Full spoilers ahead for The Batman!
Is the Joker in The Batman 2022?
The Batman director Matt Reeves recently agreed to talk in detail with IGN about his film’s biggest spoiler: the introduction of this new Bat-universe’s Joker, played here by Eternals actor Barry Keoghan. Although Keoghan is officially credited as “Unnamed Arkham Prisoner,” Reeves confirmed to IGN that this character is indeed a proto-Joker. The Batman may not be an origin story for the title character, but it is for the Dark Knight’s most infamous villains.
As revealed in the penultimate scene of The Batman, this “Unnamed Arkham Prisoner” chats up Paul Dano’s Riddler, aka Edward Nashton, who is held in a neighboring cell at Arkham State Hospital (as it appears to be named here as opposed to Asylum). Through their cell bars, Riddler interacts with this strange fellow inmate, who is framed largely in shadow but whose rictus grin and green-tinged hair are discernible.
The unnamed prisoner tries to cheer up Riddler, who is despondent over Batman (largely) foiling his plans. “One day you’re on top, the next day you’re a clown,” the prisoner says before telling Riddler that Gotham loves a comeback story. The prisoner then delivers what is the Riddler’s signature line – “Riddle me this” – when asking a riddle whose answer Nashton correctly answers as “a friend.” This dastardly duo cackle away as a bond is forged between them.
In what was a clear attempt to throw off the Internet — that is until Keoghan’s own brother revealed it on social media — initial news reports and leaked set photos pegged Keoghan as playing GCPD officer Stanley Merkel. He’s not, although Matt Reeves confirmed in another interview with IGN that they did indeed shoot fake scenes with Keoghan as the character just to throw people off the Clown Prince’s scent.
The Batman Deleted Scene
Reeves told us Keoghan actually filmed two scenes as this proto-Joker but the filmmaker ended up cutting the earlier scene. In our interview, Reeves detailed what that deleted scene was about and elaborated on the inspiration behind his Joker’s look.
“What’s interesting is that the reason that Joker’s in the movie is there was actually another scene that was earlier. And because the movie is not an origin tale for Batman, but it’s his early days, it really is an origin tale for the Rogue’s Gallery’s characters,” Reeves said. “And for me, I think [it’s] this idea that the Joker is not yet the Joker, but they already have this relationship.
“The scene that was not in the movie, the scene that this is really the companion to, which is actually a really cool scene that will release at some point, it’s a scene where Batman is so unnerved because the Riddler is writing to him. And he’s like, ‘Well, why is this guy writing to me?’ And he figures he’s got to profile this killer,” Reeves said, revealing things then took an almost Silence of the Lambs/Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter-like turn. (Or, as DC Comics fans might point out, it’s reminiscent of Batman seeking out Calendar Man’s help in The Long Halloween.)
“He goes to see another killer that he’s clearly had an experience with in these first two years. And this killer in this story is not yet the character that we come to know, right?” Reeves said. “So everybody’s in their infancy. So in the comics, these characters often declare their alter egos in response to the fact that there’s a Batman out there. And so here, we have a Joker who’s not yet the Joker.”
Barry Keoghan’s Joker
Reeves also revealed the thinking that went into this Joker’s makeup design by Mike Marino and even why he has his trademark grin, a reason that harkens back to the original inspiration for the comic book villain: the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs.
“In the scene that you’ll see in the future, you’ll see that we worked on what he looked like. And he’s held in this very suspenseful way, away from you visually. But I wanted to create an iteration of him that felt distinctive and new, but went right back to the roots,” Reeves said. “So he’s very much out of the Conrad Veidt mold and that idea of the silent film of The Man Who Laughs.”
In order to both ground his film in a heightened reality and to differentiate his Joker from past screen versions’ reasons for why he looks the way he does, Reeves opted to give his proto-Joker a biological condition for his smile. (Although Reeves doesn’t name the condition or even say it’s a real one, there is a developmental condition called Angelman syndrome that makes people afflicted with it frequently smile and laugh. Again, though, that’s not what Reeves said is the condition that Keoghan’s character has in the film.)
The Batman: Every Live-Action Version of Catwoman, Riddler, Penguin, and More
Reeves explained: “He’s got this congenital disease. He can never stop smiling. And it made Mike and I think about — I was talking about The Elephant Man because I love David Lynch. And I was like, ‘Well, maybe there’s something here where it’s not something where he fell in a vat of chemicals or it’s not the Nolan thing where he has these scars and we don’t know where they came from. What if this is something that he’s been touched by from birth and that he has a congenital disease that refuses to let him stop smiling? And he’s had this very dark reaction to it, and he’s had to spend a life of people looking at him in a certain way and he knows how to get into your head.’”
Living his whole life with such a condition has led Keoghan’s character to deem himself “a clown” for the “cruel joke” he feels his life has been. As Reeves explained:
“So [it’s] this idea of him being very incisive and brilliant and being able to get into your mind and basically having this nihilistic point of view that’s like from his inception, from his birth, life has been a cruel joke on him. And this is his response, and he’s eventually going to declare himself as a clown, declare himself as the Joker. That was the idea.”
Will Joker be in The Batman 2?
Reeves also elaborated on why he cut that initial scene introducing Keoghan’s future Joker — and then revealed that the scene that is in the final cut almost didn’t make it into the theatrical version!
“What you’re really seeing is a pre-Joker Joker,” he said. “And the idea for me, why I kept that scene in the movie, even though I cut the first scene that I’m describing, is because it was important for me at the end. I actually took the scene that’s in the movie still out for a brief time. And we tested it, and I realized that for me, on the one hand, it finishes the Riddler’s arc, because you know the way his story plays out and you see him in the wake of what’s happened and how Batman has been able to thwart what he was doing.
“But it was also this idea that in this moment, now that the stranglehold of Falcone has been broken, it means that there is a moment of not only hope, but it’s also the moment of greatest danger in the city in a long time because it means that everyone is going to grab for power. And when Selina [Kyle] is talking to Batman at the end of the movie and they’re having their very poignant goodbye because they’re always going to be on the opposite sides of things, she says to him, ‘You know this place isn’t going to change.’ And when I took the scene out, the stakes of the scene changed, because that scene shows you that, when she says that, you’ve just seen it and you see the two of them [Joker and Riddler] next to each other. And that’s just one example of how trouble in Gotham is never going to subside. There’s always going to be somebody with a plan afoot.
“And so it changed the movie dramatically. So the scene is not meant to be there to say, ‘Oh, here’s an Easter egg. The next movie is X.’ I don’t know that the Joker would be in the next movie, but I can tell you that here’s what you’re seeing, is an early days version of this character, and trouble, as always, is brewing in Gotham.”
What did you think of this tease of the new Joker? Let us know in the comments.
For more on Matt Reeves’ incarnation of The Dark Knight, check out our The Batman review, our explainer on The Batman’s ending, our quest for the perfect Batman actor, and our ranking of Batman movie gadgets.