Joker is an origin story for Batman’s greatest foe... or is it? The film’s narrative leaves some to wonder if Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is the real deal. At the time Joker takes place, Bruce Wayne is a child. His parents die in the riot that Fleck sets off with his transformation into Joker. Does that mean Fleck is the same Joker that Wayne battles when he grows up to become Batman? Or is that Joker someone else carrying on Fleck’s legacy? To Phoenix, Fleck is Batman’s archnemesis. “I mean, to me, yes, he is,” Phoenix tells The Los Angeles Times.
Still, Phoenix appreciates that the film is ambiguous enough for audiences to come to their own conclusions. "There was something that was great about the mystery of it,” he says. “Todd and I talked a lot about how this is one of the few opportunities that you have where people don’t expect to know the definitive truth of the character — and not only that, they probably don’t want it. Usually, the demands of the movie are the opposite. I said, ‘We have to take advantage of that. Why would we not?’”
That ambiguity something Joker shares with its comic book source material. DC has published origin stories for the Joker before, but they’re always possible origins and not definitive. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s 1988 story Batman: The Killing Joke remains the most popular of them. The story influenced Joker and was itself adapted into an animated film in 2016. Yet even that story has an unreliable narrator.
Since then, the Joker has taken on a mythical quality thanks to writers like Grant Morrison and Scott Snyder. At last check, DC Comics revealed that there are three different Jokers, each with a different attitude and persona. While that revelation came out in 2016, the story of The Three Jokers is still upcoming.
Adding to the ambiguity, some aren’t sure if Joker’s ending is literal or if its all a fantasy happening inside Fleck’s head. The discussion is sure to continue as Warner Bros. launches the film’s Oscar campaign.
Do you think Arthur Fleck is the real Joker? Let us know what you think in the comments. Joker is now playing in theaters.
Upcoming DC Films movies include Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) on February 7, 2020, Wonder Woman 1984 on June 5, 2020, The Batman on June 25, 2021, The Suicide Squad on August 6, 2021, and Aquaman 2 on December 16, 2022.