Joker director Todd Phillips had an unflinching belief in the tone and narrative of his film. Now, in recent interviews, he’s started letting the public inside of some of his thought processes around the smash hit. Fans have been wondering just how much of Joker is “real” and how much of it could be considered fiction after their first viewing. Well, when it comes to Arthur Fleck’s laughter over the course of the film, the director decided to be a little forthcoming about the mental state of his main character with Empire magazine. Joaquin Phoenix really knocked his portrayal of the man who would become The Joker out of the park. Due to the sometimes sporadic nature of his laughing and other visible tics, some wondered if any of the laughter is real. Phillips was happy to oblige…to a point.
He began, “There’s the laugh that comes from his affliction, when he’s curled up and in pain, then there’s the laugh he does when he wants to fit in and be one of the guys, which is this forced fake laugh. The only time Arthur/Joker really laughs for real in the movie is the very last scene.”
Other topics around Phoenix’s turn as Arthur Fleck cropped up in other parts of the interview. Joker emerges as a symbol around Gotham City during the film, but everything we see on screen during the runtime is not as it seems. Our narrator takes a bit of license with certain scenes. Like when Arthur imagined a warm reception by his idol Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) on The Murray Franklin Show and a romantic relationship with next-door neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz). Fans have even speculated that the entirety of Joker could all be in the main character’s head. But, Phillips actually isn’t shutting some of those beliefs surrounding the film down.
“You could read it that way,” Phillips explained to Empire. “I have a firm view on it too, but yeah you certainly could.”
Sophie’s eventual fate was a sticking point for fans as they last saw her confronting an unhinged Arthur in her apartment. She was frightened and that moment showed audiences how the romantic developments between the two were figments of his imagination.
“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 scenes. Outside of that, I like that people can have the conversation and come to their own conclusions.”