Characterisation

The Joker – Truly ORIGINAL Characters Series: Part 23

Welcome to Original Characters, an ongoing series of Industrial Scripts’ articles examining the most original characters to appear in both TV and film. This article will focus on The Joker from Joker (2019).

What is an original character?

It’s a character that sticks with you even when they’re long gone from your screens. It’s a character that serves as a reference point in casual conversation or a character that sums up a behavior or generation.

original, adjective

“Not the same as anything or anyone else and therefore special and interesting…”

— The Cambridge English Dictionary

Most importantly, in screenplay terms, an original character is a character that shines through in spite of any other weaknesses within that screenplay. 

For a Screenplay Reader or Development Executive an original character is an element of a script that shines through everything else. No matter how busy they are or no matter how much work other elements of the script need, the original characters stand out. 

Great characters are at the very heart of great screenwriting and original characters can help elevate great to superlative. 

Whether plucked from real life, an amalgamation of real people in real life or just simply a genius stroke of creativity, these are original characters…

The latest in our original characters series will look at Joker from Joker.

*The following article contains spoilers for Joker*

Who is Joker?

In the 2019 film “Joker,” the character of the Joker is portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, and his character’s name is Arthur Fleck. Arthur begins as a failed stand-up comedian struggling with mental health issues and living in a gritty, crime-ridden Gotham City. The film explores Arthur’s descent into madness and the transformation that leads him to become the iconic DC Comics supervillain, the Joker.

Arthur Fleck is a complex and troubled character who faces societal neglect and personal challenges that contribute to his psychological breakdown. The film delves into his background, exploring themes of mental illness, social inequality, and the consequences of a society that fails to address the needs of its most vulnerable citizens.

As the narrative unfolds, Arthur transforms into the Joker, a symbol of chaos and anarchy. Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal brings a unique and humanized perspective to the character, providing viewers with a deeper understanding of the man behind the iconic villain. The film “Joker” offers a gritty and psychological take on the origin story of one of the most famous and enigmatic characters in comic book history.

Joker: Origins and Creation

Joker first appeared in Batman comics’ introduction 1940 issue, penned by Bill Finger and artistically crafted by Bob Kane. Conceived as a cruel villain, the character transformed from a criminal mastermind to an emblem of chaos and anarchy. Joker’s iconic look—ghastly grin, green hair, and purple suit—is among the most notable in the comic book realm.

To understand the Joker’s genesis in the 2019 film, we must journey into the dark alleys of Gotham City, where Arthur Fleck, brilliantly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, transforms from a struggling stand-up comedian to the harbinger of chaos. “Joker” takes us on an emotional rollercoaster, obviously providing a glimpse into the societal factors and personal struggles that shape Fleck’s descent into madness.

Secondly, the film masterfully showcases Arthur Fleck’s transformation into the character, a metamorphosis fueled by societal neglect and a desire for recognition. Phoenix’s performance brings forth the complexity of the character, making the audience both empathize and recoil from the emerging chaos. This transformation is not only physical but also psychological, as Arthur embraces his alter ego and rejects societal norms.

Furthermore, “Joker” serves as a reflection of contemporary issues, resonating with viewers on a profound level. Given that, the movie reflects societal struggles, urging reflection on neglect consequences and the stigma’s impact on mental health.

Joker: Evolution through Media

The Joker’s influence extends beyond the comic book pages, sneaking into various forms of media. From his early appearances in Batman serials to the iconic portrayal by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989), and later by Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008), each iteration brought new dimensions to the character.

Additionally, the Joker’s transition to animation, particularly in Batman: The Animated Series, voiced by Mark Hamill, solidified his status as a many-sided character. The animated series deepened the Joker’s character, unraveling his criminal deeds and intricate ties with Batman, adding complexity.

Heath Ledger’s portrayal in “The Dark Knight” pushed the boundaries further, depicting the Joker as an agent of chaos with an existentialist worldview. Ledger’s performance earned him an Academy Award, showcasing the character’s enduring impact on cinema.

Moreover, “Joker” not only embraced the origin story but also broke away from traditional superhero narratives. The film spotlighted Arthur Fleck’s transformation into this character, serving as a focused character study on the protagonist‘s evolution. Breaking superhero norms, delves deeper into the character’s psyche, motivations, and societal influences shaping his transformative journey.

In addition to the narrative shift, Joaquin Phoenix’s amazing performance as Arthur Fleck brought a new dimension to the character. Phoenix’s portrayal garnered critical acclaim, earning him an Academy Award for Best Actor. With authenticity, his nuanced performance resonated deeply, connecting emotionally with audiences.

Joker: Iconic Comics Storylines

The Joker’s presence is not confined to the silver screen; he continues to wreak havoc in the comic book world. Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” and Jim Starlin’s “A Death in the Family” added appeal to the character’s narrative.

The Killing Joke: A Snapshot into Madness

The Killing Joke, a pivotal comic storyline penned by Alan Moore, provides a snapshot into the mind of the character. In “Joker” (2019), the film draws inspiration from this tale, emphasizing the Joker’s cryptic origin and descent into madness. In addition, the film depicts the character as a tragic figure, uncovering the delicate balance between sanity and chaos.

Batman: Year One – An Origin Tale

“Batman: Year One” explores the early years of Batman’s crime-fighting journey and his initial encounters with the Joker. The film doesn’t directly adapt this story, but its influence is clear in the gritty portrayal of Gotham and Arthur’s transformation. The comic’s influence on the film is subtly woven into the narrative.

The Dark Knight Returns: A Reflection of Society

Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” is a gritty exploration of an older Batman coming out of retirement. While not a direct adaptation, “Joker” shares thematic elements, portraying a city in turmoil and societal factors driving Joker’s rise. Both works emphasize the symbiotic relationship between Batman and the Joker, showcasing their intertwined destinies.

Joker: Enduring Appeal

What is it about the Joker that captivates audiences across generations? The character mirrors societal fears, reflecting chaos within the human psyche, embodying uncertainties and fears that resonate universally. The Joker’s lack of a definitive origin story adds to his appeal, obviously allowing for endless interpretations and reinventions.

A Distinct Departure

The “Joker (2019)” film, directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix, marked a departure from conventional superhero narratives. The film broke from traditional hero-villain roles, spotlighting Arthur Fleck’s psychological transformation into the infamous Joker. The narrative unfolded gradually, revealing layers of the character’s descent into madness, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats.

Raw Realism

One key aspect of the film’s enduring appeal lies in its raw and preserving portrayal of societal issues. “Joker (2019)” tackles themes of mental health, social inequality, and the consequences of neglect with a gritty realism. Arthur Fleck, a struggling comedian struggling with mental health, mirrors the harsh realities of those on society’s fringes.

Joaquin Phoenix’s Riveting Performance

Above all, the film’s enduring appeal can be attributed to Joaquin Phoenix’s great performance as Arthur Fleck/Joker. Phoenix brought a level of commitment and intensity to the role that left a lasting mark on the character’s legacy. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance won acclaim, securing the Best Actor Oscar and cementing the film in cinematic history.

Cinematic Excellence

The film’s technical excellence, from Lawrence Sher’s cinematography to Hildur Guðnadóttir’s haunting score, enhances its enduring charm. Additionally, gloomy visuals and a haunting score step up the film, dipping the audience into a charming atmosphere.

Conclusion

In conclusion, The Original Character – Joker, born from the pages of comic books, has transcended his origins to become an enduring symbol of chaos and complexity. From comics to film and animation, the Joker continues to evolve, leaving a lasting mark on popular culture. Lastly, as we explore the depths of this mysterious character, we come to appreciate the timeless appeal of the Joker and his ability to mirror the ever-changing landscape of the human experience.

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