WARNING: This article contains major potential spoilers for Joker, in theaters Oct. 4.
A seemingly legitimate draft of Todd Phillips and Scott Silver's screenplay for the upcoming Joker movie has leaked online. We won't link to it (although it's not difficult to find) or even post quotes from it, but given that the script is out there, it's worth talking about just why this film is destined to be one of the year's most controversial.
From the available draft, dated April 13, 2018, it's difficult to judge the quality of the finished film. For one thing, Phillips' directing style leans heavily on improvisation, and parts of the script were reportedly rewritten each day of filming. Additionally, this is the sort of character study that the performances can make or break, and it's possible an actor of Joaquin Phoenix's caliber can elevate the iffier aspects of the screenplay.
Without knowing whether the movie is going to be good, if this leaked script is legit, this movie is certainly going to be controversial. Just what about this movie is going to be so controversial?
THIS JOKER IS SYMPATHETIC... POSSIBLY TOO MUCH SO
The Joker is not a character who's typically supposed to be a sympathetic or relatable villain. Even in The Killing Joke, the Alan Moore and Brian Bolland story in which the Joker offers up a possibly fraudulent backstory about how "one bad day" drove him criminally insane, his theory that anyone would snap under similar circumstances is proven wrong. Despite much of the appeal of the character coming from the sheer lack of justification for his evil, there are nonetheless many fans who feel the Joker is justified because of society (the inspiration for the "Gamer Joker/We Live in a Society" memes).
Todd Phillips' Joker is very much a "We Live in a Society" movie, imagining Arthur Fleck as the ultimate victim, a man with multiple illnesses and traumas driven to violent madness because everyone and everything in his life is hurting him. For much of the first act, he is actually a fairly sympathetic antihero. The point at which viewers fall off his side, however, will vary. One would hope smarter viewers will pick up on the biggest red flags in his behavior, namely stalking his crush Sophie (Zazie Beetz), breaking into her apartment and calling her a whore when he finds out she has a boyfriend. With villain protagonist movies, there's always the risk of real bad people thinking such movies are siding with them. Incel Joker seems like it could be the most extreme example of such.
CLOWN OCCUPY WALL STREET
If you thought The Dark Knight Rises' commentary on the Occupy Wall Street movement was messy and confusing, wait until you see Joker's handling of the same subject matter. After killing three Wall Street workers in self-defense, the Joker accidentally becomes the mascot for a violent mass protest movement against the wealthy of Gotham.
Both The Dark Knight Rises and Joker see evil among both the rich elites and the angry revolutionaries alike. The difference in perspective is that The Dark Knight Rises was a film that clearly believed in something, arguing for a Dickensian sort of Centrist politics, whereas it's not clear that Joker is a film that believes in anything. The Joker personally frames himself as an apolitical nihilist, arguing that everyone on all sides is awful. The clown protesters get some of the script's roughest dialogue, which one hopes doesn't all make it into the final film.
IT DEFINITELY WARRANTS A TRIGGER WARNING
The Joker was raped by his mom's boyfriend as a child.
That one spoiler tells you all you need to know about how incredibly dark this R-rated movie is going to be. It also tells you just how controversial this movie is going to end up being upon release. In a script that uses a piling-on of tragedy as an explanation for one man's turn to supervillainy, adding child molestation to the pile takes the tragedy to another level. You can expect some fans to praise the film's willingness to delve into such upsetting subjects, just as easily as you can expect other commentators to find the film's use of such subject matter exploitative or offensive.
Basically, if you're on social media any time between Joker's premiere at the Venice Film Festival this August and its theatrical release in October, prepare to be inundated with hot takes. Based on this script, it looks like a movie practically designed for maximum hot takes.
Directed by Todd Phillips, Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Marc Maron, Josh Pais and Shea Whigham. The film arrives in theaters Oct. 4.