Few movies in recent years have caused as contentious of a critical rhetoric as Joker has. Todd Phillips’ take on the clown prince of crime is more than just an ultra violent super-villain story though, it’s a riveting re-examination of a classic character in a new light.
The script is full of intricate details and a few differences that didn’t make it on screen. In this article, we’re going to breakdown the Joker screenplay, through characters, quotes and references to classic cinema.
Let’s jump in!
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The Joker Script
Click to view and download the entire Joker script PDF below.
Who Wrote The Joker Script?
Todd Phillips and Scott Silver.
Todd Phillips is a director, actor, writer and producer from Brooklyn, New York, who rose to prominence in the 2000’s for his work on movies such as Road Trip, Old School and Starsky and Hutch. In 2007, he was nominated for best adapted screenplay at the Academy Awards for Borat. In the years since, Phillips has continued to grow in fame, and is perhaps most recognized as the writer and director of The Hangover trilogy of films.Scott Silver is a writer, director and producer who has credits in the cinema industry that span 25 years. In 2010, Silver was nominated at the Academy Awards for best writing, original screenplay for his work on The Fighter.
STRUCTURE OF JOKER SCREENPLAY
Here is the story structure for the Joker screenplay:
Arthur Fleck is a clown-worker in his 30’s with a neurological disease that causes him to laugh uncontrollably. Years prior, he was admitted to an asylum for the insane. Now, he’s heavily medicated and has to meet with a counsellor who doesn’t care much for him.
While working as a street-performer, Arthur is mugged by a group of teenage boys, and loses the ‘sign’ he was given to advertise business. A co-worker, Randall, gives him a gun for protection.
Arthur’s mother Penny desperately yearns to hear from her former boss Thomas Wayne, who she believes owes them help. Arthur dreams that one day he’ll be admired and respected just like late-night TV host Murray Franklin is, so he pursues a relationship with a woman named Sophie.
After dropping Randal’s gun during a performance at a children’s hospital, Arthur is fired. He takes the subway home where he’s harassed and beaten by three Wayne Industry employees. In a fit of rage, Arthur shoots and kills them all.
Arthur learns that Thomas Wayne is his father, which throws him into an identity crisis. He visits Wayne manor with the hope of talking with Thomas, but instead, gets into a confrontation with Alfred, who says that his mother Penny is “delusional” for saying the two were ever romantically involved.
Plot Building Two
Police detectives question Penny about the subway murders, which causes her to faint. While monitoring her at the hospital, Arthur watches Murray Franklin on TV, who mocks his comedy routine. Arthur confronts Thomas, who says that his mother was admitted to Arkham Asylum for the criminally insane 30 years ago.
Arthur receives an invitation to appear on The Murray Franklin show, which he accepts. Penny’s file reveals that Arthur was abused as a child. Desperate for support, Arthur goes to Sophie who doesn’t recognize him, showing that Arthur fabricated their relationship. In a manic state, Arthur kills his mother, and ‘disfigures’ himself to look more like a clown.
Randall comes by the apartment to offer condolences for Penny’s death, but Arthur kills him. Upon leaving for the show, police try to arrest Arthur, but he’s able to obscure himself in the crowd of “clown” protesters.
Arthur kills Murray Franklin live on air and is arrested. The riots outside have intensified- one protester kills Thomas and Martha Wayne- another group flips the police car Arthur is being transported in, ultimately freeing him. Arthur stands atop the crashed police car and incites the crowd to join in on the chaos.
Arthur is detained at Arkham Asylum, and questioned by a doctor. When asked what he’s laughing about, he says that it’s a joke that she wouldn’t understand. Then, Arthur joyously runs around the insane ward while “That’s Life” plays in the background.
Joker Script Takeaway #1
There’s no other way to say it, Joker has some excellent, and iconic quotes. One reason why the quotes are so good is because they’re built up throughout the script with tension, then exaggerated upon delivery.
In this scene, we see how Thomas Wayne responds to the subway killings that Arthur committed. When Arthur killed the Wayne employees, he was still in clown make-up from the show at the children’s hospital earlier that day. All that the public knows is that some sort of clown murderer is on the loose.
Some other great quotes include:
“...those of us who've made a good life for ourselves will always look at those who haven't as nothing but clowns.”
“I used to think my life was nothing but a tragedy, but now, now I realize it's all just a fucking comedy.”
“My mom died. I’m celebrating.”
“Honestly, I don't even know what my real name is… Besides, that's what you called me on the show, Murray. A joker. Remember?”
“Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?”
“I just hope my death makes more cents than my life."
As a character, The Joker has had many iterations but they've all made his quippy dialogue a staple. Which Joker had the best quotes? Here's our ranking of every Joker actor so you can decide for yourself.
Joker Script Takeaway #2
Joker Character Building
Arthur Fleck is just one of many in Gotham who are stuck at the bottom of a social rung. We see this fact referenced repeatedly in the script through literal and metaphorical ways. Physically, Arthur is beat down to the ground by bullies, while metaphorically he is kept down by a rigged socio-economic system.
Everyday that he returns home, this struggle is symbolized by an ascent up the old-dilapidated stairs to his apartment building. The stress is weighing on Arthur, and he’s at his wits-end, evident by telling his counsellor: “All I have are negative thoughts.”
But things change for Arthur once he begins to fight back. The challenges that long dogged him no longer seem as dramatic. His movements are light, the script even says that he “floats” down the hallway of his apartment.
Arthur embraces becoming the clown, an identity that many have ascribed to him throughout his life. He doesn’t resent the torture that was afflicted upon him as a kid, because now, he’s no longer inhibited by his own inaction. So Arthur descends down the long, steep staircase into a hellish world, but now he feels like it’s a place where he truly belongs.
Joker Script Takeaway #3
Joker alludes to classic cinema
Here we see the most essential aspect of any character, which is; what do they desire? Arthur wants to bring laughter to the world, but he struggles enormously with doing so because of his severe characteristics.We’ve seen this “loner” character archetype portrayed throughout cinema, most notably in Martin Scorsese’s films The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. Joker takes heavy inspiration from these cinema classics by alluding to The King of Comedy in a narrative sense and to Taxi Driver in a stylistic sense.
In this scene, Arthur imagines that his hero Murray Franklin brings him on-stage and into the light. This is our first indication that Arthur has a tendency to blur the lines between dreams and reality.
This fantasy is layered with subtextual meaning. For example, Arthur’s dream of being a famous comedian is fueled by the success of Murray in the media. But Arthur doesn’t truly want to be Murray, he just wants to enjoy all of the celebrity benefits, such as fame, fortune and most importantly, acceptance in the mainstream.The relationship between Arthur and Murray serves as a narrative allusion to Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro) and Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) from The King of Comedy. Both Arthur and Rupert struggle with absent fathers, which causes them to look to cultural icons to fill their paternal voids.
Elsewhere, it’s clear that Joker was largely inspired by Taxi Driver. Both of the film’s protagonists are loners who resort to a rampant usage of violence.
Here, the action of the script tells us about the “violence and madness in the city.” Interestingly, Phillips supports this chaos with a distinct visual lens of busy crowds, neon lights and reflective puddles, just as Martin Scorsese does in Taxi Driver.
There is a lot to learn from watching Joker and reading the screenplay. It's not quite a perfect movie, as we discuss in our Joker movie review, but there are certainly many reasons why this movie made over a billion dollars around the world. It is clearly tapping into something.
Read and Download More Scripts
Joker is a brilliantly executed melancholy exploration of mental illness. If you want to read more great scripts, we have The Dark Knight, The Usual Suspects and Gone Girl in our screenplay database. Great screenwriters read lots of scripts. Get started today!