoff, but the references and Easter Eggs go much, much deeper.
The makeup and mask are both nods to the debut appearance of Cesar Romero’s Joker in the 1960s Batman TV series, when he made an iconic entry wearing a dead ringer for that very mask. But it wasn’t a random mask: Joker was impersonating the character of Pagliaccio from the Italian opera Pagliacci (translated as “Clowns”). The story makes heavy use of the blurred line between comedy and tragedy depending on perspective, which seems to be a major theme of Joker.
10. The Joker’s Mother’s Health is Failing
The trailer has more heartwarming moments than fans might expect going in, but the most important may be the exchanges between Arthur and his mother. Dancing in one scene, the glimpse of Arthur bathing his mother in the tub show the tragedy of their relationship. As the first character details for Penny, Joker’s Mother revealed, she is in failing health, effectively an invalid in her own home with only Arthur to care for her. But even in the face of that adversity, Arthur seems to take genuine pleasure in his time with his mother.
The rumored plot details may shed some light on why that is so important to Jokeras an origin story. Beware potential Spoiler, but with rumors that Penny just can’t stop talking about “her former employer,” along with others that suggest Arthur’s father may be a member of the Wayne family, the fact that his mother is his last tether to sanity could be what shifts the movie from Arthur’s story… to Joker’s.
9. The ‘Joker’ Television Shout Outs
The image of Arthur and his mother dancing in their living room carries an ominous tone, knowing just how dark and twisted his future is going to become. The dim glow from the TV doesn’t help things either, but the credits scrolling on screen do pack a bit of a behind the scenes punch for Easter Egg hunters. They just aren’t references to the history of Batman or DC Comics.
Taking a look at a few of the names–Ben Gatollari, Michael Auszura–and the real world figures getting immortalized on the TV are Joker’s assistant production coordinator and assistant art director, respectively. It’s always nice to see the crew get some love in the film itself, so hopefully this is just the tip of the iceberg.
8. The First Look at Zazie Beetz’s ‘Sophie’
While it’s too early to know just how ‘evil’ or ‘broken’ Arthur may become along his path towards Jokerhood, we do know one of the everyday citizens of Gotham who will help shape his journey. That honor goes to Sophie Dumond (played by Deadpool 2 actress Zazie Beetz), whose role is starting to make more and more sense.
Originally described as a single mother trying to make ends meet in Gotham, Sophie seems the most likely embodiment of Gotham’s injustice. That is, the working people of the city who are struggling, and even suffering, while the city’s wealthiest have turned their backs. Arthur seems genuinely charmed by Sophie’s laughter, so if his social life is as strained as it would seem, Sophie’s opinion of Gotham’s power structure could be incredibly influential in giving Arthur his mission against the aristocracy.
7. The Garbage is Piling Up in Gotham
It might not jump out at first, but the longer the trailer goes on, and the more times fans are going to be viewing it, the harder it gets to ignore the bags of garbage piling up on every Gotham City street corner. Well, maybe not every corner, since the locations of the wealthy (places like Wayne Hall, for instance) seem to be above such troubles… of living in a giant and growing pool of waste. It’s a powerful visual, and one that might help narrow down the movie’s setting, inspiration, and message.
The New York City Garbage Strike of 1968 is the likely touchstone being pointed to here, since it, too, was a strange and hard to believe saga of city officials, backroom dealings, open opposition and politics, and a battle of egos. One that, at least in Gotham’s version of the crisis, seems to impact the lower classes more than anyone else. A powerful image that we doubt is there by accident.
6. The Joker’s Laugh (and The Stand-Up Callback)
As we alluded to before, the vibes of Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” are strong in the trailer, and likely in this movie. But before fans think that narrows down, or locks the movie to one version of an origin story, even Moore maintained that Joker’s origin should be multiple choice, never intending his tale to be canonical. Even so, the version of Joker’s beginnings that saw him attempt stand-up comedy, be terrible at it, be laughed off stage and humiliated, and spiral out of control seems to be used here in one way or another.
The trailer also gives the first sample of Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘Joker laugh’ guaranteed to get a strong reaction from fans. But one small clip, especially in such strained circumstances, prior to his true transformation, shouldn’t be taken as too official on its own.
5. Joker Becomes a Hero of Gotham?
Clearly the path Joker takes to the center stage of Gotham City doesn’t go as fans will expect, since he doesn’t seem to be embroiled in murders, crime sprees, or street-leve crime. No, the Joker is going to become a hero of the people. At least, that’s what it looks like, based on the hordes of people wearing his mask and makeup, carrying vague anti-capitalist signs in support of his mission against the elite, and even some throwbacks to the 1960s TV series in “Bam! Pow!” artwork.
The rise to celebrity seems to climax on the late night talk show hosted by Robert DeNiro’s character, with Joker dancing his way out onto the stage from behind a colorful curtain. Again, there are strong similarities to Joker’s late night appearance in Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns.” For the sake of the studio audience, let’s hope this panel goes a bit better.
4. Robert De Niro is The King of Comedy?
When the first reports began to describe the Joker movie as a tale of an unhinged, aspiring comedian’s rise to ludicrous levels of insanity and fantasy, it made perfect sense for director Martin Scorsese to be on board as producer. After all, that same basic premise describes his own (criminally underrated) film The King of Comedy (1982), starring Robert De Niro as the unbalanced Rupert Pupkin. A struggling comedian who fantasized about–you guessed it–becoming a late night comedy legend.
Even fans of Scorsese wouldn’t jump to conclusions when it was confirmed that Robert De Niro was wanted for Joker in a supporting role. And while it’s too early to confirm that De Niro is reprising his role, the chance to see one previous maniac funnyman actually achieve his delusion… well, the line between reality and fantasy is going to be blurry, at best.
3. Joker vs. The Wayne Family
Batman may be Joker’s longest lasting nemesis, but this time around, it appears that Joker’s biggest feud will be with Thomas Wayne, not Bruce. The clues are scattered across the trailer, from news clips of Thomas Wayne criticizing the masked ‘cowards’ on Gotham’s streets (which could refer to Joker’s supporters, or any other brand of chaos that Gotham is caught up in), to posters revealing Thomas is making a run at becoming Gotham’s new mayor. But as the embodiment of Gotham’s upper crust, Arthur being tossed out of Wayne Hall and towards a crowd of protestors wearing Joker makeup speaks volumes.
The trailer doesn’t provide much of a look at Brett Cullen’s version of Thomas Wayne, or even a hint of whether or not the Wayne murders will factor into this story. But he may not be the only member of the Wayne family glimpsed in the footage, assuming that Arthur really does go looking for a way to apply pressure to one of Gotham’s most powerful men…
2. Could This Be Joker’s Young Bruce Wayne?
The above shot is one that viewers are going to remember vividly, but it’s worth paying closer attention to the ones that precede it. The images of Arthur, donning a red clown nose, and enticing a young boy on the other side of a high, metal fence to approach him. A boy who seems to be lacking a smile, same as Arthur is when forcing his face to create one by shoving fingers into his own mouth. So we have to ask… could this be the young Bruce Wayne and his first meeting with the Joker?
There’s no way to know so early, but the idea alone is guaranteed to get fan imaginations churning. Does the new twist–making Joker an enemy of Thomas Wayne first, and not Batman–make the story richer, poorer, or simply different? And if Bruce Wayne has ceased to smile when this scene takes place… does it mean the tragedy of the Waynes’ deaths has already taken place? Food for thought.
1. The Rise & Fall of Joker (Reversed)
There were many who doubted Todd Phillips’ placement in the director’s chair of such a film, and with The Hangoverseries his biggest hit to date, that can be understood. But if the tone and striking choices in the first Joker trailer is convincing skeptics, we should point out one of the most intriguing uses of visual language in this early look. Not only because it encapsulates Arthur’s transformation into Joker, but because of the way it inverts the usual structure of a hero. We’re referring to the opening scenes depicting Arthur ascending a tall set of stairs to reach his home at the end of the day, as the sun sets (perfectly capturing the world wearing him down, one step at a time). Not to mention the tragic irony of the city’s poorest citizens being forced to climb higher and higher into their dwellings.
Pair that with the final shots of the trailer, as Arthur–no, Joker descends the stairs newly bathed in morning sunlight, dancing every step of the way. Heroes rise, they don’t descend, and yet somehow… Joker doing the opposite with a grin on his face feels oddly perfect.