By George Bate
Director Todd Phillips recently posted to Instagram confirming that the much anticipated sequel to 2019’s Joker is moving forward. Phillips posted a picture of the cover of the script, which states that it is written by Phillips and Scott Silver, who previously collaborated on the first film. Interestingly, the picture sports the title Joker: Folie à Deux.
Phillips also posted a picture of star Joaquin Phoenix, who won an Academy Award for his previous turn as the Clown Prince of Gotham, reading the screenplay.
What can be inferred about the Joker sequel from its mysterious title? Folie à deux translates to “madness of two” in English. The term was first used by in 1877 to describe psychiatric symptoms, in particular delusions of paranoia, that are transmitted from person to person. This involves an inducer, or a person who holds the delusion, and the induced, a person who the delusion is transmitted to. The term reflects a transmission of mental health symptoms and is also referred to as “double insanity.” Despite the term referring to two people, it is also used to extend to three people and beyond, such that delusions or other symptoms of mental illness are spread from person to person.
The validity of the prevalence of folie à deux remains a mystery. There have been reported cases in Nigeria and India, and it appears to be more commonly reported in isolated communities.
What does this tell us about the Joker sequel then?
There’s a number of possibilities. The first Joker film concluded with Arthur Fleck locked away in Arkham State Hospital. Comic and television fans will know that Joker meets Dr. Harleen Quinzel in Arkham Asylum, the two fall in love, and she becomes as dangerous and maniacal as he is. The ‘folie à deux’ in question, therefore, could be referring to Arthur transmitting his ‘insanity’ of sorts to a doctor in Arkham State Hospital, giving rise to who fans know as Harley Quinn. This would make for an interesting plot and would see Phoenix share the screen with a powerful, varied actress.
Another possibility is that Arthur becomes a ring leader of sorts in Arkham State Hospital. Remember, folie à deux can refer to more than two people, implying that Arthur could transmit his delusions and illness to entire groups of patients locked away with him. This plot would be like a twisted One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Whereas Jack Nicholson’s R.P. McMurphy rallied his fellow patients and helped them experience a fulfilling life again, Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck may rally his fellow patients in a more rebellious and insidious way, making them as depraved and violent as he is.
Another theory is that the title implies the existence of two Jokers, which relates to a popular theory about the first film. The theory goes that Arthur is not the actual Joker – either his actions inspire the real Joker or the real Joker is a copycat of Arthur. While this is plausible, it seems to be the least interesting route for the filmmakers to take for this sequel.
Other details about Joker: Folie à deux are tightly under wraps, but it’s encouraging to know the sequel is in development and moving forward.