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Joker Movie: Todd Phillips Unveils First Look At Joaquin Phoenix

Todd Phillips isn't joking around. 

On Sunday, the director revealed the first look at Joaquin Phoenix in the upcoming Joker movie, posting the exclusive snap to his Instagram page with the caption "Arthur."

Save for a greasy hairstyle that can best be described as "moderately mullet-ish" and a few extra facial wrinkles, Phoenix looks a lot like himself in the photo — but there's a reason for that. 

Phillips, who has directed films like Old SchoolStarsky & Hutch, and the three movies of The Hangover series, isn't making a movie all about the Clown Prince of Crime at the height of his malevolence, hacking up the people of Gotham City like he works at some kind of Benihana that serves human flesh. Instead, Joker is a dark and experimental pic that's less so a coming-of-age tale than it is a making-of-a-man story, reportedly centering around a failed 1980s comedian who eventually snaps and transforms into the Joker. It's evident that Phoenix is playing that everyday guy, who is apparently named Arthur given Phillips' caption. 

That considered, it makes sense that the first glimpse of Phoenix in character for Joker doesn't feature him with the DC Comics villain's signature white face paint, nightmarish red-lipped grin, or swamp green hair. He's just a fairly normal dude who struggles to realize his dream of making people laugh, and when he comes to terms with the fact that his career may never take off, he takes matters into his own hands and becomes a big bad. (Fingers crossed that at some point in Joker, he snarls out the line, "Who's laughing now?!")

Phillips' reveal over the weekend doesn't just give us an idea of what Phoenix will look like as the man who has a breakdown and chooses to live the rest of his life as a villain, it also confirms a previous report by That Hashtag Show that stirred up a ton of hype. In July, the outlet posted an article claiming that the Joker's real name in Joker is Arthur Fleck. Now that Phillips himself has mentioned the name, it seems set in stone that Mr. Fleck is our leading man. 

With THS apparently being completely right about the Joker's name in the forthcoming movie, one would naturally start to wonder what other claims the outlet made that might ultimately be proven true. In the same report, THS speculated that the film will see Arthur moving in with his sick mother, Penny, and later meeting a woman named Sophie Dumond, whom Deadpool 2 actress Zazie Beetz may play. We know that the Joker's mother is apparently a major part of the film and that Beetz is set for the role of an unnamed single mother who "catches the interest" of Arthur, so perhaps THS is correct in its theories involving those two characters. 

The outlet's hypothesis that Joker will reveal that the Joker and Batman are actually half-brothers, with Penny having had an affair with Bruce Wayne's father Thomas and giving birth to Arthur, hasn't been confirmed or denied, but we're anxiously awaiting to know the truth on that one. 

A major part of the Joker's appeal over the years has been his generally-unknown, constantly shifting origins. Aside from the 1989 Batman movie, which presented an origin story for the character as a mob gangster named Jack Napier, the Joker typically hasn't been shown as having a traditional backstory. In most interpretations, he's an elemental agent of chaos who comes from contradictory origins that he routinely lies about, as was presented so memorably in the movie The Dark Knight.

Despite that history of ambiguity, the fact that this movie appears to be nailing down one origin story for the Joker isn't anything to be alarmed about. It's not a definitive interpretation — it's just different. The Fox series Gotham, a prequel of sorts to the world of Batman, has also spent the last few years playing around with the Joker-inspired characters Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska — two unhinged agents of chaos who have frequently been teased as potentially being younger versions of the Joker we know. But what's true in the world of Gotham doesn't need to be true for any other Batman story, and the same goes for this solo movie.

Unlike the shared universe occupied by movies like Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Justice League, Joaquin Phoenix's Joker movie is set to be a standalone film, existing outside of established continuity specifically to tell a radically different story. It's a new approach for DC Comics on screen, and if it works out, we can probably expect a number of other canon-breaking, Elseworlds-style stories to be adapted into movies, such as the Soviet Union Superman alternate universe story Superman: Red Son.

Specifically, studio Warner Bros. has described Joker as an "exploration of a man disregarded by society," and a "gritty character study" that simultaneously serves as a "broader cautionary tale". It's a description that sounds a lot like the graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, so it should be interesting to see what elements of the written work Phillips and his screenwriting partner Scott Silver might bring to the silver screen. 

Even with this sneak peek at Phoenix in Joker, a fair bit of mystery surrounds the movie. Thankfully, there's still plenty of time for Phillips and co. to drop more photos (and maybe a few videos, too) before Joker opens in theaters on October 4, 2019.