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This Theory Suggests Joaquin Phoenix Is Not The Real Joker

The world has known for months now that Joaquin Phoenix is playing DC's Clown Prince of Crime in director Todd Phillips' Joker movie. Back in February 2018, the actor was in early talks for the part after Warner Bros.' reported dream to score Leonardo DiCaprio for the gig didn't turn into a reality. By July, the studio greenlit the project with Phoenix firmly on board. And in the time since, Phillips has teased us with a video of Phoenix done up in red, white, and blue makeup during an early costume test, and with a photo of the star in his Joker costume, relaxing between takes

This is all to back up one definitive statement: Joaquin Phoenix is our next Joker

Or is he? 

A new theory from CinemaBlend's Adam Holmes suggests that Phoenix's character in the Joker origin movie isn't the real deal.

The idea goes that Phoenix's Arthur Flecka stand-up comedian who loses his temper, sanity, and grip on reality after bombing with audiences and failing to make a career out of giving people the giggles — isn't the Joker, but is instead just one version of the Joker. Specifically, Holmes argues that Arthur is just a mentally-unhinged man who inspires the real Joker later on.

Holmes grounds his theory in the fact that Joker features a middle-aged Arthur Fleck, a young Bruce Wayne, and a still-alive Thomas Wayne existing in the same world at the same time.... Provided, of course, that none of this film happens in flashbacks. According to Holmes, Bruce, played by Dante Pereira-Olson, is likely between the ages of 8 and 12 years old since his parents haven't yet been killed. Arthur, on the other hand, is assumed to be roughly 40 to 45 years old, given that Phoenix himself recently turned 44. As Holmes explained in his theory, "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."

Maybe director Phillips is just exercising his right as a filmmaker, taking creative liberties with Joker, and toying with the established Joker-Batman dynamic, right? Holmes has a well-thought-out response regarding why having a young Bruce Wayne and an adult Joker wouldn't make sense — and, more importantly, why their age difference evidences that Phoenix's Arthur isn't the real Joker.

Historically, Batman and the Joker have influenced one another's development, with many holding the belief that the hero can't exist without his nemesis and vice versa. Holmes has claimed that Joker will toss this idea to the wayside in favor of a different connection between the pair.  

"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," Holmes wrote. "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?"

Holmes then pointed out that the DC television series Gotham also went untraditional with its interpretation of the Joker's backstory, presenting the Valeska brothers (Cameron Monaghan) as Joker-like psychopaths who haven't yet adopted the name "Joker" on screen. While Gotham has yet to solve the mystery of who might be the "real" Joker, it's clear that Jerome Valeska's actions have already motivated copycat crimes in Gotham, and could quite possibly also motivate yet another person who eventually takes the mantle of the Clown Prince of Crime, after his brother Jeremiah is done with it. So if Gotham can feature someone who is likely just a pre-Joker madman, why can't the Joker movie do the same?

It's not as though the idea of multiple Jokers is entirely new, either. That idea will also be explored in the upcoming Batman: Three Jokers storyline by Geoff Johns, continuing a revelation that Batman had in 2016 when he briefly attained godhood and found out that there are at least three Jokers out there.

Now, if Phoenix's Arthur isn't the real Joker and if Batman and his true archenemy are still around the same age in Phillips' film's universe, an important question stands: who will Arthur influence into becoming the real Joker?

In his vision for the film, Holmes has argued that a child in Gotham City will see Arthur dressed as the Joker "either on television or in person," and the sight of the villain will "sit with this kid as he grows up."

But then it gets even more complicated and specific. In his adult years, the boy will then come into contact with Batman and be "physically altered" in some way. "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," wrote Holmes, who also suspects that the Wayne family will be murdered during Arthur's "crime wave" in the city. Either Arthur himself will slay Thomas and Martha in Crime Alley (like the Joker did in the Batman film from 1989), or the mugger-murderer Joe Chill will do the deed.

Seeing Arthur Fleck's Joker torment the people of Gotham — and potentially kill his parents — will set Bruce Wayne on the road to vigilantism. And, as Holmes speculated, "when a new Joker hits the scene years later, Bruce will be even more compelled to neutralize him."

Furthermore, the film has been billed as an "exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale" — not explicitly as a chronicling of the true Joker's rise to criminal infamy. It would be pretty shocking for Joker to document a proto-Joker rather than the actual villain we know and fear, but it's not like Warner Bros. and DC Films have made any unequivocal declarations about exactly what will go down in the film. Anything can happen.

When all is said and speculated about, this theory is just another big idea that can't officially be proven or false until Joker debuts on October 4, 2019.