Joker Director Todd Phillips Knows What’s Real and What Arthur Imagined, But He’s Not Telling

Joker director Todd Phillips has a “firm view” on what was and what wasn’t imagined by a mentally ill Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), who emerges as Gotham City symbol the Joker, but the filmmaker is leaving the film up for interpretation. Like the comic book counterpart of the infamous Batman villain, who in The Killing Joke claims his past is multiple choice, this Joker suffers from delusions that imagined a warm reception by wannabe father figure Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) on The Murray Franklin Show and a romantic relationship with next door neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz). On speculation the entirety of Joker is all in the institutionalized Arthur’s head, Phillips isn’t resisting beliefs most of the film was fantasized.

“You could [read it that way],” Phillips told Empire. “I have a firm view on it too, but yeah you certainly could.”

Some saw ambiguity surrounding the fate of Sophie, who was last seen frightened when confronting an unhinged Arthur in her apartment. It was there audiences realized the romantic developments between Sophie and Arthur were delusions.

“We wanted to make the interpretation of the real versus what’s not real, a part of the viewer’s experience,” cinematographer Lawrence Sher previously told /Film. “For instance, his relationship to Sophie is a fantasy to him. Some people have asked me, ‘Was she killed?’ [Phillips] makes it clear she wasn’t killed. Arthur is killing people who’ve wronged him in a certain way, and Sophie never wronged him. In terms of what we did visually to play with the real and not real, there are callbacks and scenes that mirror each other. We leave hints using imagery or way we covered scenes similarly between scene. Outside of that, I like that people can have the conversation and come to their own conclusions.”

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Phillips earlier told ComicBook.com he wanted to leave audiences questioning reality when watching Joker because that uncertainty is “part of the fun.”

“When Scott Silver and I sat down to write it, we knew enough about the comics,” he said. “I read comics when I was a kid, we knew [Joker] didn’t have an origin story. I don’t want to say whether it’s real or not because I think [it’s] part of the fun. I’ve shown it to many, many different people and they all have a different reaction. Some of them say, ‘Oh I get it, I mean the last line in the movie, you wouldnt get it, to a joke he was telling. Well is the joke the movie? Is the joke the thing?’ 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.”