The first teaser trailer for Joaquin Phoenix’s “Joker” has been released. The movie hits theaters this October. USA TODAY

Spoiler alert! The following contains many specifics about the plot of Joaquin Phoenix’s new movie “Joker.”

The supremely dark new movie “Joker” is the type of flick that offers itself up to many interpretations – both positive and negative. But one aspect can’t be argued: It is disturbing and shocking in a way that a major studio film hasn’t been in years.

Director Todd Phillips’ character study imagines the origin of the classic Batman villain in a retro Gotham City. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Arthur Fleck, a rent-a-clown who yearns to be a stand-up comic because his beloved mom Penny (Frances Conroy) told him he was meant to bring joy and laughter to the world. (She even calls him “Happy.”). But a violent incident leads him down an unfortunate path to becoming the new version of an iconic antagonist.

The grim and gritty “Joker” is a not an easy watch by any stretch, and here are five truly distressing moments that will stick with you after the credits roll.

** Major spoilers ahead, so stop reading now if you don’t want to know. **


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Arthur fights back, and the Joker is born

Phoenix’s troubled character has dealt with unsupportive social workers, street hooligans and dismissive, angry fellow Gothamites when he fatefully gets on a subway train. He’s still in his clown garb after having been fired for bringing a gun to a children’s hospital – one given to him by a co-worker – when three rich Wall Street types board. One of the jerks sings “Send in the Clowns” at him and they proceed to beat him up. Suddenly, the gun goes off and you see Arthur’s shot one in self defense, and then he shoots the other two.

One gets away, with prey becoming predator: Arthur hunts the wounded survivor to the next subway stop, shooting him in the back twice before he’s dead. Arthur locks himself in a nearby bathroom, then the switch occurs that turns Arthur into Joker: He dances around slowly, the fear turning into a sense of power.

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Joker dispatches his mother

After believing for a bit that he might be the long-lost son of wealthy mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), Arthur discovers his memories of a happy childhood were a lie, and the mother whom he had lovingly tended to for years had allowed him to be horrifically abused by her boyfriend when he was a child.

After finding this disturbing information in files at Arkham State Hospital, where she had been committed, Arthur visits his ailing mother after she suffers a stroke, approaches her bed slowly as she tries to say something to him and puts the pillow to her face, suffocating her. He never loses the calm, resolved look on his face as his mother’s hands frantically flail before stopping.

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Joker bludgeons his work frenemy Randall

After his mother’s death, colleagues from his former clown job visit Arthur to pay condolences – little person Gary (Leigh Gill), the only one who was actually decent to Arthur, along with bullying Randall (Glenn Fleshler), the co-worker who had given Arthur a gun. The two are startled to find the indifferent Arthur in white face paint. But the nascent Joker takes it beyond next level by stabbing Randall in the neck with scissors, then repeatedly and brutally slamming his head against the wall. Randall slumps to the floor and Arthur smiles as his own white face is now speckled in blood.

Gary, who moans in emotional agony watching the brutal death from a corner, is allowed to pass the slumped Joker, who tells his old co-worker he won’t hurt him, but Gary can’t reach the lock on the door to leave. Arthur stands up, leaving the audience (and Gary) to wonder if he was lying, but instead Arthur kisses Gary’s head and lets him depart safely in a rare moment of mercy.

Joker murders his idol on live TV

Arthur is a super-fan of Gotham TV host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), but begins to sour on him when the host mocks Arthur’s stand-up routine on his show and even gives him the name “Joker.”

When Arthur is invited on Murray’s show, he initially plans on telling a knock-knock joke and killing himself. Instead, Arthur confesses to the subway killings and rails against the Gotham upper class. “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash? You get what you (expletive) deserve!” Arthur screams before shooting Murray in the face, causing chaos in the studio and outside on the riotous Gotham streets.

As the camera is still rolling, Joker shimmies toward it and repeats Murray’s signature sign-off: “That’s life!”


Writer-director Todd Phillips says it isn’t fair to link his film “Joker” to real-world violence. And star Joaquin Phoenix says he felt uncomfortable while making the movie — and is pleased that audiences have had equally strong reactions. (Sept. 24) AP, AP

The scary shepherd meets his flock

Joker, in many appearances across many mediums, has always been something of a cult leader, and his violent actions in the movie spark a “Kill the Rich” movement with followers who wear clown masks. 

After being arrested for Murray’s murder, Joker smiles in the back seat of a police car at the sight of the carnage he’s sparked, but he winds up unconscious after a stolen ambulance slams into the vehicle. His new acolytes pull him out and when he wakes up, Arthur stands atop the cop car, triumphant, while they surround him and cheer. It’s a scene made even more visceral when Arthur evolves his look one last time to the Joker we know: He takes blood from his mouth and streaks it across his cheeks to match the character’s terrifying trademark grin.

Audiences may differ on whether or not the movie glorifies Joker’s violent streak or presents him as a hero, but what’s for sure is that he is an onscreen symbol for a Gotham that wants to resist a system and embrace anarchy – and a role that Arthur, like other iterations of the villain, relishes.


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