This article contains spoilers…
One of the great aspects of Todd Phillips’ Joker is the usage of an unreliable narrator. The most obvious is, of course, the big twist in the film where Arthur’s relationship with Sophie (Zazie Beetz) is revealed to be nothing more than a figment of his imagination. A more interesting question, though, is whether or not the entire movie was just a bullsh*t story that Arthur told his psychiatrist at the end. Remember, right before the end of the film, Arthur is seen chuckling to himself during his psychiatric evaluation as the film cuts back to a shot of Bruce standing in between his dead parents. “Just thought of a joke,” he tells his psychiatrist. When asked to share, he tells her, “you wouldn’t get it.”
This has led a lot of fans (myself included) to wonder if the entire origin story of Joker as we see in the film was all part of Arthur’s delusions of grandeur. It’s entirely possible. In an interview with Collider, Todd Phillips was asked if we hypothetically take the ending to mean that Arthur made up the whole origin story, then does he have any idea what actually landed Arthur in lock up? Phillips said:
“No, but I don’t want to play this game of ‘If we accept that.’ We want people to make their own interpretations regarding the ending.”
However, Todd Phillips did give us a little bit of an insight into his and co-writer Scott Silver’s thought process when penning the script.
“When we were writing the script, Scott Silver and I really thought there’s a fine line in this movie with delusion and reality, with his own delusions. And there’s something to the character of Arthur where he may be exaggerating to make himself a victim in certain things to make you want to feel for him. So it’s very much, and I know this term gets used a lot, but he’s very much an unreliable narrator.
And he’s not your standard unreliable narrator, he’s also Joker. So it’s almost like a double unreliable narrator, because he could also be… Some of it could be a goof to him, right? So yeah, early on it was a big part of the screenplay where you’d read it and go, ‘Oh, okay, I’m not really sure what’s happening here.’ In a fun way, I hope. Not in a frustrating way.”
This is one of the reasons why Joker is infinitely rewatchable. The Joker character is known to play mind games and mess with your head. He’s narcissistic and he enjoys spinning stories. This idea was implemented in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight too, albeit in a more direct way. There, Heath Ledger’s Joker tells different stories to different people on how he got his scars. By the end of it, we don’t know which one of his stories are true, if any.
Joker is now playing in Malaysian cinemas.