While some have felt that “The King of Comedy” was a major inspiration for the impending origin film for DC Comics’ Joker character, some new clues revealed from set photos seem to point toward “Taxi Driver,” as another Scorsese-related film influence.
Both The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver are films that profile deranged, broken men; loner citizens whose delusions lead them to strike out at the very people who rebuke them. The official plot synopsis for the film describes Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck as a societal outcast and that the film will go beyond its place as a gritty character study and serve as a more general cautionary tale.
Recent photo evidence reveals a shot of Gotham City’s subway map, mentioning one neighborhood as “Hinckley,” as a likely nod to John Hinckley Jr. Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan after being inspired by Taxi Driver. Taxi Driver saw the unhinged cabbie Travis Bickle become so obsessed with Betsy, a presidential campaign worker. One night while working his job, Bickle picks up Charles Palantine, the man Betsy is working for; Bickle tells Palatine that he’s a huge fan and asks all his fares to vote for the man despite never having held any prior interest in politics. While Bickle sees Palantine as a way to purge New York City of its undesirables, he only cares about Palantine because he is in close proximity to Betsy. The moment Betsy rejects Bickle, the man seeks to kill Palantine in order to hurt the woman who rejected him.
Another parallel to Taxi Driver appears to be the depiction of Thomas Wayne as a mayoral candidate, and a plausible analog to Charles Palantine. Some photos have shown Phoenix’s character leading an anti-Wayne protest with himself and others donning clown masks. Some of the reports claim that Wayne will be characterized as a sleezy businessman a la Donald Trump.
If “Joker” is intended as a cautionary tale, the question becomes “of what sort?” Both Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy showed how media can bestow celebrity to the violent and sociopathic; that America could idolize a notorious lone wolf, as seen with Bickle’s fate at the end of Taxi Driver. There’s an old expression that everyone, even a villain, is the hero of his own story; that may be just the angle Joker’s film decides to take.
Joker hits theaters October 4, 2019.