The Martin Scorsese Movie Joker 2 Is Clearly Going To Borrow From

Todd Phillips' 2019 film "Joker" is the most controversial studio blockbuster in recent memory. Few films have been (at least in the "fan community" sense) as hotly debated, lambasted, defended, and discussed, with the possible exception of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." Many fans reacted positively to the film's dour rawness and some cited its portrait of mental health — even in a comic book universe — to be striking and unique for the genre. Some critics loved the film – Cahiers du Cinéma included it on their list of 10 best films of the year — while many cited its downbeat aesthetic to be a tiresome riff on the superior Martin Scorsese movies — "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy" specifically — Phillips was openly knocking off. "Joker" is, to this critic's eye, a shallow comic book origin story of the Clown Prince of Crime, gussied up in a depressive cloak of overwrought style. It is, if you will forgive me, insane clown glossy. 

There was a time when Phillips wanted "Joker" to stand alone; it was not going to be a mere connector to a Batman feature film later down the line, nor was the lead character, Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix), going to continue his tale deeper into comic book lore. Perhaps once the film's grosses topped over $1 billion worldwide, Phillips elected to change his tune, because the filmmaker announced the working title for a second "Joker" feature film — "Joker: Folie à Deux" — with Lady Gaga set to appear as the Joker's moll, Harley Quinn. And it would be a musical.

With a musical sequel (!) in the works, the immediate question leapt to everyone's mind: Which Martin Scorsese movie will Phillips knock off next? The answer was clear: 1977's "New York, New York."

New York, New York

For those unfamiliar, Scorsese's "New York, New York" tells the story of a semi-talented saxophone played Jimmy (Robert De Niro) who is pushy, rude, arrogant, and perhaps on the spectrum. He targets a talented USO singer name Francine (Liza Minnelli) to be his lover, eventual wife, and protégé. The 163-minute film — not one of Scorsese's best — follows their acidic and tumultuous relationship as Francine rises to fame without Jimmy, and Jimmy's growing, wrathful resentment over it. He becomes successful too, but they end the film divorced. It is only in brief spurts that their relationship is beneficial to the both of them, exemplified in her hit song — the song of the title — that Jimmy wrote. Ultimately, it's a film about loneliness, an inability to connect, and how these two people had to lean on each other for professional support, even if it wasn't always the healthiest thing. 

The subtitle of Phillips' next Joker movie, "Folie à Deux," refers to an actual psychological condition wherein two people, when sharing close quarters, can begin experiencing similar symptoms of mental illness, sometimes to the point of sharing hallucinations. William Friedkin made an excellent film in 2006, called "Bug," explicitly about the phenomenon. The title, along with the casting of Lady Gaga, invites immediate speculation that "Folie" will likely be about Harley Quinn, a lover for Arthur Fleck who shares his madness. In Batman lore, the character of Harley Quinn started as the Joker's shrink, but his evil was so pervasive, she ended up becoming his lover and criminal sidekick for a time. (Margot Robbie has played the character on the big screen in movies like "The Suicide Squad and "Birds of Prey.")

And as mentioned above, "Folie" will be a musical. The parallels are lining up.

Gaga with a Z

It should be noted that Gaga also appeared on stage with Liza Minnelli at the 2020 Oscars, further cementing the association between "Joker" and "New York, New York." Gaga, it seems, could play a similar character to the one played by Minnelli in "New York, New York." Previously, Arthur Fleck evoked the Robert De Niro character in "Taxi Driver" and the Robert De Niro character in "The King of Comedy," so why not also insert him into the Robert De Niro character in "New York, New York"? 

Given the derivative nature of "Joker," one might be able to speculate that the songs in "Folie" will be covers of old standards. "Joker" takes place in 1981, and there are plenty of vintage pop music cues to denote the era (Gary Glitter's 1972 gutbucket song "Rock & Roll, Part 2" is most famously included). One can easily picture Gaga, decked out in depressive 1983 gear, belting out any number of hard-edged 1970s rock pieces about going crazy for someone. Heart's "Crazy on You" springs to mind. Van Morrison's "Crazy Love," if one wanted to skew more gentle. Definitely include Alice Cooper's "The Ballad of Dwight Fry." Waylon Jennings' "I've always Been Crazy" counts. If Phillips was aiming to skew a little hipper and lean into the New Wave music of the early '80s, there's no reason not to include Sparks' "Get Crazy." The film could end either with Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years," or, if Phillips wanted to be really playful, Napoleon XIV's "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!"

Whichever songs end up in the mix — or if the music will be original (!) — one can rest assured that "New York, New York" will likely serve as a template for "Joker: Folie à Deux," the Scorsese-influenced Harley Quinn musical. How could it not?