Arthur Fleck was an amateur stand-up comedian and a professional clown. He lost his job as a clown after being framed by a co-worker. He was later repeatedly assaulted by various people and unsuccessfully tried to resurrect his career. He also lost access to his medication and therapist, causing him to succumb to madness as he killed his deceitful mother and took on the identity of The Joker.
Born in Gotham City on November 21, 1946, Arthur had a difficult childhood, suffering bullying from his peers as well as well as enduring abuse when he was a child. He lived with his mother Penny Fleck who had possibly adopted him. Enduring his abuse, Arthur was found tied to a radiator, bruised and malnourished; he suffered severe head trauma that was believed to have given him his laughing disorder. His disorder caused him to laugh involuntarily at inappropriate times, heightening particularly when he was tensed. He was a very lonely individual whose only company was his mother, but he longed for a romantic relationship- something he was unable to form due to his mental illness.
Having suffered memory loss of his childhood, Arthur could not consciously recall his abuse and spent the majority of his life living with his mother whom he took care of in her old age while he worked jobs to keep their rundown apartment. Longing for a loving father figure in his life, Arthur saw the likes of talk show host Murray Franklin and billionaire Thomas Wayne as his father figures, even daydreaming about being on the Murray Franklin Show and Murray telling him he wished he had a son just like him.
Working as a clown, his job suffered when he was jumped by street punks and the property manager’s signboard was destroyed. His life of crime began after his co-worker, Randall, gave him a .38 revolver as a means of protecting himself from future attacks. Growing more lonely, Arthur romantically fantasized about his neighbor Sophie Dumond, even following her to her daughter's school one day and on the subway train to work. When Sophie later confronted him about it, he admitted to following her and invited her to his stand-up comedy show. During his comedy routine, Arthur was overcome by nervousness, which combined with his laughing disorder, made him laugh hysterically in front of the audience as he struggled to tell jokes. However, to his delight, Sophie had shown up and seemed to be amused by his jokes.
Arthur struggled to maintain a steady pace at his job, and was eventually fired when he accidentally dropped his .38 while doing a clown act for children at a children's hospital and his co-worker Randall lied to their boss about Arthur having wanted to buy a gun from him.
On the subway train home, Arthur, who was dressed in his clown costume and make-up, suffered another episode of uncontrollable laughter when three Wallstreet men were harassing a woman on board. As the woman left, they turned their attention to Arthur, taunted him about his laughing condition and beat him up. Arthur shot and killed all three, thus, beginning his slow, downward spiral into insanity. The so-called murderous clown on the subway train gained local fame, and also infamy within the wealthy. It soon sparked a riot in Gotham City with the motto 'Kill the Rich', where the working class began wearing clown masks in salutation to the anonymous subway killer and looked down on the likes of Thomas Wayne who degraded the poor on public television.
Arthur's sanity dwindled further after losing access to his therapy and psychiatric medications. He later came to believe Thomas Wayne was his father after reading a letter written by his mother in which she claimed he was her and Thomas's son. What followed was a heated argument between Arthur and Penny about her lying to him all those years. Penny held her beliefs that Thomas was a good man and that he could help them financially.
Arthur visited Wayne Manor the next day, where he met Thomas’s young emotionless son, Bruce. As he tried forcing a smile on Bruce's face when he saw how expressionless the child was, a then young Alfred Pennyworth intervened. Arthur stated his mother, Penny, had once worked at Wayne Manor and claimed Thomas Wayne was his father which Alfred denied saying that he knew Penny to be a psychotic and delusional woman who had lied about having an affair with Thomas. Angered, Arthur choked him, reaching from behind closed gates, but spared his life noticing young Bruce was watching and fled the scene.
Having lost his job on the same day that the subway murders had taken place made Arthur a possible suspect, and so two detectives Burke and Garrity came in to question him at his apartment about it. However, Arthur was away at the time, and Penny suffered a stroke during the brief questioning and needed hospitalization. Later, footage of Arthur's stand-up comedy was broadcast on the Murray Franklin Show, but Murray had used it to ridicule him and his laughing condition, which deeply displeased the failed comedian, further fueling his internal rage.
With clown-masked demonstrators protesting outside a charity theater show where Thomas Wayne was, Arthur sneaked into the theater and confronted Thomas in the bathroom about him being Arthur's father. Thomas denied it and asserted Arthur was adopted and that he had never slept with Arthur's mother, alleging that she had been committed to Arkham State Hospital in the past for psychosis. Arthur grew defensive of his mother and asked why Thomas was lying and why people were so rude to him, as he desperately pleaded for Thomas to be a father to him. At Thomas's insult toward his mother, an extremely upset Arthur began laughing in hysterics, much to the annoyance of the billionaire, who then punched Arthur in the face and threatened to kill him if he ever touched his son Bruce again.
Falling into a deeper depression, Arthur enclosed himself in his refrigerator after emptying its contents. A representative from the Murray Franklin Show later phoned him and asked if he would like to appear as a guest on the show to which Arthur said that he would. After discovering his mother’s records at Arkham State Hospital in a folder he had stolen from the clerk at the hospital archives, he uncovered the hard truth that he had been abandoned as a child, adopted by Penny Fleck and abused by her boyfriend when he was a boy and that the head trauma from his injuries might have had caused his laughing condition. Extremely depressed and having lost his sanity altogether, he returned home and broke into Sophie's apartment, the door to which was left unlocked. Terrified, Sophie pleaded for him to leave for the sake of her daughter. Through this, it is revealed that every other moment featuring Sophie was just in Arthur's head as he was imagining happier possibilities.
Back alone in his apartment, Arthur sat alone and smoked, laughing painfully as if unable to cry. Deeply disturbed and enraged by the reveal of his past, he felt as if he had been mistreated and lied to his whole life by the only person he truly loved, his mother. Returning to her at the hospital, Arthur smothered Penny in her own bed after speaking about how he had thought his life was a tragedy, but now he believed it was "a f*cking comedy". He later rehearsed his arrival on the Murray Franklin Show wherein his intention was to commit suicide on live television by shooting himself after pretending to say a joke.
Arthur's former co-workers, Randall and Gary, came to visit him in his apartment in an attempt to cheer him up following his mother’s death. However, Randall's true intentions to visit him were to hear what Arthur had told the detectives about the subway murders so he, Randall, could keep himself out of trouble. Arthur, who had held a grudge against Randall ever since he had got him fired, proceeded to stab the much taller and larger Randall with a pair of scissors before repeatedly bashing his head against the wall near his apartment door and killing him. Arthur spared Gary's life and allowed him to leave unharmed, saying he was the only one who was ever nice to him. Having dyed his hair green, Arthur donned a red suit and wore clown makeup as he got ready for his appearance on the Murray Franklin Show. The two detectives from before caught him dancing down a flight of stairs on the streets and pursued him into a subway. As Arthur slipped into the crowd on the subway train, clown protesters beat up the detectives, allowing him to escape.
Appearing on the Murray Franklin show as ‘Joker’, Arthur exited the curtains as he had rehearsed before. Murray proceeded to mock him a few times as Arthur pulled out a personal journal of his in which he wrote his jokes. The audience were shocked as Arthur told them a dark joke about a drunk driver killing a man. He apologized for the inappropriate joke but confessed to the subway murders along the way. When the audience reacted negatively, he argued that they only cared about the victims because Thomas Wayne had spoken for them and that if it were Arthur in place of the victims, he would be ignored and walked over. A heated argument between Arthur and Murray ensued in which he asserted he found Murray to be awful because he had invited the troubled comedian just to ridicule him. Losing his temper, Arthur shot Murray on live television point-blank in the head, causing blood to splatter against the wall behind. As the audience scattered in terror, the news of Franklin's murder spread fast. Arthur shot the now dead Murray a second time before grabbing the camera lens and saying, "Goodnight! And always remember, that's life!"
Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered the same night in front of Bruce by a clown protester shortly after they had left a movie theater, thus birthing Batman. Upon Arthur being driven to jail, two clown protesters in an ambulance rammed into the police car which was carrying him and helped free him from being incarcerated. The protesters, finding the two policemen in the front seat dead, brought out Arthur's unconscious body and placed him on the hood of the car. Arthur, coughing up blood, regained his consciousness and stood up on the hood, surrounded by an excited crowd of protesters, all cheering for him loudly. The newly found Joker rose as he smeared the blood from his nose across his mouth and formed a bloody smile, standing amidst the admiration he had longed for all his life. As Joker took full shape, Arthur Fleck was no more.
- Imaginative - Imagines scenarios when he zones out, usually of happier possibilities
- Smokes often
- Uncontrollable laughter/ Laughing disorder
- Passion for dancing
- Looks for emotional connection
- Deep desire to be seen/recognized
- Initially, he seems to have a soft spot for children as seen in the film when he tries to make a child on the bus laugh, when he entertains at the children's hospital and is seemingly very happy to be doing so, when he tries to make young Bruce smile and when he spares Alfred because Bruce was watching.
- Later on, he develops a trait to kill people who wrong him- from the three Wallstreet men on the subway, his abusive mother, his former co-worker, Randall, who set him up twice in the film, to television show host Murray Franklin, Arthur's former father figure who he kills on camera after being invited and humiliated on Franklin's nighttime talk show.
Arthur Fleck began as a lonely individual who had dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. He longed for a romantic relationship throughout his life, that he seemed to never have gotten. He had a compassionate mother/ son relationship with his mother Penny, until he found out the latter had lied to him and abused him as a child. In the beginning, Arthur appeared to be a kind yet troubled man with a forgotten dark past. For the longest time, he went by his mother’s words that he was brought to bring joy and laughter. Arthur is depicted as a chain smoker with a poor diet.
After he was pushed to the brink, and killed his mother in a fit of rage, he was willing to murder anyone who wronged him in any way. Arthur's empathy, along with his good nature, dissipated once he assassinated Murray Franklin on live television.
- Penny Fleck - Mother and victim; deceased.
- Sophie Dumond - Neighbor.
- Murray Franklin - Idol and victim; deceased.
- Thomas Wayne - Alleged father turned enemy; deceased.
- Bruce Wayne - Alleged brother turned enemy.
- Gary - Former co-worker.
- Randall - Former co-worker and victim; deceased.
Behind the scenes
- Joaquin Phoenix lost 52 pounds for the role.
- Phoenix had come up with his own signature Joker laugh for the film after months of practice.
- In true Joker fashion, it is shown throughout the movie that Arthur is an unreliable narrator, as it is revealed his relationship with his neighbor was completely imagined. His age is 34, found in his adoption documentation.