Monday, July 15, 2024

The Joker’s Climax Unveiled: The Deadly Punchline of Arthur’s Finale

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Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Knight” proposed that Gotham City could benefit from a touch of mayhem. Although Gotham’s residents did not heed that call, the notion is compellingly enacted by Joaquin Phoenix’s depiction of the enduring villain in Todd Phillips’ controversial 2019 film “Joker.” Phoenix’s interpretation of the notorious Clown Prince of Crime veers significantly from previous screen depictions. Phillips draws inspiration as much from filmmakers like Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese as from superhero comic mythos.

With an R-rating, a debut at the Venice Film Festival, and the potential of a stand-alone narrative, “Joker” had an unusual cachet for a superhero film. However, it immediately split the audience due to its unapologetically nihilistic tone and perceived potential for instigating actual violence. By the film’s conclusion, social outcast Arthur Fleck, burdened by mental illness, has sowed chaos in Gotham City. The finale is intentionally ambiguous and starkly violent, leaving audiences in suspense for the forthcoming “Joker” sequel.

The Narrative Behind Joker: Things to Know

Set in a stylized version of 1980s Gotham City, where crime is unabated, the economy is in the pits, and billionaires, including Thomas Wayne, hold sway, “Joker” provides a grim backdrop for Arthur’s life. Arthur has a mental illness, plagued by a condition that triggers involuntary laughter, struggling with society’s neglect. Throughout the film, we witness his declining situation, futile engagement with social services, losing his job as a clown after being found possessing a gun for defense, and aggression from Thomas Wayne’s employees.

Arthur’s downtrodden existence takes a sharp turn when he rejects societal norms and resorts to violence. His deadly assault on a group of businessmen sparks a wave of clown-masked copycats, leading to anarchy. Newly self-assured, Arthur incites fear in young Bruce Wayne, freaks out a neighbor he fantasized about dating, and kills a colleague and his ailing mother.

The pinnacle of “Joker” happens on a talk show hosted by Murray (Robert De Niro), who previously ridiculed Arthur’s failed standup comedy attempt. After urging Murray to use the nickname ‘Joker,’ taken from his viral standup video, Phoenix’s character stumbles through some jokes before publicly confessing to the murder and assassinating Murray on a live broadcast.

The Conclusion of Joker: What Transpired?

After executing Murray, Arthur doesn’t hesitate to confess his motivations: a mental health patient rejected and scorned by society. As the studio audience panics and flees, Arthur hogs the spotlight, basking in the uproar he’s caused.

Subsequent scenes show Arthur in police custody, traversing through a rioting Gotham City. The city is aflame, and rioters revel in the chaos. Arthur proudly takes credit for the unrest, culminating in his freedom when rioters smash his police car. He celebrates by dancing to an imagined melody, drawing the Joker’s infamous grin on his face in his blood as onlookers cheer him on. Parallel scenes reveal Bruce Wayne’s parents’ murder, traumatizing young Bruce.

The final sequence transports us to Arkham Asylum, where a clad-in-white Arthur converses with a visibly uncomfortable therapist (April Grace). After laughing at an unseen joke, Arthur responds vaguely when asked to share the humor, saying she “wouldn’t understand.” He casually walks away, leaving a trail of bloodied footprints through the empty hallway. His lonesome dance is interrupted by guards giving chase, suggesting a final act of violence.

Deciphering the Final Jest

The Joker's Climax Unveiled: The Deadly Punchline of Arthur's Finale 2

While Joker’s explosive climax is clear, the events in the concluding white room sequence induce speculation. The likeliest explanation for the bloody footprints is that Arthur harasses his therapist in her solitary examination room before escaping. Given the history of Joker’s jailbreaks in D.C. Comics and the inflammatory support for him in Gotham City, he is likely more emboldened and lethal when he breaks free.

However, Arthur’s actions, influenced by perceived victimization, remain debated among fans. This attempt to overlay a moral framework onto such a character might be futile as he blurs the lines between self-defense and unprovoked aggression based on his perspective of people and society. This becomes evident as he wreaks havoc on those he perceives as tormentors, from abusive people in business and his deceiving mother to his unsupportive coworker and critical T.V. host.

Arthur’s emotions are driven as much by resentment and self-loathing as by a contorted interpretation of fairness. Subsequently, the fatal outcome for the therapist might have been triggered by an arbitrary irritant, or Arthur, having contemplated the demise of the Wayne family, has decided he no longer needs a rationale for murder. This indicates a profound metamorphosis into the notorious villain we’re familiar with. When invited to share his joke with the therapist, the underlying implication could be far more grotesque than anticipated.

The Fallible Narrator and the Ambiguous Conclusion

The intriguing notion that some of the final scenes may be figments of Arthur’s imagination, hallucinations, or symbolic representations also arises. Arthur, known to be a fallible narrator even to himself, provides the concluding scene with an ethereal quality. Arthur’s erratic dance along the corridor, his feet creating immaculate blood stains, yet his body appearing pristine, contributes to this surreality. The end title card, reminiscent of a classic monochrome movie, ends on a jocular note with Arthur being chased by orderlies. This conclusion also presents an incongruous, cheerful radiance at the end of the hallway that contradicts the film’s encompassing darkness.

Arthur might be fantasizing about gaining dominance – a carnage-infused ‘joke’ on Arkham and Gotham – as a manifestation of his lethal proclivity. The blood smudged underfoot stands as a symbol of Arthur’s apathy towards human life, presenting a twist on the familiar trope of blood on one’s hands, which cannot be overlooked. Contrarily, it casts a footprint that Arthur does not bother to reconsider.

This theory of imagined scenes compels us to ponder upon the reality of the preceding stage. The sight of Gotham’s populace cheering Arthur seems a well-evident narrative decision taken by Phillips and Scott Silver, his co-writer, reaffirming their protagonist’s perception of the dysfunctional world. Yet, given the fear he induced in the audience of Murray’s show moments before, this sequence in the context of the plot seems incoherent. It could be an embellished rendition of Arthur facing a cheering crowd atop the squad car, a fanciful fabrication – an ending he’d envision for his character. Vulture suggests that a section of fans believes a significant part of the movie to be a figment of Arthur’s imagination, although these theories lack substantial credibility.

Insights from the Cast and Crew on the Finale of Joker

Speaking with CinemaBlend’s Reel Blend, Phoenix responded to a theory positing that Arthur might never have left Arkham Asylum after breaking in to retrieve his mother’s files, implying the film’s latter part could be a distorted reflection of Arthur’s mind. Uncertain about Arthur’s reality, Phoenix stated, “I don’t know where reality ends and his fantasies begin.”

Phoenix’s perspective aligns with the surreal representation of the film. Gotham is mirrored as an exaggeratedly dystopian version of our society, paving the way to a worst-possible fate that might befall someone like Arthur, slipping through the societal cracks meant to aid him. According to Phoenix’s take on the topic, what lies beyond the point of Arthur’s impuissance to amend his life is his capacity to rebuild a new one – whether that’s reality or an illusion is a secondary concern.

In Phoenix’s words, “For me, the joy of this script and people’s reaction is how everybody has a different kind of feeling about it, and different ideas of what it could mean, and what’s real and what isn’t,” implying a collective interpretive ambiguity about the nature of Arthur’s reality. While Phoenix acknowledges his take, he appreciates the audience’s participation and varied opinions. This sentiment is echoed by the film’s writer-director Phillips in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, stating that while he might elucidate which theories match his own, he currently enjoys the audience’s exploration of the film’s ambivalence.

Implications for the Future of the Joker Franchise

This ambiguity was further accentuated in follow-up interviews preceding the announcement of the sequel to the film – “Joker: Folie à Deux.” Scheduled for 2024, Lady Gaga is set to star alongside Phoenix, and Beetz will resume her role as Sophie, the woman Arthur fantasized about dating. The sequel could potentially clarify the ambiguous ending of the original film, deciding if Arthur remains entangled in Arkham Asylum or not.

Should the film’s climax be merely an illusion, it could imply that Arthur is merely a face in the crowd – an abhorred criminal rather than a symbol of Gotham’s anarchy. If the narrative is a reality, Arthur might be confined as we left him in Arkham unless he managed to escape following the murder of his therapist. Despite the scant adherence of “Joker” to the comic-book canon, it is worthwhile to note that most interpretations culminate with the Joker encountering Harley Quinn in the asylum – the character Gaga is slated to portray – while in confinement, and her service as a psychiatrist.

The sequel may divulge more about the hatred an older Bruce Wayne harbored toward the Joker following the chaos-induced murder of his parents. Wondering if the murders were real and awaiting verification from the sequel, it is crucial to note that Phillips considered a drastically divergent climax for the Wayne family.

The Proposed Alternate Ending for Joker

While an alternate ending for “Joker” is not publicly accessible, rumors persist, stoked by an insight shared by filmmaker Kevin Smith on his “Fatman Beyond” podcast. According to Smith, the original ending proposed Arthur himself as the murderer of the Wayne family, with Bruce Wayne in his line of fire.

The ending Smith describes carries a bleak jab at the narrative. Describing the scene, Smith states, “And the boy was screaming and crying, [Arthur] turned to walk away, and he turned back, shrugged, shot the kid. Credits.” Indeed, an ending relying on a cruel jest about the negligible reference to Batman’s narrative exudes audacity. However, considering the poor reception of a similar joke in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” it might have been more prudent to curtail this narrative. Consequently, we were served with uncertainty. As Sinatra famously opined, “That’s life!”

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