Forget what you may have heard: Todd Phillips‘ Joker isn’t what you’re expecting. “It’s a tragedy,” the director told attendees at this year’s CinemaCon on Tuesday (April 2) before debuting the very first teaser trailer for the DC Films flick.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix as failed stand up comedian Arthur Fleck — before he becomes Gotham’s resident Clown Prince of Crime — Joker is an origin story about one of the most iconic villains in comic book history. The teaser opens with Arthur in therapy. “My mother always tells me to smile and put on a happy face,” he says in a voiceover, over a scene of Arthur helping bathe his mother (Frances Conroy). “She told me I had a purpose, to bring laughter and joy to the world.” (This is the only scene in which we see Arthur with a genuine smile on his face.)
Of course, it’s not that easy to smile when you feel like everything — and everyone — around you keeps dragging you down. As the teaser progresses, we see Arthur’s slow descent into madness, from suffering violent attacks at the hands of strangers on the street to committing them himself — all set to the melancholic tune of Nat King Cole’s “Smile.”
The tagline for the film is “put on a happy face.” It’s clear that Phillips and Phoenix’s interpretation of the Joker is a far more grounded take, as images of Arkham State Hospital and depictions of mental illness are shown at various points in the trailer. “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t,” Arthur scribbles in his joke book.
The teaser ends with a final chilling look at Arthur as he’s fully transformed into the Joker, his hair dyed green and his face painted white — the smile on his face is now something quite sinister. “I used to think my life was a tragedy,” he says. “But now I realize, it’s a comedy.”
Joker also stars Robert De Niro, Deadpool 2 breakout Zazie Beetz, and Marc Maron. It’s scheduled to hit theaters on October 4.