Joker is one of the biggest movies of 2019. It’s right on the cusp of joining the billion-dollar club (it’s currently at $993 million worldwide), has wowed audiences and critics and generated a ton of discussion as to its themes. One element of the film that’s generated a lot of debate though is whether the final scenes take place in Arthur Fleck’s head. It’s a question that’s worthy of discussion, too. After all, we see Arthur suffering delusions earlier in the movie and his sudden acceleration from complete nobody to inspiring a riot and being adored by a crowd is very sudden.
Now, Joaquin Phoenix has given his take. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said the following:
“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. 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.”
Following that, he goes on to say that he doesn’t personally believe that the final scenes of the movie take place in Fleck’s head and that the character really does become the Joker, stating:
“But I don’t know,” he adds with a wry smile. “It’s just my opinion.”
I like the ambiguity, too, but I side with Phoenix on this one. Most variations of the ‘it was all a dream’ ending are a cop-out in fiction. And sure, Joker did contain a long delusional sequence involving Zazie Beetz’s Sophie becoming his girlfriend, but following that the movie went out of its way to ensure that we knew this wasn’t what actually happened.
Besides, one of the things I liked most about Joker was that it wore its themes on its sleeve and didn’t require the viewer to dig too hard to figure out what it’s about. Trying to wrestle the film into becoming some cinematic puzzle box that needs solving just feels like missing the point.