Joker director Todd Phillips took to Instagram to announce a sequel to his 2019 anti-hero drama. The photo shows the red cover of the script, with the title, Joker: Folie à Deux, written in bold. Just below, we see writing credits listing a reprisal of the Phillips and Scott Silver duo that worked so well for the first film.
With this being an initial announcement for the new movie, there isn’t much information in the way of story or cast. However, the subtitle, Folie à Deux, actually does point us in a general direction.
What does Folie à Deux mean?
The phrase is French. Let’s break it down into components.
à: at, to, in, for (broad proposition)
Roughly translated, folie à deux means madness for two.
You can take that very specifically, as two people sharing the same delusion or the same mental health crisis, illness, or disorder. It can also read more symbolically. As in a madness that has spread.
Clown Prince or Puddin’?
Thinking of folie à deux as a spreading madness makes sense when we look back at the first Joker movie. The original ended with the Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) executing a TV show host (Robert De Niro) and inspiring a city-wide riot. The clown became a symbol for the public’s disgust with Gotham’s politics and economy and the disparity between those who need versus those who have. The last shot was Joker standing atop a broken cop car in the middle of city blocked filled with rioters cheering on his madness.
What’s the aftermath of such an event? You can imagine Phillips picking back up on the events immediately following Joker. We would see Arthur Fleck navigating his new infamy in a city that’s made him a kind of prince. A twisted sort of dark knight. And there’d be little resistance. Bruce Wayne, as we saw in Joker, is only a child. Without Batman to stop him, the Joker could do a lot of damage. It would essentially be the establishment of his criminal empire over a period of years, and the ways in which this affects Gotham, leading, essentially, to the creation of Batman.
But if we’re going less broad and reading the film’s title with the stricter definition of “madness for two,” that changes things. It’s no longer about the city and Fleck’s relationship to the city. Instead, it’s about Fleck and someone else. And when you think of Joker, he really has two main relationships.
The first is with Batman. The two of them just can’t get enough of each other. And it’s often pointed out that Bruce Wayne is a little crazy. There has to be some kind psychosis for him to do what he does night after night. And, let’s be real, that’s the dynamic most audiences want to see. But, as we just mentioned, Bruce was just a child in the first movie. So having Batman as a character means a generous time skip of at least 15 years. Which makes more sense for, say, the last film in a trilogy. So if not Batman, then who?
Second, we have Harley Quinn. First created for Batman: The Animated Series back in the 90s, Quinn has become quite a fan-favorite. And in the world of DC films, the perfect casting of Margot Robbie as Quinn rocketed the character’s mainstream popularity. That led to a solo film and a critically acclaimed animated TV show. With all that momentum, it almost seems crazy to not include Quinn. But that’s not the only reason.
Joker had a subplot that involved Arthur Fleck seemingly starting a romance with a neighbor down the hall, Sophie (Zazie Beetz). Unfortunately, the relationship turned out to be nothing more than a fantasy, a byproduct of an unmedicated Arthur’s increasing psychosis. There was this immense loneliness at the character’s core. His mother (Frances Conroy) wasn’t really his mother. His clown friends weren’t really his friends. He had no one. So it makes sense why you’d bring in Harley Quinn. She represents the potential for someone like the Joker to find love. That even madness is something you can have in common. There’s a tragic beauty to that idea. Which is in-line with the overall aesthetic of Phillip’s version of the Joker. This is the same villain who danced in a bathroom to Hildur Guðnadóttir’s haunting score.
Reinforcing this notion of a romance is the fact the subtitle is in French. French is, after all, nicknamed the language of love.
The dark horse theory is that Phillips and Silver decided they’d adapt Geoff John’s popular 2020 story Batman: Three Jokers. That tale asked the question of what if The Joker wasn’t just one person but had been different people over the years. The story labeled them as The Comedian, The Clown, and The Criminal. They varied in age and strangeness, with The Criminal being the oldest and seeming leader of the three.
With Fleck being in his mid 30s in Joker and having such a rabid following, it’s possible he’d have followers who are like-minded, sharing, ultimately, a similar mental disorder. Having a crew of Jokers that begin to terrorize the city would work. And could, of course, include Harley Quinn. And still touches upon the broader, city-wide madness we talked about upfront.
Given the purpose of the first Joker movie was to do something small and intimate, an anti-thesis to the fireworks and frenzy of both the MCU and DCEU, I’d be surprised if Phillips went larger in the second film. But that is the nature of sequels. Regardless, I was so impressed with the first one and how deeply thematic it was (read more here) that I trust Phillips, Silver, and Phoenix with whatever choices they make.
With all that said, folie à deux might be nothing more than a fancy way of saying “This is a second movie that explores this character’s madness.” In other words: Joker 2. In which case, the plot is completely up in the air. Though you’d expect it would have to explore in some capacity the fallout from the first film. How does Gotham react to the riot the Joker incited? What does Arthur Fleck do next? Especially with Thomas Wayne’s death. Wayne had represented so much to Fleck. Does that obsession transfer from the father to the son? Only time will tell.
When does Joker 2 come out?
Speaking of time, it seems we’re still in the early phases for Joker 2. Phillips posted a second photo that showed Joaquin Phoenix on a couch, script on his lap, smoking, with big sunglasses on, in front of a high-rise window looking out on Los Angeles. It seems safe to assume this is Phoenix’s first read of the script.
If we are at the point where the lead actor has the script, then the next step would be casting. Then you’re probably putting together all the crew. Finding locations. Then filming. Then Post-production.
To get a sense of time frame, we can look at Joker‘s schedule. Phoenix was officially signed on in July of 2018. Filming started in September of 2018 and ended on December 3rd. In March of 2019, Phillips said he was still editing. April 2nd, the first trailer came out. A second trailer dropped on August 28th. And Joker actually premiered on August 31st, but exclusively at the Venice International Film Festival. September 9th there was a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. Finally, on October 4th, the wide release happened.
With all the festival praise Joker received you’d imagine Phillips, Phoenix, and Warner Bros. would want to repeat the same cycle. Premier at Venice to build hype. Jump to Toronto to extend the hype. Then release in the fall. Why the fall? Because that’s Oscar season. And Joker did pretty well in that regard. It received the most Oscar nominations ever for a comic book movie: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (won), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Original Score (won), Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. Its two Academy Awards tied Nolan’s The Dark Knight for the most in comic book movie history.
So I would assume Joker: Folie à Deux will come out late 2023, around October or November.
Will Joker 2 connect to The Batman
Nope. You see, DC Comics has been trying to not be Marvel. What I mean by that is that Marvel has its precious Cinematic Universe, a place where every movie connects to every other movie. DC tried doing that with its Extended Universe and the results were messy. The quality just wasn’t there (except for the Snyder cuts). Their solution was to invest in more individual interpretations. So even though Jared Leto had been Joker in Suicide Squad and Zack Snyder’s Justice League, he obviously wasn’t Joker in Joker. Same with Batman. We had Ben Affleck in the DCEU but Robert Pattinson in The Batman.
So Joker and The Batman were never made with the intention of being in the same universe or eventually crossing over a la Marvel. But say some Warner Bros. exec wants it to happen. Demands that it happens. The path there is complicated. Joker takes place in 1981. Arthur is 34 years old. Bruce Wayne was close to 10. The Batman is set in 2019. That’s nearly 40 years. Which would put Joker in his 70s and Bruce in his 50s.
Mathematically, you just can’t make it happen without some insane retconning. Not to mention the completely different versions of Gotham and Thomas Wayne. Oh, and the fact The Batman already introduced its version of Joker. And it wasn’t a 70 year old Joaquin Phoenix. It was a young and vibrant Barry Keoghan. Maybe you could argue Barry’s picking up the mantle of Joker from Arthur Fleck. But that still wouldn’t account for Bruce Wayne needing to be 50. Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne was in his early 30s.
So don’t get your hopes up for these worlds to mix. But do get your hopes up that Warner Bros. might further lean into this model of allowing filmmakers and talent to tell unique and powerful stories. While I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I don’t think it has to be the only model. Breaking free of that is what gave us the amazing Into the Spider-Verse. As well as Joker and The Batman. And, in some ways, Logan. These are some of the best superhero films of all time. So. Keep them coming.