The Joker doesn’t need an origin story to be interesting.
For those that may not have heard, Warner Bros. announced that they are developing a Joker Origin Movie that will be separate from the DC Extended Universe. Meaning this movie will not connect to Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Justice League. This movie will be produced by Martin Scorsese and is rumored to star Academy Award Winner Leonardo DiCaprio as the Joker. Although this sounds pretty great on paper, I’m hating myself for thinking that is going to be a really, really bad idea. Even though Scorsese is one of my all time favorite filmmakers and Leo is obviously of the greatest actors alive, I still have some doubts about this.
The Joker is one of the most iconic and beloved comic book characters in history. The character is chaotic, unpredictable, and the perfect foil against the always serious Batman. But, the most interesting thing to me about the Joker character is that we don’t always know how he became the Joker. Yes, there have been some stories in the movie and comics that gave an origin, and they aren’t terrible, but I think leaving a mystery with the character is more interesting and compelling. The reader/audience can always think of a better origin story than what the medium presents. He could have fallen in toxic waste, been a PTSD soldier who snapped, or a failed comedian with abusive father issues — the possibilities are endless. The secret of how the Joker originated is one of his defining characteristics.
The Dark Knight plays with this idea brilliantly. In that movie, there are several moments where the Joker tells someone the story of how he got his scars, and it’s always different. The fact that there is no clear explanation is the purpose. The scene where the Joker is captured and put in the jail cell, Gordon reveals he has no name, no fingerprint, no dental, custom clothing, nothing to identify him. And that’s great, because it makes the character more terrifying and anonymous, any psychopath could have become the Joker. But, the primary reason he exists is because someone just as mentally insane (the guy who dresses up like a bat every night) already exists.
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Remember Darth Vader? One of the most popular movie characters ever? He’s so cool, right? With the robotic body and the deep voice and the red lightsaber. Everyone wanted to know the story of Darth Vader’s origin, and when they found out he was a punk kid who hated sand and had a high midi-chlorian count, people were upset. Why? Well, the audience can always imagine or fantasize a better origin story for themselves. Giving an answer destroys any type or speculation or creative ideas that fans can enjoy thinking and talking about. So when we have this Joker movie, that will be considered the defining origin for the Joker (at least in movie culture) and I don’t want that to happen.
However, this movie project is still in early development and we really have no idea if it will even happen or what it will be like. For now, at least we got Jared Leto, right?