Todd Phillips Clears Up a Big Mystery About That Ambiguous ‘Joker’ Ending

The "Joker" director and co-director has an important piece of information for anyone somewhat confused by the ending.
Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

[Editor’s note: The following post contains spoilers about the ending of Todd Phillips’ “Joker.”]

It’s been well over two months since Todd Phillips’ “Joker” debuted in theaters and skyrocketed to the top of box charts around the world. Fans have spent a lot of time since the film’s opening picking apart the mysteries of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), including an ambiguous ending scene that finds the character locked up in a mental institution. Has Arthur just been institutionalized or has he really been at Arkham Aslyum the entire time? The ending suggests the events viewers see in “Joker” could just be a story Arthur is telling a doctor, which means nothing presented should be taken at face value since the character is an unreliable narrator.

In “Joker: Vision & Fury,” a 22-minute behind-the-scenes featurette included on the “Joker” home release (via ComicBook), Phillips clears up the mystery behind the movie’s ending. The director says one of the reasons he believes Arthur might not be the definitive Batman villain is because Arthur’s story is his version of events as told to the Arkham Asylum doctor. When the film cuts to Arthur at Arkham, he’s been there the entire runtime reliving his version of the narrative.

“There’s many ways to look at the movie,” Philips said. “He might not be Joker. This is just a version of a Joker origin. It’s just the version this guy is telling in this room at a mental institution. I don’t know that he’s the most reliable narrator in the world, you know what I’m saying?”

That “Joker” is “just the version [Arthur] is telling in this room at a mental institution” makes the ending scene a bit more concrete in terms of where it takes place in context of the film. While Phillips has long maintained that Phoenix’s Joker might not be the Batman nemesis comes book fans know and love, Phoenix disagrees. The Los Angeles Times reported in a Phoenix interview the actor personally believes Arthur is the real Joker. The actor added, ‘But I don’t know. It’s just my opinion.’”

Phoenix has picked up Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for his performance in “Joker.” The film is also nominated for Golden Globes in the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Score categories.

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.