Joker: Folie a Deux, the sequel to the enormously successful Joker (2019) has finished principal photography, and while director Todd Phillips locks himself away to begin the editing process, he leaves behind official, and not-so-official photographs of THE talking point of the film at this stage – Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn.
Todd Phillips’ Joker seemed to come from nowhere. It was developed during a time when the DCEU was still a disparate multiverse of stories, and an idea had been floated to create more serious and tonally adult movies based – maybe even loosely – on DC characters that would emulate the Black Label line of DC comics.
Phillips, and his writing partner Scott Silver, wanted to explore the character of the Joker away from the regular trappings of the superhero universe. They wanted to take the essence of a mentally disturbed man and put him under the sort of pressure that would turn him into someone like the Joker.
The masterstroke for the movie was in the casting of Joaquin Phoenix. Surely one of the most transformative, not to mention enigmatic actors of his generation, just attracting him to the role was a mark of intention. The reward was a complex, troubling, and magnetic performance that earned Phoenix his first Academy Award for Best Actor.
While Phillips, Silver and Phoenix’s initial interest in the movie was only to test a comic book character in as real a setting as possible, it meant that they would only be telling an origin story, and those teasing moments towards the end of the film were just glimpses of what could have been. Well wouldn’t you know, not long after the release of Joker, all involved – even the notoriously franchise-averse Phoenix – were beginning to express an interest in a sequel.
In 2019 Phoenix was quoted as saying:
I can’t stop thinking about it… if there’s something else we can do with Joker that might be interesting. It’s nothing that I really wanted to do prior to working on this movie.
I guess they must have fallen under the same spell with these characters as the rest of us, right?!
We know this isn’t a regular Batman universe movie. This isn’t Zack Snyder’s superpowered universe, or even Matt Reeves’ lower-key, crime-focused world, but even when we tried to keep our speculations quietly tucked up in bed, we got hit with the announcement that Harley Quinn was to be in the sequel to Joker and she was to be played by Lady Gaga. It felt like the sort of announcement you could appreciate even if you’d managed to spend your whole life avoiding superhero movies.
It seems at once both completely obvious and totally unlikely casting. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta has spent a pop career since 2008 as Lady Gaga, developing a carefully orchestrated flamboyant persona and now she’s slowly, cautiously building a career as a serious actor thanks to an Oscar-nominated performance in her first leading movie role in A Star Is Born (2018), which was followed up by House of Gucci (2021).
In December 2022 filming got underway for Joker: Folie à Deux. The title translates as Madness of Two, a term often used in reference to a delusional state or mental illness that is shared by two people who are closely associated. That sounds like a description tailor-made for Harley and her Joker, right?
The photographs that Todd Phillips released include headshots of both Arthur Fleck, our Joker, and Harley Quinn. Firstly, there’s Harley and Joker in make-up – with the Joker’s looking brighter and sharper, while Harley has red lips and the ghostly shading of mascara blurring and crossing her eyes.
Then there’s Arthur topless, looking as scrawny as he did in the first movie, as he’d about to be shaved. Finally, there’s the glorious photo of Harley hungrily clutching Joker’s face. She looks as if she’s found her kindred spirit, while Joker, who was so beaten down and uncertain in the first film, now has an expression that almost seems serene.
The next set of photographs is taken from filming and shows a whole other side of the film. It’s safe to assume that Phillips and Silver will be taking a similar approach to the first movie in terms of placing such extreme psychological conditions in a grounded setting. Of course what set Arthur Fleck’s journey apart to becoming the Joker was how his crimes escalated, brilliantly tapping into the way his very presence seemed to be a destructive force of nature.
What was clever about Joker was the way the movie slipped from Arthur Fleck’s perspective as he lost grip on reality and that of those around him. In this way, the film gets to have the best of both worlds; the twisted fantasy and the harsh reality.
There have already been rumors that this new film will feature musical sequences, and now we can see Harley having the time of her life when she’s clearly in trouble, surrounded by Police officers. Just how we love her! The make-up’s a little clearer in these photos and we can see elements of Comic Harley’s costume in her clothes thanks to the bright red lining of the suit jacket, ripped tights, and a frilly-lined blouse/basque patterned with diamond shapes.
Other shots show Harley acting in front of a blue screen, again suggesting a departure from the very urban-set original movie, and there’s another look at both characters together. Once again Arthur Fleck looks almost unrecognizable after his transformation into the Joker – very suave and in control. Maybe it’s another fantasy viewpoint.
So what else do we know about the film? Zazie Beetz returns as Arthur’s neighbor Sophie Dumond, though obviously, it’s not safe to assume in what capacity, given her fate in the first film. The excellent Brendan Gleeson has a role, as does Catherine Keener. Harry Lawtey is also said to have a significant role, but no character names have been listed.
We know that those famous steps that Joker danced on (West 167th Street, in the Bronx if you’re curious) will feature once again. Also, scenes featuring Arkham Asylum were filmed at an abandoned Essex County Isolation Hospital. Finally, Icelandic composure Hildur Guðnadóttir, who won an Academy Award for the music she created for Joker, is returning.
Just as comic history spent decades exploring different interpretations of established superheroes, cinema is going through the same process discovering that characters such as Batman, Joker, Riddler and now Harley Quinn are mailable enough to explore under the most rigorous psychological microscopes. Respected artistic creators are finding themselves drawn to these archetypes, sometimes despite their aversion to operatic superhero action. Why not? These characters have been around for a very long time now, so they clearly resonate in the human psyche. It will be fascinating to see how far Todd Phillips can play with the theme of madness in a grounded way whilst bumping up against the world of comics.
Joker: Folie à Deux is scheduled to be released theatrically in the United States on October 4, 2024, by Warner Bros Pictures.
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