What If Joaquin Phoenix Isn't Really Playing The Joker?

Joaquin Phoenix as The Joker

The upcoming Joker movie from Todd Phillips is an odd kind of comic book movie, and not just because it's a character-driven piece being made off a $55 million budget, a stark contrast to the blockbusters usually populating this genre. Joker is, as one would guess, telling the origin story of Gotham City's Clown Prince of Crime. Unlike in the comics, though, Batman will have no role to play in the cackling criminal's creation, as Bruce Wayne is still a youngster during this period. Which leads me to wonder, what if Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck isn't the real Joker? He is a Joker, to be sure, but what if his purpose is to ultimately inspire the man who will one day become The Joker.

In case you haven't been keeping up-to-date on what's happening with Joker, the movie is unconnected to the DC Extended Universe, hence why we're not seeing Jared Leto with green hair, chalk white skin and red lips. Instead, it's a standalone movie set in the early 1980s, following Arthur Fleck, a failed standup comedian who turns to a life of crime and chaos in Gotham City. For a while, Joker himself was the only confirmed character from the comics (duh), but then Thomas Wayne was cast, and last month, Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth followed. No doubt we'll learn who's playing Martha Wayne soon enough.

It's the Bruce Wayne part of this that's particularly interesting. His parents are still alive, meaning he's somewhere between 8-12 years old. Joaquin Phoenix, on the other hand, turned 44 a few weeks ago, so let's assume that Arthur Fleck is the same age as well. That means Arthur has over 30 years on Bruce, so by the time Bruce ages to adulthood and dons the cape and cowl in two decades, Phoenix's version of The Joker will be in his mid-60s or pushing 70.

Traditionally in the comics, Batman plays a role in Joker's creation by being the direct/indirect reason this individual, whatever his original name was, falls into that vat of chemicals and is horribly disfigured. Clearly that's not happening here, not just because of Bruce Wayne's age, but because the Arthur Fleck Joker is wearing clown makeup, like Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. But the age difference is still a big deal, as Batman and Joker are usually around the same age. Seeing a Batman at his physical prime throw down in fisticuffs with a geriatric Joker isn't exactly a fair fight.

This Joker movie clearly has no problems with not staying faithful to the source material, so maybe in this world, the eponymous antagonist is just several decades older than Batman. But I don't think it's that simple. Unofficial photos and footage from the Joker set show that the clowned-up Arthur Fleck will lead a crime wave across Gotham City, meaning a lot of people will know who he is and what he's all about. Since this is a standalone movie, it wouldn't be surprising if Arthur's reign of terror ends with him dying, but what if his actions indirectly lead to the real Joker being created decades later?

Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska from Gotham

It's not like there isn't precedence for a Joker identity misdirect. Like the Joker movie, the TV series Gotham takes a lot of creative liberties with its adaptation of the Batman mythos, particularly where The Joker is concerned. For four seasons, the cackling, psychopathic Jerome Valeska (played by Cameron Monaghan), while never actually referred to as Joker, was clearly meant to be a tribute to the Clown Prince of Crime.

After Jerome died, his twin brother, Jeremiah, was exposed to a special insanity gas, turning his skin white and his lips red, and finally giving him the drive to explore his darker instincts.The Valeska brothers resemble The Joker in their own ways, but Jeremiah definitely looks the part better. Still, even with Gotham's final season over a month away, we still don't know with absolute certainty if Jeremiah is meant to be the true Joker or if a third individual will be brought in to claim that "honor."

Going back to the Joker movie, assuming Batman and Joker remain roughly the same age in this continuity, that means there's some kid in Gotham City who will see Arthur Fleck as The Joker either on television or in person. The sight of this criminal will sit with this kid as he grows up, and when the "one bad day" comes that he crosses paths with Batman as an adult and is physically altered, that trauma, along with the memory of Arthur Fleck and whatever other disturbing tendencies were lurking beneath the surface, will lead to him becoming the new Joker; one who will leave an even deadlier legacy behind.

However, even if we assume that Joaquin Phoenix's Joker isn't the true Joker, that doesn't necessarily mean he won't have an impact on Bruce Wayne's life. Clearly Arthur Fleck and his followers will cause a lot of mayhem in Gotham City during Joker, and who's to say that won't hit the Wayne family directly? Thomas and Martha Wayne will be alive at the start of Joker, but I suspect they won't be by the end of the movie.

What if during Arthur Fleck's crime wave, that's when the Waynes are murdered in Crime Alley? Joe Chill could be remain the mugger who guns down Thomas and Martha, or, taking a cue from the 1989 Batman movie, maybe Arthur Fleck does the horrible deed himself. Either way, not only will Bruce forever be haunted by his parents' death and be pushed on the path to vigilantism (as per usual), he'll also remember how the Arthur Fleck Joker played a role on that night. So when a new Joker hits the scene years later, Bruce will be even more compelled to neutralize him, but sadly, the fight between Batman and this Joker is destined to go on for a lot longer than anyone in Gotham City would like.

Joker arrives in theaters on October 4, 2019, so keep checking back with CinemaBlend for continuing coverage. You can also look through our 2019 release schedule to find out what else is coming out next year, or you can look through our DCEU guide to find out what's in development for that superhero franchise.

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Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.