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Joker teaser trailer: Joaquin Phoenix wants you to put on a happy face

Smile, though your heart is aching. Smile, even though it's breaking. Smile, because the Joker told you to. 

The world's newest Joker, Joaquin Phoenix, urges you to grin and bear it in the first teaser trailer for Joker, director Todd Phillips' dark and gritty take on DC Comics' Clown Prince of Crime.

Opening on a tiny moment between Phoenix's Arthur Fleck, an aspiring comedian who struggles with mental health issues and has trouble getting others to take him seriously, and a woman who appears to be his therapist, the Joker teaser establishes who the man behind the makeup was before he turned to a life of crime — and teases the events that ultimately pushed him past his breaking point. 

Phoenix is haunting as Arthur, who cares for his sick mother Penny (Frances Conroy), dresses up as a clown and works as a sign-spinner to scrape together cash to pay the bills, and scribbles jokes for his stand-up sets in a journal that reads in part, "The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don't." 

From shots of Arthur getting picked on by passersby who knock his sign out of his hand to multiple sequences of him dancing in the dingy apartment he shares with his mother to a scene in which he sticks his fingers in his mouth and forces himself to grin, it's evident that Arthur is a troubled man trying his hardest to live by the words his mother taught him: "smile and put on a happy face … bring laughter and joy to the world." That's his purpose, Arthur says in the Joker teaser, but the cruel people around him doesn't make it easily achievable.

As the footage carries on — teasing a date between Arthur and single mother Sophie Dumond (portrayed by Deadpool 2 actress Zazie Beetz), showing Arthur visiting Arkham State Hospital, and the not-yet-snapped man performing a stand-up routine and then cackling from the audience when another comedian takes the stage — we watch as Arthur devolves into madness, motivated in part by the multiple beatings he suffers at the hands of merciless men on the street. He wonders aloud whether he's the only person who can feel the world "getting crazier," and soon slips into a state of total instability. Arthur cackles maniacally while riding the subway, is seen tumbling down the steps of Wayne Hall, and then embraces the chaos inside him to lead a pack of followers who oppose billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) running to become the new mayor of Gotham. 

"I used to think that my life was a tragedy," Arthur says over footage of himself running through a hospital corridor, getting hit by a taxi, and dying his hair Joker green. "But now I realize, it's a comedy."

The last few moments of the Joker trailer show Arthur, now dressed in a burgundy-and-mustard suit and rocking green hair and thick clown makeup, carrying flowers through a hallway and then stomping wildly on the steps of a building. Just before the clip fades to black, we see Joker standing in an elevator as the doors are closing, while the music in the background rings out, "If you just smile."

Overall, this first look at Joker is pretty promising, if we do say so ourselves. It's clear that Phillips and Phoenix are bringing to the silver screen an entirely new version of the famous DC Comics character everyone hates to love and loves to fear, presenting more of an intimate character study of a man with mental illness who breaks and becomes the Joker than a standard comic book movie documenting the origins of a super-villain. We'll have to wait until Warner Bros. drops another trailer for Joker — and until the actual film launches later this year — to see whether this fresh creative approach to the source material works out. At the very least, this glimpse into the mind of the Joker before he was Gotham's most infamous ne'er-do-well will have the whole world looking at Phoenix in a different light and may even convince them that DC movies are finally getting good again. 

Joker is set for release on October 4.