Joker is a film about a man who is driven to madness by the world around him. As a character, he is meant to be a symbol of the world’s ills. And yet, the film hesitates on making him fully representative of any real issue, thus failing to have any meaning.
The Joker has always been a symbol of anarchy, chaos, and disorder in Gotham City. He has never had a “back-story” that was truly canonized by DC Comics (the comics have changed it several times over the years). But this film explores what might be possible in his past, while at the same time making it clear that his past might not be true.
Joker’s life story is a tragedy. As a kid, he was an abused child. His mother died when he was young, and his father was an alcoholic who beat him. He was also bullied while living in an apartment full of crime and filth. He has a mental illness that makes it hard for him to distinguish reality from fantasy. It causes him to act erratically and become violent at times.
As a young adult, he aspired to be a stand-up comedian but failed miserably due to his mental illness and the way society views him. Due to his social awkwardness and low self-esteem, he falls in love with his neighbor Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz), who works as a single mother at home taking care of her daughter.
In spite of her kindness towards him, she rejects his advances because he scares her daughter, who sees through his dark side when he shows it during their first encounter together in an elevator ride at their apartment building (when Sophie is going out for work).
He gets fired from his job at a company that manufactures clown costumes and makeup. After being harassed by three drunken Wall Street businessmen on the subway, he kills them by shooting them in self-defense with a gun that one of them
By explaining away this backstory as possibly untrue, it becomes almost impossible to consider anything that happens in it as having any meaning. It’s just another version of a story we’ve seen many times before in comic books and movies before.
Joker ends as it began, with Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) sitting in front of a mirror. It’s here that he finally embraces who he is: Joker. The film ends with him having killed the psychiatrist (denoted by the bloodstains coming from his footprints) and being chased around the asylum.
The last scene is somewhat ambiguous as we don’t know if Arthur has made up his backstory or if it’s a real thing, but it doesn’t matter either way.
His story is still a tragedy, regardless of whether what we’ve just seen is based on real events or not.
The film ends with him having killed the psychiatrist (denoted by the bloodstains coming from his footprints) and being chased around the asylum. But even here, the film is in an awkward middle ground as it tries to explain the Joker’s origins while not trying to invest any reveal with deeper meaning.
The bulk of “Joker” is built on Arthur becoming a social pariah who ultimately embraces his inner madman. So we get it: He’s angry, he’s frustrated, he’s full of rage, yada yada yada.
He becomes a symbol for disenfranchised folks who feel like they can’t catch a break, and his act of violence is his way of saying society has failed him. There are themes of classism and economic inequality that bubble to the surface throughout “Joker,” but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Social commentary is always welcome, especially when it doesn’t beat you over the head with its message.
But “Joker” doesn’t commit to anything, so even its commentaries don’t feel genuine or heartfelt, coming off more like half-baked ideas rather than fully fleshed out arguments for how society has failed people like Arthur Fleck.
The film ends with him having killed the psychiatrist (denoted by the bloodstains coming from his footprints) and being chased around the asylum.
But even here, the film is in an awkward middle ground as it tries to explain the Joker’s origins while not trying to invest any reveal with deeper meaning.
The Joker has a long history of shifting and changing personas, but there have been two constants: he wants to cause chaos and he doesn’t know who he really is.
Throughout Joker, we’ve seen constant reminders of his fragile mental state, from being beaten up by three kids in an alleyway to hallucinating that his therapist is in front of him on the subway.
He doesn’t seem to fully understand that these are hallucinations; at first it’s a recurring dream, then he seems to be taking the pills he was prescribed for them. But by ignoring these obvious warning signs, Arthur becomes increasingly unhinged, culminating in him shooting Murray Franklin dead on live TV.
The whole concept of the Joker is that he is a blank canvas. He can be anybody, and anyone can be him. Arthur Fleck is but one of many possible Jokers.
But even here, the film is in an awkward middle ground as it tries to explain the Joker’s origins while not trying to invest any reveal with deeper meaning. To maintain this thin line, the film has to erase its own premise, which is that the Joker’s origin story is meaningless.
That’s why we’re left with a vague sense of “huh?” as we walk out of the theater, because it’s hard to square a film where Joker’s origin story is meaningless with one that has an ending that seeks to explain it anyway.
Joker is in a padded cell, still wearing his clown makeup. He laughs and laughs as a couple of orderlies drag him away. The film ends with him having killed the psychiatrist (denoted by the bloodstains coming from his footprints) and being chased around the asylum.
This ending leaves audiences wondering if the film has set up another sequel or if it’s all been a delusion in Arthur’s mind — hence the title Joker — and he murders everyone and gets sent to Arkham Asylum. But even here, the film is in an awkward middle ground as it tries to explain the Joker’s origins while not trying to invest any reveal with deeper meaning.
Was Arthur Fleck always going mad? Or was there something out there that tipped him over the edge? Was it Penny, his mother? Was it Thomas Wayne? Was it society and late-stage capitalism?
The answers are left to viewers to decide, but we can form some interesting conclusions when we examine Arthur’s story from beginning to end.
The film’s biggest twist is the fact that Joker’s mother Penny was never a part of his life, and was actually a patient at Arkham State Hospital. She was also the one who killed his father Thomas Wayne, as revealed in a letter that Arthur found in Thomas Wayne’s secret room. Arthur then sneaked into the hospital and killed Penny with a pillow — but not before she told him she loved him.
He eventually enters an elevator where he breaks down laughing and crying from what he has done, and we hear the same laugh that echoed through Gotham City at the end of The Dark Knight — confirming that this movie is set in the same universe.
We also see a TV news report of the riots in Gotham, which is being called “Murray Franklin Day” in honor of Murray Franklin who had been killed by Arthur earlier on.
A lot of people have been asking about the ending of Joker, and what it all means. Well, we’re going to try and explain that here.
There’s a few things you need to understand before we can get into what that scene means:
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is insane. He hallucinates, he hears voices, he forgets basic facts, he’s very easily confused – he’s just not right in the head.
The Joker isn’t real. This is key to understanding this. Arthur Fleck invents the Joker as a persona for himself, because he thinks that it’s funny. The Joker is a character he creates – this is why when he’s asked who he is by De Niro, Arthur replies “I used to think my life was a tragedy…but now I realize…”
The Joker doesn’t actually exist in reality – everything we see in the movie has been through the twisted prism of Fleck’s mind. So everything we see in the movie could be questioned – did it really happen? Is it real? Or was it something Fleck thought happened?
As a comic book character, the Joker is one of the most iconic villains in history. He’s been through many iterations over the years, but his origin story has always remained as ambiguous as his motives. It’s not a surprise that people are trying to find meaning in Joker’s backstory, but what does it mean for you?