Note: contains spoilers for Joker.
It looks like Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips are laughing all the way to the bank as 2019’s Joker takes comic book movie fans under the big top for a dive inside the psyche of Batman’s most famous foe.
With Phoenix already tipped to be a possible Oscar contender, Joker is being heralded as a legend within its own right. The comic book chiller closes with Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck stripped of his green hair and makeup, facing a grim future in what appears to be the notorious Arkham Asylum. There’s a bloody swansong that homages the character’s violent nature from the pages of DC as Fleck dances down a hospital hallway having seemingly slain his doctor.
Despite Joker being billed as a standalone outing for Mr J, there are plenty of tantalising theories about the final scene that have left fans laughing on the other side of their faces. So, if everybody’s ready to fully immerse themselves into the warped mind of Arthur Fleck, let’s look at what THAT Joker ending could really mean…
1. It’s all in his head
Before the credits roll on Joker, audiences are asked to suspend all belief that what they’ve been watching is actually true. As the movie heads into its final chapter, it becomes increasingly clear that the Harlequin of Hate has been telling a few porky pies.
One of the biggest twists comes when it dawns that Arthur’s relationship with Zazie Beetz’s Sophie is little more than his own aspirations for romance after a single meeting in an elevator. By the time Joker was apprehended by the cops and rescued by rioters – being hoisted into the air by his legion of adoring fans – things had already strayed into the fanciful.
When it comes to the ending, it isn’t hard to imagine an incarcerated Joker living out his wildest fantasy of killing just another person who doesn’t understand him. The delusional Clown Prince of Crime then imagines himself breaking free from the confines of his incarceration and heading out into Gotham to become the city’s most dangerous criminal. However, isn’t that all a little too convenient?
Movies like Sucker Punch and Shutter Island (and, some argue, Taxi Driver) have played with this idea to rob the lead character of their own happy ending in favour of something a little more macabre.
Phillips has previously implied that Joker’s heroic status among the city’s citizens was all made up, while both the director and Warner Bros have said Joker‘s ending was always supposed to be ambiguous. On a happier note (for some), does this also mean the dutiful doc lives to fight another day?
2. It’s a flash-forward
While Fleck’s doctor has a happy ending in the first option, the second two sadly see her leaving Joker in a bodybag. Redditor wheresthetrigger1234 notes the ending’s change of pace and aesthetic, musing that it’s a leap into the future of a crime-riddled Gotham City.
Before Joker enacts his Arkham escape, he asks the doctor if he can tell her a joke and quickly changes his mind. This is also spliced with images of a young Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson) standing over the bodies of his parents in the infamous Crime Alley. Speaking to the LA Times, Phillips mused that maybe Fleck’s Joker isn’t the “final” Joker that an older Bruce/Batman faces off against. The flash-forward theory allows Phoenix to be the Batarang in the Caped Crusader’s side. The ages may be a little off, but if the X-Men movies have taught Hollywood anything, it’s that no one but the fans is really keeping track of timelines.
Others note that Joker seems to have gained weight and grown stubble, while one fan claims there’s more grey in Fleck’s hair during the finale. The entire way the scene is shot seems to have a different vibe to the rest of the movie, and there are plenty of close-up shots of Fleck.
All of this neatly ties together with the whole, “You wouldn’t get it” joke. Taking the ending as a flash-forward many years into the future, the joke is that the night Joker emerged from the shadows of Fleck was also the night he inadvertently created Batman.
Yes, Fleck finally found his place in the world, but with a clown-masked rioter killing Thomas and Martha Wayne, it also led to Bruce spreading his wings to become the crime fighting vigilante. That fateful night was what sent the pair on a collision course of chaos over the years.
3. Fleck is telling the truth
The final option plays with Joker‘s biggest twists and is arguably the most confusing of the bunch. Was Fleck really telling the truth? Well, some of the truth? Despite being one of the most unreliable narrators in cinematic history, there’s an out-there option that the asylum is exactly what it seems.
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Even if Fleck’s meetings with Sophie and his mother’s tale about Arthur being Thomas Wayne’s bastard son aren’t 100% accurate, Joker’s Arkham assault could play out after being arrested and sent for a psychiatric evaluation. Imagine there’s a small flashback to Crime Alley, but the ending is just a few days later (explaining the stubble) rather than a huge hop into the future of Batman and the Joker.
Even if some of the movie was cooked up by Joker’s fractured mind, it’s safe to assume acts like the murder of Penny Fleck and Murray Franklin actually took place. If this is the case, Arthur has already shown his psychotic streak and a penchant for violence. The murder of a low-level psychiatrist would be relatively tame compared to some of his previous crimes and the implication he did more than just break into Sophie’s apartment.
Even though Phillips has previously downplayed the idea of Arthur Fleck’s return, there’s been plenty of buzz about what could come next. Whether the dynamic duo of Phoenix and Phillips return for Joker 2 to wrap up those MANY lingering plot points remains to be seen, but until we get a concrete answer from either side, things are left to our Fleck-inspired imaginations.
Joker is in cinemas now.
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