The Joker origin movie just keeps getting weirder and weirder, but does its latest development reveal its hand: is Todd Phillip’s prequel really exploring Batman in relation to President Trump? The prospect of a Joker movie outside of the DCEU with Joaquin Phoenix as the Clown Prince of Crime was first floated a year ago, and despite a lot of movement on the project – it’s now set for an October 2019 release – there’s still a lot of confusion about what it actually is.
A movie once set to be executive produced by Martin Scorsese from the director of The Hangover starring a brusque arthouse actor that exists alongside the shared universe canon take from Jared Leto, Joker is certainly an odd proposition. What little story details there are suggests that it will take inspiration from The King of Comedy and The Killing Joke, with character descriptions that are a world away from what you’d typically expect from Mr. J.
Related: Joker Origin Movie: Every Update You Need To Know
Everything has been made even weirder by the casting of Alec Baldwin as Thomas Wayne, father of future Batman Bruce. Baldwin has reinvigorated his career playing President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, a role he’s already referenced with a short cameo in BlacKkKlansman and appears to be the reference point for his Wayne. While this may seem bizarre, put alongside those ambiguous character descriptions it may just explain what’s going: Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is a warped, “What If?” Batman.
- This Page: Joker May Be Thomas Wayne’s Son
- Page 2: Is Joker Really A Twisted Batman?
Joker’s Thomas Wayne Is 1980s Trump
The report of Baldwin’s casting describes this version of Thomas Wayne as a “cheesy and tanned businessman who is more in the mold of a 1980s Donald Trump“. That’s not new for Baldwin, of course, and neither is it new for Joker. A previously reported character description for who was then known as “Mr. Warner”:
MR. WARNER Supporting Male (60-70) [MR. WARNER] male, Caucasian, 60s, a deeply-tanned, hair dyed so black it was almost blue, highly successful, New York City businessman, rumored to be running for Mayor. He’s a public figure in the city and a symbol of wealth [STRONG SUPPORTING]
Although he was originally suspected to be Rupert Thorne, Baldwin’s age range and Trump comparison definitely make it seem like Mr. Warner was the casting name for Thomas Wayne. That would, in turn, reveal a little about his role in the film: he’s a key supporting player with high power aspirations (mirroring how Donald Trump discussed running for President decades prior to the 2016 election).
There are multiple ways that this version of Thomas Wayne could fit into the story. For one, if the movie is told from the Joker’s fractured view on the world, then conflating a successful businessman with someone as distinct and controversial as Trump would be a natural skewed extension. Additionally, having such a known figure linked to this role beelines into a commentary on 1980s excess and inflated wealth; both The King of Comedy and The Killing Joke see protagonists transformed by their overreaching aspirations. However, it may go deeper – and more personal – than that.
Related: Is Joker Based On The Man Who Laughs?
Joker May Be Thomas Wayne’s Son
Now, here’s where the character descriptions reveal something new. Phoenix’s character is supposedly called Arthur Fleck, a man who returns to Gotham to care for his aging mother. That role is described as “very attractive in her youth“, “obsessed with her former employer” and unable to believe “this is what her life has come to“.
At the time, it was theorized that Fleck could be the illegitimate son of the Mr. Warner role, then speculated and now confirmed to be Thomas Wayne. There’s no direct evidence of this, but the suggestion of Fleck’s mother’s youth and subsequent fall from grace being important would certainly line up with the descriptions of Thomas and strengthen any class discussion the movie will be making.
That possibility is mainly eye-catching because it would turn the Joker into Batman’s half-brother, a new twist on the diametrically opposed Gotham forces: even if Bruce Wayne doesn’t play a role, it would seem to suggest that good and evil come from the same origin point, perhaps a new twist on The Killing Joke and its “one bad day” motif. However, could it be something deeper? Could Joker be Batman?
Page 2 of 2: Is Joker Really A Twisted Batman?
Theory: Joker Is “What If Batman Was The Son Of Trump?”
Already, it appears that the movie is posing the question of “what if Thomas Wayne was corrupt and deceitful instead of altruistic?” He’s evidently unfaithful and has an illegitimate kid, while any Trump comparisons coming out of Hollywood are not going to be flattering to say the least.
Related: All 6 Joker Movies DC Has In Development, Explained
But, assuming Arthur Fleck is his son, these parallels also appear to extend to the offspring; just as Bruce left Gotham to train and returned to find the city worse than ever, so too do the character descriptions state that Fleck starts Joker coming home and finding a dire landscape. The distinction comes in where they return to, and that life stems from Thomas’ character and treatment of them; Bruce was cared for even after his father’s death, while Arthur’s mother has been cast aside and left to die. It would seem that Thomas’ personality and actions are, ultimately, what lead to the creation of his son’s true form: be that Joker or Batman.
It wouldn’t be too extreme an extension for this ruthless Thomas to not have a Marta or a Bruce, and for the film to essentially posit that Joker is the natural endpoint for Batman when Thomas Wayne is Trump. It’s an extreme case of nurture over nature, showing how Joker comes not from innate psychosis but mistreatment (bad people aren’t born bad, a sly refute of Trump’s immigration policy, perhaps), and conversely nudging how Batman comes from just a kernel of true goodness.
This is certainly bold, but it would explain the level of talent that the film has attracted, the easy justification for a Batman-less Batman villain movie (a hurdle Venom is currently wrapped around) and lines up almost perfectly with Phillips’ previous film, weapon-dealing comedy-thriller War Dogs. Again, there’s no hard evidence, but the potential thematic coal to be mined is actually there.
Joker Is Going To Be A Trump-Era Batman Film
Joker is, by the nature of production, the first Trump-era Batman film. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy was heavily influenced by the Presidency of George W. Bush (The Dark Knight) and the financial crash (The Dark Knight Rises), while Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice similarly took cues from the previous Republican government (“if we believe there’s even a one percent chance that he is our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty“). Making a movie in 2019, Todd Phillips is going into new territory, a world of greater divides, confusion and extremes – and is directly responding to that.
Related: The Best Dark Knight Joker Origin Theory (And How It Improves The Movie)
Whether or not he goes quite as deep in its exploration of the character as we’ve theorized, Baldwin’s casting makes at least some flirting with the current political climate in America unavoidable. Initially, the decision to set Joker in the 1980s felt like a nostalgic move, a shortcut to evoking Scorsese’s classic work in the crime genre. However, if a Trump-like figure is at the core of Arthur Fleck’s descent, then it has a much more clear and present purpose. The business practices of the 1980s directly led to the 2008 crash and the state of the world today. If Trump, even inadvertently, creates the Joker, then it’s a damning indictment on the effects of his very real Presidency.
What is the Joker movie? Is it a Scorsese homage? A gritty Elseworlds tale? A Trump takedown? It may actually be all three – and that’s very interesting.