So, wait—what happened at the end of the Joker?
In 2019, Todd Phillips' Joker came out and defied all expectations. Not only did it pull in over a billion at the box office, but it changed the way we think about comic book movies. There was so much to talk about with that movie, but one thing that really stuck out to me was the ending. The ending of the Joker movie introduced us to a new layer of madness. It's very common for my friends who are superhero fans to say, "Tell me about the movie, Joker," so I figured this was as good of a time as any.
Today, I want to go over the ending of the Joker, talk about what made it interesting, what the twists and turns meant, and discuss how it affected the title thematically. So get your makeup bag and rubber nose. It's time to examine this interesting film.
Joker spoilers to follow!
Table of Contents
The Joker Ending Explained
To break down a movie like this, we're going to have to go through several stages of the storytelling. First, let's dive into what happens in the movie.
The Joker Movie Plot
The Joker film plot is as follows... It's the Arthur Fleck story. He's a damaged spiring stand-up comedian who lives with and cares for his mother, Penny. He works as a party clown to make ends meet. The neighborhood they reside in is crime-ridden. Gotham City has a lot of problems, and they all seem to affect Arthur deeply. He also suffers from a neurological disorder that causes him to laugh uncontrollably. It requires medication he cannot afford, so he uses social services to support himself and his mother. After Arthur is attacked by some kids, his coworker Randall gives him a gun to use for self-defense.
Arthur is romantically interested in his neighbor, a single mother, Sophie. He invites her to see him do stand-up. While volunteering at a hospital for kids, Arthur's gun falls out of his coat and scares everyone. Arthur is fired. Depressed on the subway, still in his clown makeup, Arthur watches as three drunk businessmen harass a woman. This makes him have a laughing episode, and turns them onto him. He gets beaten up, later finding out that they work for Wayne Investments. Arthur sticks up for himself, using the gun to kill them.
After Arthur escapes, he learns that those killings were condemned by billionaire mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne. Wayne calls all his opponents "clowns" and protesters react by donning clown masks in Arthur's image, which makes Arthur happy.
But then budget cuts shut down the social service program, leaving Arthur without the medication he needs to survive and level out his emotions. Sophie goes to see Arthur perform, and he bombs on stage. Even worse, he laughs uncontrollably at it. She's a little weirded out.
Arthur tries to take care of his mother. He takes a letter she's written and looks at it. It is addressed to Thomas Wayne, and it says that he is Thomas's illegitimate son. This sets Arthur off, and he goes to get answers for himself. He heads to Wayne Manor, where he meets Thomas' young son Bruce, but flees after a struggle with the family butler Alfred Pennyworth.
The Third Act of the Joker Film
Penny suffers a stroke and is hospitalized. This makes Arthur even more concerned about her. And he worries about the money needed to help her. To make matters even worse, talk show host Murray Franklin has seen a video of Arthur's stand-up, and calls him a "Joker," which sets Arthur off again.
Arthur sneaks into a private movie theater event and confronts Thomas Wayne, who tells him that he is not his father and that Penny is not even his biological mother. In denial, Arthur visits Arkham State Hospital and steals his mother's file, which states she was an insane narcissist who adopted Arthur while working as a housekeeper for the Waynes in the 1950s. Penny then raised Arthur with her abusive boyfriend, who later died in jail. This changes Arthur's whole perspective of his life, which has been a lie.
A catatonic Arthur heads to talk to Sophie for help, but when he barges into her apartment, she freaks out and acts like they have never met before. We flashback to moments when Arthur had seen Sophie and reveal that Sophie was not actually there. Arthur is confirmed as insane and an unreliable narrator.
The next day, Arthur smothers Penny, killing her for her lying to him. Arthur is invited to appear on Murray's show due to the popularity of his terrible stand-up clips. He is visited by ex-colleagues Randall and Gary, who are proud of him, but Arthur is already too far gone. Arthur kills Randall but spares Gary for treating him well in the past. Two detectives chase Arthur, now in a colorful joker costume, onto a subway filled with clown protesters, where he loses them. One detective accidentally shoots and kills a protester, thus inciting a riot. Arthur escapes during the chaos, making his way to the TV studio.
The Joker Movie Ending
Before the show goes live, Arthur asks Murray to introduce him as the Joker. On stage, Arthur tells some dark jokes. After he gets some reactions from the audience, he confesses to the subway murders. Then he goes on an explosive rant about how society abandons the poor and mentally ill, and he berates Murray for making fun of him.
Murray argues with Arthur, who assassinates him on live TV.
So, What Happens to the Joker?
Arthur gets arrested. Chaos ensues as people protest all over Gotham. One of the rioters corners the Wayne family in an alley and murders Thomas and his wife, sparing Bruce.
Afterward, the rioters in an ambulance crash into the police car carrying Arthur, freeing him.
Arthur, now the Joker, starts dancing to the cheers of the crowd. He then smears blood on his face in the shape of a smile.
Joker Movie Ending Scene
We cut to much later, at Arkham State Hospital. Arthur has seemingly been captured and is now talking to a therapist. He escapes, leaving behind bloodied shoeprints as an orderly chases him.
The Joker Movie Themes Explained
This is a deep movie that explores many themes such as:
- Nihilism and anarchy
- Mental illness
- The failure of the state
All of these elements combine in Arthur's journey from a man struggling to get by to a man wanting to turn the world into chaos because of how terrible and unfair it all feels.
What Is the Meaning Behind the Joker Movie?
Well, given what we know about Arthur Fleck, there's a chance everything we watched never really happened. We know he has these paranoid delusions after he stops taking his medicine, like Sophie never being there.
So there's a very high chance that there was no uprising or anything about Thomas Wayne. All that could have just been a fever dream.
The Joker Ending, Explained
What is the movie Joker all about? Well, after everything we've seen, we can infer that the Joker's wildest fantasy is to kill the people who don't understand him and support him.
So when he is running down the hallways being chased, it is unlikely that he actually killed his therapist. It's more likely he is trapped in Arkham, having another delusional episode. This Joker analysis is popular among critics.
Writing in People's World, Chauncey K. Robinson said the film "walks a fine line between exploration and validation" of Joker's character, and is "ultimately an in-your-face examination of a broken system that creates its own monsters."
Does the Joker Die?
This is a very popular question. In The Batman from 1989, the Joker dies. But at the end of The Dark Knight and Joker, the character is put into a mental institution and is still alive. There will be a sequel to Joker, which comes out in 2024 and is a musical, so the character will live on for at least one more movie.
Summing Up the Joker Ending Explained
Hopefully, you have a better grip on what happens in the Joker movie now. It is a deep and dark comic book movie that really shows what we can do with the film medium when you let creative people riff on well-known characters. While there are many debates about how the movie ends, I think it all occurs in Arthur's head, and that he's fantasized about a life where his story matters. In reality, he is just a low-level killer who the system abused.
But I want to know your thoughts and ideas! Let me know in the comments.