Regardless of whether you loved it or hated it, Joker will surely have you leaving the theater with questions about what you just saw, which is an effect that’s largely by design.
Joker is a movie about a severely mentally ill man struggling to maintain his grip and what’s real and what’s not, leaving the audience to decide for ourselves. So let’s give it a shot.
Warning: spoilers for JOKER will follow.
Is Thomas Wayne Actually Arthur’s Father?
While I’m full of nothing but praise for Joker, if there’s one element of the film that left me frustrated, it was the shoehorning of Bruce and Thomas Wayne into the plot.
YES, it’s a movie about Batman’s arch-nemesis, but the subplot that Fleck may actually be Bruce Wayne’s half-brother is A) extreme when it comes to traditional Batman canon and B) generally unnecessary given that they figure out a way to connect Arthur to Bruce through the eventual riot-induced murder of the Thomas and Martha Wayne.
Nevertheless, the movie raises the question so I’m going to try and answer it. And the answer is yes.
Towards the end of the film — after Arthur learns of his mother’s claims that he is Wayne’s son despite official records indicating he was adopted — Fleck finds a photo of his mother with a handwritten message on the back — “Love your smile” — from none other than Thomas Wayne.
Narratively, there is no other reason for this scene to be included other than to allude that Arthur’s mother telling the truth after all. You could argue that the photograph could just be another elaborate piece of Penny’s psychosis, but by that point, the audience has already bought into Fleck’s mother’s story about Thomas Wayne being a part of a grand delusion.
Given that the version of Thomas Wayne that we see is, put bluntly, a dickhead, it’s well within reason to imagine that someone as powerful as him could falsify records and collapse an already mentally unstable woman in lunacy in order to hide the existence of an illegitimate child. And if he’s writing her love letters…
Did Arthur Kill Sophie And Her Daughter?
Perhaps the most devastating — and terrifying — moment of the film comes when Arthur learns his relationship with his neighbor Sophie was nothing more than a hopeful Fight Club-esque delusion.
After finding out that his mother lied about his genesis and that he was actually adopted and not the son of her and Thomas Wayne, Arthur completely snaps as he heads into the apartment of his neighbor Sophie.
Prior to this scene, the implication is that Arthur and Sophie have formed some sort of romantic relationship after a bizarre elevator meet-cute. But whether it be the speed at which the relationship progresses or the sheer unlikelihood that someone like Arthur would ever be able to maintain — let alone form — a romantic relationship, Joker hints at the relationship being a delusion from the jump.
But, despite its obviousness, the moment the truth is revealed still makes for the film’s most heartbreaking and horrifying moment, as Arthur — who entered Sophie’s apartment uninvited and unannounced — learns of his wishful delusions as she sat in terror begging him to leave.
And Arthur does leave, although it’s under a veil of uncertainty, as it’s unclear whether or not he brought any harm to his neighbor and her young daughter. So, did he? While we’ll likely never know the answer for sure, I believe the answer lies in what comes before and after.
Up until this point, the only people in the movie that Arthur has killed are the three Sigma Chi alum on the subway, meaning that all of his subsequent killings (which all happen on screen, mind you) — his mother, his clown friend Randall, and De Niro’s Murray Franklin — happen after this moment.
Despite his clear and severe mental unraveling, Fleck has yet to show any signs of someone wanting to bring harm to those who have not brought any upon him. All three of his following murders — his mother, Randall, and Murray — happens because they have wronged him. Think about it: after killing Murray on live television, he could easily turn to the other two guests on the couch or any of the bystanders in the crowd, but he doesn’t because he’s not yet killing just to kill, he’s killing for revenge.
So, again, while we’ll never actually know for sure, I believe clues layered in what came before and after this pivotal moment suggest he left Sophie’s apartment without bringing her any unnecessary harm.
Did Any Of The Movie Actually Happen At All?
Ah, yes, of course: ye’ olde American Psycho — did any of this actually happen?
Given how deranged and unreliable of a narrator Arthur Fleck is, the question of whether or not the events of the film actually took place is meant to be the film’s lasting twist.
Through the previously aforementioned delusions of Sophie (and an earlier delusion of a heartwarming appearance on Murray Franklin’s show), the film establishes that not all of what we’re seeing is reality, which is a fact that’s only reinforced in the film’s closing moments.
After the murders and the riots and the streets filled with fire, Fleck is once again seen surrounded by the padded white walls of a mental hospital, smoking a cigarette as he talks with a psychologist.
As he laughs to himself, the psychologist — who bears a striking resemblance to the state-appointed woman he would speak to earlier in the film — asks Arthur what’s so funny, to which he responds “you wouldn’t get it”, raising the question of whether or not he’s laughing to himself about the hell-raising Gotham City fantasy that just unfolded in his mind.
Arthur then exits the room with blood from the bottom of his shoes painting the floor as he skips down a dreamlike hallway before being chased — in a slapstick fashion — by hospital orderlies.
Frankly, arguments can be made for both sides of the discussion and that’s likely exactly what director Todd Phillips was aiming for: ambiguity. Joker is a film about a man losing his grip on reality, leaving the audience to decide whether or not what they’re seeing is reality at all.
Eric is a New York City-based writer who still isn’t quite sure how he’s allowed to have this much fun for a living and will tell anyone who listens that Gotham City is canonically in New Jersey. Contact him on Twitter @eric_ital or via email email@example.com