Warning: SPOILERS for Joker are ahead!
Love it or hate it, Todd Phillips’ Joker is a movie that demands you engage with it and discuss it. One of the most interesting points of discussion is (again SPOILERS incoming!) the ending of the film, as it leaves plenty of room for interpretation as to what really happened. The hosts of the ReelBlend podcast attempted to get to the bottom of it in a conversation with Joaquin Phoenix, who explained what he really loves about the Joker ending. Take a listen in the video below:
What Joaquin Phoenix loves about the ending of Joker is that it isn’t cut and dry and there are no easy answers. It leaves something to the imagination and it is up to the viewer to decide the truth. The acclaimed actor appreciates that uncertainty and the fact that the movie doesn’t tell you what really happened or how to feel about it.
ReelBlend co-host Kevin McCarthy presented Joaquin Phoenix with the theory that Arthur Fleck never leaves the mental hospital after he gets his mother’s records. The idea is that the whole third act, where he goes on Murray Franklin’s show and kills him, and the riots in the streets, are all an elaborate fantasy from a person who has shown throughout the film to experience vivid fantasies and have delusions of grandeur, and he was actually in Arkham that whole time.
It’s an ambiguous ending in the great tradition of Inception, Blade Runner and the final episode of The Sopranos. Joker is a movie where people can interpret the ending and ultimately what it means in different ways and for Joaquin Phoenix. That’s the best part about it. We don’t know for sure what’s real and what isn’t.
That challenges you and drives discussion surrounding the film and not everyone will come to the same answer. For Joaquin Phoenix, that interactive quality, where the audience has to participate and work to decide for themselves, is what makes the ending fun. He also noted that that type of thing is absent from most movies, especially those in the comic book movie genre to which this film technically belongs.
Fascinatingly, Joaquin Phoenix himself doesn’t know the answer, and he’s as in the dark about the ending as the rest of us. Despite having played Arthur Fleck, he doesn’t know where the fantasies end and reality begins, which is incredibly fitting given the nature of the character and the story.
Joaquin Phoenix does admit that he has his own idea about the ending of Joker, but he’s not going to say what it is. Which, let’s be honest, is a very Joker-esque move. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if director Todd Phillips or co-writer Scott Silver will ever reveal the truth.
I think there is a case to be made that the third act was real and a case to be made that it was imagined. The nature of the cuts themselves, from when Arthur is inside of Arkham to when he’s outside, and the one from him in the streets with his followers to the end in Arkham, do make it feel a bit like it could have all been a dream. We also don’t see him ever get arrested and brought to Arkham.
On the other hand, the Bruce Wayne stuff and the fact that he is killing with greater ease than ever in Arkham make me think it could have been real.