The announcement of a Joker origin movie (produced by Martin Scorsese and directed by Todd Phillips) has met with a wide array of responses from fans, and it has presented the non-DCEU side of the upcoming DC slate with an interesting storytelling avenue. That said, some have become vocal in their concern of a Joker origin film -- arguing that exploring his past removes the mystique that makes him so attractive. There's certainly credence to that notion, but there's also one definitive way to make a Joker origin movie work: leave doubt as to whether or not the film reveals his "true" origin.
For years, many have regarded Alan Moore's The Killing Joke graphic novel as the de facto definitive origin story for Joker. In that tale, Joker is a failed stand-up comedian whose pregnant wife dies before he can pull off a heist at the Ace Chemical plant to provide a future for her and the baby. Still forced to go through with the job, the comedian (dressed as a known outlaw called the Red Hood) encounters Batman at Ace (or Axis, in Tim Burton's Batman) Chemicals and falls into a vat of acid, thus shattering his sanity and turning him into The Joker. All it took was one bad day.
However, there's one important aspect of The Killing Joke's origin for The Joker that many people often overlook: Joker does not actually know if that's who he is. In fact, at one point in the story, he actively acknowledges his hazy memory of his former life, saying:
I... I'm not exactly sure what it was. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another... if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! Ha ha ha!
It always happens like that in the comics; writers present audiences with a possible origin, but they also leave lingering doubts. That's what a Joker origin movie needs to do. The Clown Prince of Crime is arguably the most unreliable narrator in the entire DC canon, and the audience needs to remain completely unsure as to whether or not the events portrayed on the screen actually happened. It could be his true origin story, but it could just as easily be a demented story concocted by a deranged lunatic. By doing this, director Todd Phillips will present audiences with his own version of the story (whether it's the Ace Chemicals version or something else entirely) while also leaving invaluable room for audience interpretation.
Other films have tinkered with this idea in the past. Perhaps, most notably, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight presented audiences with several different versions of Joker's possible origin story -- ranging from an abusive father wielding a knife to a self-inflicted wound in an attempt to make his scarred wife feel better about herself. The upcoming movie could take that idea one step further by going all in on a single version of events, while also keeping viewers perpetually wary about the authenticity of the story.
So why does this matter so much? Why can't Joker get a traditional and definitive origin story like most other heroes or villains? It matters because one of the most fundamental aspects of the character centers on the inability to understand him. Joker's biggest advantage (and Batman's greatest weakness against him) is the fact that he's unpredictable and unknowable in an intimate sense. To give audiences a clear-cut definition of who he is (and was) removes that quality. After all, there's a reason why many horror movies become less scary once the creature steps from out of the shadows; what we come up with in our heads is often scarier than what the film's cast and crew cooked up in a monster shop.
What do you think of the possibility of Joker receiving a solo movie delving into his origins? Is there a way to get it right? What's the definitive Joker origin in your mind? Make sure to let us know what you think in the comments section below!