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In 1981, party clown, social outsider and aspiring stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck lives with his mother, Penny, in Gotham City. Gotham’s class society is rife with crime and unemployment, leaving segments of the population disenfranchised and impoverished. Arthur suffers from a medical disorder that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times, and depends on social services for medication. After a gang of delinquents attacks Arthur in an alley, his co-worker, Randall, gives him a gun for protection. Arthur meets his neighbor, single mother Sophie Dummond, and invites her to his stand-up comedy show at a nightclub.

While entertaining at a children’s hospital, Arthur’s gun falls out of his pocket. Randall lies that Arthur bought the gun himself and Arthur is fired by his agent. On the subway, still in his clown makeup, Arthur is beaten by three drunken Wayne Enterprises businessmen who were harassing a female passenger; he shoots two in self-defense and executes the third. The murders are condemned by billionaire mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne, who labels those envious of more successful people as “clowns”. Demonstrations against Gotham’s rich begin, with protesters donning clown masks in Arthur’s image. Funding cuts shutter the social service program, leaving Arthur without medication.

Arthur has difficulty delivering jokes for his comedy routine, but nevertheless, receives a standing ovation from the audience. After a date with Sophie, Arthur returns home and intercepts a letter written by Penny to Thomas Wayne, alleging that he is Thomas’s illegitimate son, and immediately berates his mother for hiding the truth. At Wayne Manor, Arthur talks to Thomas’s young son, Bruce, but flees after a scuffle with butler Alfred Pennyworth. Following a visit from two Gotham City Police Department detectives investigating Arthur’s involvement in the train murders, Penny suffers a stroke and is hospitalized. While Arthur stays with his mother in an emergency room, his childhood idol, talk show host Murray Franklin, mocks Arthur on TV by showing clips from the comedy routine on his show.

At a public event, Arthur confronts Thomas, who tells him that Penny is delusional and not his biological mother, and Arthur begins to laugh before getting punched by Thomas. In denial, Arthur visits Arkham State Hospital and steals Penny’s case file; the file says Penny adopted Arthur as a baby and allowed her abusive boyfriend to harm them both. However, Penny alleged that Thomas used his influence to fabricate the adoption and commit her to the asylum to hide their affair. Distraught, Arthur returns home and enters Sophie’s apartment unannounced. Frightened, Sophie tells him to leave; their previous encounters were apparently delusions. It is also revealed that Sophie left disappointed during Arthur’s comedy show, which in reality was poorly executed. The following day, Arthur goes to the hospital and kills Penny, suffocating her with a pillow.

Arthur is invited to appear on Murray’s show due to the unexpected popularity of his comedy routine’s clips. As he prepares, Arthur is visited by Randall and fellow ex-colleague Gary. Arthur murders Randall for revenge, but leaves Gary unharmed for treating him well in the past. En route to the studio, Arthur is pursued by the two detectives onto a train filled with some of the clown protesters. One detective accidentally shoots a protester and incites a riot, allowing Arthur to escape.

                                                             

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