After months of industry rumors and speculation, Warner Bros. is actually moving forward with their Joker origin film, with Academy Award-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix having been officially cast in the title role.
The press release confirming Phoenix signing on to the project described the upcoming movie as an "exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale." This description, coupled with reports that DC has multiple Joker films in development, leads to the burning question: Who, exactly, is this "cautionary tale" for?
Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover) from a script he co-wrote with Scott Silver (8 Mile), the Joker origin film is rumored to deviate from its DC Comics source material significantly, following the man that would become the Clown Prince of Crime as a failed stand-up comedian in the 1980s. A purportedly leaked casting call has the future crime boss caring for his bedridden mother contributing to his eventual complete mental breakdown and descent into the most infamous supervillain Gotham City has ever known.
Between the released plot description and previous depictions of the character, it appears that the film will most likely be inspired, at least in part, by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's controversial Batman story The Killing Joke, right down to its 1980s time period when the comic book was first published. In that story, a potential origin for the villain was explored, with the Batman antagonist originally depicted as a failed comic whose mind snapped after losing his wife and unborn son right before falling into a vat of chemicals during a botched heist.
The idea of changing the Joker from a young husband and future father into a solitary, social pariah living with his invalid mother makes the villain an even more tragic figure. With shades of the classic Hitchcock character Norman Bates, the future Joker is more isolated and tortured even before suffering sudden loss after accepting the incredible responsibility of caring for his ailing mother alone.
And that means it may actually take significant inspiration from a very different source: The 1982 Martin Scorsese film The King of Comedy.