The three stories are about the metamorphosis of a character's descent into darkness. The three characters all share a common thread that allows us to weave the stories into a shared space. We see what happens to the outcast when he dares to dream and act out his fantasy. What does society do to the man who rises from the ashes?
Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver is an outcast even amongst his co-workers. His taxi becomes his world and only when patrons enter and exit does Travis interact with others. Travis speaks of the filth in society and how it disgusts him but lives amongst it even normalizing it by taking his date to a pornographic theatre on their first date. It's not until he changes his appearance by cutting his hair into a mohawk that he feels a change. He feels invincible. Travis becomes the "savior" in his world by saving the teenage girl who is forced into prostitution. After the incident, he's seen as a hero and it's because of that he feels a sense of inclusion.
Rupert Pupkin of The King of Comedy is a special character. Rupert lives with his mother in reality but he really lives in his own head. He has fantasy after fantasy of being on the Jerry Langford show as the stand-up comedian guest. He even has fantasies of being out with Jerry and people asking for his autograph. When Rupert kidnaps Jerry his appearance doesn't change as much as Travis but his demeanor does. He becomes aggressive with authority and he starts to like it. He feels important and is finally seen as someone.
Arthur Fleck of Joker lives with his mother, like Rupert, and also has fantasies of being on a talk show as a famous comedian. Arthur is an outcast like Travis. Arthur frequently retreats to his fantasies and lives in a world where he creates human relationships with meaningful value. Even with his peers, he doesn't fit in. In order to do so, Arthur has developed a high-pitched laugh that is different than his diagnosis laugh and regular laugh. When Arthur kills three young men in self-defense he starts to morph into his true self. He begins to feel alive. We see a change to his physical appearance and like Travis feels invincible. His reddish-orange suit is similar to Rupert's suit at the end of The King of Comedy.
All three stories have characters who want to be seen in a society that has ostracized them. They all are alone in their world and have no one but their fantasies to keep them company. In order for Arthur, Travis, and Rupert to achieve the status and attention they are seeking they have to become a villain.
Rupert Pupkin and Murray Franklin of Joker are the growth of the same character. Murray Franklin is the talk show host Arthur Fleck admires and fantasizes about being on his show. It only makes sense for Rupert to become a late-night talk show host after being released from prison and having his autobiography become a best seller. Rupert Pupkin is the only character out of the three who could have become famous and loved for a crime. Travis is content with the newspaper article. This fulfilled his need of being recognized. However, Arthur is idolized for his outrage and is seen as a hero by those in a lower-class society. Arthur has reached a level of satisfaction with knowing who he is, is comfortable in his skin, and is happy to put a smile on so many faces.
Behind the Story
I submitted this analysis to AndPhilosophy.com Joker's abstract, unfortunately it did not get accepted. I did like this piece and feel the analysis is interesting.