From the beginning of its inception, it was made clear Joker was a standalone origin story set in a separate Elseworlds continuity. It wouldn’t tie into anything, not The Batman and not any comic canon. That has not stopped speculation – or many from reaching the conclusion – Arthur Fleck is the real Joker who becomes the Caped Crusader’s archnemesis.
Director Todd Phillips keeps things ambiguous and does not overtly pick a side. Conversely, he reveals in a featurette for the film’s Blu-ray release he does not completely trust the veracity of Fleck and the tales he spins. Phillips says the following in the behind-the-scenes documentary, Joker: Vision & Fury:
“There’s many ways to look at the movie. He might not be Joker. This is just a version of a Joker origin. It’s just the version this guy is telling in this room at a mental institution. I don’t know that he’s the most reliable narrator in the world, you know what I’m saying?”
Here he follows the logic of a theory that argues Joker is narratively like Christopher Nolan’s Memento. You cannot trust everything the main character is telling you nor what you see.
There are theories aplenty about Joker. That Fleck is a patient at Arkham State Hospital making everything up is one. Another posits much of what goes down in the film’s two hours and change – including the murder of Murray Franklin on live TV – is true and inspires a rioter or copycat to become the Clown Prince of Crime who plagues Gotham.
Arguably, no one foresaw Joker sparking this much debate. Star Joaquin Phoenix summed it up for the Los Angeles Times in November:
“I don’t know if I had any expectation. Honestly, Todd and I were just trying to make something that didn’t end our careers.”
He also told the Times he believes Arthur Fleck is the genuine article but emphasized that is only his opinion. All interpretations are valid to Phoenix as he considers the lore laid out by Joker to be “interactive.”
“It’s been super interesting how people react to the movie and what they see — and to me, all of those answers are valid. Normally you have to answer those questions. But this really is participatory and interactive. It’s up to the audience.”
He continued, saying he would rather not “ruin” anyone’s point of view:
“That’s so rare, especially with a big studio movie, and I don’t want to ruin that by saying, ‘No, this is what it is.’ To me, there are so many different ways to view this character and his experience that I don’t think you can come up with a particular meaning.”
Todd Phillips definitely has not settled on one particular meaning and wants to keep audiences guessing. That’s for sure. “Maybe Joaquin’s character inspired the Joker,” said Phillips in a different conversation with the LA Times. “You don’t really know.”
Similarly, Phillips said to Empire in late October, “The idea is you don’t like to answer those questions, because it’s nice to see the different things people take away from it.”
Joker brings its brand of narrative dissociation to Blu-ray on January 7th. It is already available in some digital formats and is still playing in some theaters.
What’s your theory? Is Arthur Fleck the one and only Joker? Let us know what you have to say below.