Editor’s Note: This is a post about Easter Eggs. Assume there are spoilers — many of them.
For those of you who went out to see Joaquin Phoenix devolve into the Clown Prince of Crime, you were probably so absorbed in the grueling portrayal of Arthur Fleck, his mental anguish, and the switch into the sardonic Joker to notice what was happening around you.
It turns out Todd Phillips is quite the aficionado of DC Comics and the stories related to the Joker. There were plenty of farm, cage-free, and premium Cadbury eggs littered throughout the dank scenery of Gotham. It’s been a week, so here we go…
Here are the Top 10 Easter Eggs in Joker:
10. The Creator Kane
The social worker who just didn’t seem to empathize too terribly well with the cratering of Arthur Fleck was actually named as an honor. Her name was Debra Kane, an homage to the co-creator of Batman: Bob Kane. (My thought is if her last name was “Finger,” it just would have been too funny to take her seriously. No offense, Bill.)
9. The Joker Acolytes
Joker has always had a band of ruffians that do his bidding wherever and whenever he wants. You saw them way back in 1966 with Cesar Romero and most recently, robbing a bank with Heath Ledger. In Joker, the gang was more of an organic experience gathered in protest seen on the subway and eventually, in the burning streets of Gotham.
From the Guy Fawkes masks seen in V for Vendetta to the carnival clown masks in Joker, the many masks of the Ace of Knaves have been well recorded throughout comics, TV shows, movies, and video games. Even Thomas Wayne issues some smarmy note about “All the Clowns” in Gotham. Masks or face paint, Joker’s acolytes are global.
Twice in the movie, a movie marquee sets the stage for time and place in the DC multiverse. See Zorro The Gay Blade? That’s a real (bad) movie starring the human french fry stuck in the oil too long George Harrison. Joker is set around 1981, but — depending on which recollection you have read — Bob Kane and Bill Finger were inspired to create the Cape and Cowl based on the 1920 film The Mark of Zorro. Egg placed perfectly.
7. A Nod to a Serial Killer?
So, there is Arthur Fleck, sitting at a table by himself and cackling. He is taking copious notes studying others in his aspiring craft. The name of the Comedy Club where he did his research was called Pogo’s. If you are searching “Batman” comics for that peculiar name, don’t bother. It’s not about him; the name refers to John Wayne Gacy.
Gacy was known as “The Killer Clown” because one of his side jobs was dressing up as “Pogo the Clown” at children’s or charitable events. Between 1972 and 1978, Gacy was known for strangling more than 30 teenage boys and men.
Kind of a dark, spoiled, rotten egg connecting “Pogo” to who Arthur would become; nonetheless, there it is.
6. The Killing Joke
It is no secret that Alan Moore’s 1988 graphic novel “The Killing Joke” was the core muse for this Joker, and just about every other on screen in history. Todd Phillips took a couple of notes almost verbatim from the hallowed pages of the novel.
Those pages showed a humbled, morose character doing his best to become a stand-up comedian. Sure, he liked to laugh (albeit, a mental illness), but no one else did. Another cited example is when Sophie is startled to find Arthur in her living room, clutching his head in his hands after he discovered the truth about his mother and himself. “I had a really bad day” is directly from the novel as well.
5. The Bat Pole
Remember the creepy scene where a considered bastard son went to Wayne Manor? He was trying to get young Bruce’s attention as he was playing in a swank treehouse. How did he get down and run to the fence? By sliding down a pole, curving around to the end just like the great Adam West did so many times in the late 1960s. An homage for sure. Let the controversy theories begin about a sequel featuring a slightly older Master Wayne in spandex.
Since we are discussing that frightful scene where Arthur was forcing a smile on young Master Wayne’s face, we had another cameo — Alfred Pennyworth. We never hear his name said, so it’s worth sitting through the credits just to see Douglas Hodge portrayed the ever-faithful defender and champion of Bruce Wayne. Hodge, primarily a TV character actor, is known as Bartholomew Rusk in Penny Dreadful.
3. The Other Jokers
Todd Phillips is a talented director with an obvious twisted psyche, but he is apparently a true fan of DC as well. Although Joker is an origin that will not link to another film (yeah, if you saw that ending, you may think otherwise), Phillips manages to cram in a few Easter Eggs in honor of the Jokers that came before Joaquin Phoenix.
- Did you see Joker sitting in the back seat of a police car? Now remember Heath Ledger driving down main street like a dog in the summer? Egg. (And brilliantly done too.)
- When Arthur is backstage at the Murray Franklin, he childishly transforms Murray’s face on the poster to look like the fiendish Jack Nicholson and his more playful face back in 1989.
- Look at Joker’s suit? That tweed masterpiece smacks of Cesar Romero‘s threads in the TV series.
- Finally, when he wakes from what looked like a sure coma and Arthur rises into his permanent persona, he takes his fingers in his mouth and creates a new Joker smile on his face in his own blood — an eerie reminder of the scars of Ledger, cheek implants of Nicholson, and the harlequin make-up of Romero. Genius.
- In 1983, he created The King of Comedy, which has been heralded as the opus muse behind this film. In that movie, we see a young Robert De Niro playing a struggling comic named Rupert Pupkin who sadly became obsessed with a talk show host, played by Jerry Lewis. Any of that sound familiar Joker fans?
- In 1976, one of Scorsese’s all-time classics Taxi Driver portrayed Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, a deranged hermit riddled with his own mental anguish goes on a psychotic killing spree. He wrote his dark thoughts in journals, focused on influential and sociopolitical figures, and eventually go bat-ess crazy — just like Arthur Fleck. In fact, both characters even play like they blow their brains out with their finger guns.
- The moral of the story is even though comic characters don’t make up “true cinema,” they are really good at playing like it. Isn’t that right, Scorsese?
1. Todd Phillips
In a bit of whimsy and slight narcissism, we have a Todd Phillips Cadbury that only true fans of his comedic movies (i.e., The Hangover trilogy, Old School, Road Trip) may have noticed. When Arthur is brushing up before his appearance on the Murray Franklin show, he is seen watching a previous performance with some no-name actor “Ethan Chase.”
Turns out that is a name Todd Phillips’ fans may recall — it was the name of Zack Galifinakis’ character in Due Date he co-starred with another actor named Robert Downey, Jr.
See there? Marvel and DC can get along.