There are a lot of questions worth asking about the events that we see in the film. Let's dive into what happens, and the variety of theories explaining what it could all mean. The snowball that is the ending begins to pick up speed when Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck gets a phone call from the Murray Franklin Show, the late night Tonight Show -style talk show hosted by Robert De Niro 's character. He's Arthur's idol, so even though Franklin had used video of Arthur's lack of comedic skill as a punchline on the show, he agrees to go on.
We watch Arthur rehearsing his appearance on the show. The man certainly has a plan.
That plan, based on what we see, is that Arthur expects to blow his brains out on national television. He's going to go out in a blaze of glory, seemingly so that his death will have more impact on the world than his life has to this point. Arthur arrives at the television studio for his appearance, in full clown face paint, where he's asked to be introduced as Joker. In the dressing room, the idea that Arthur will kill himself is teased once again. However, after Arthur is introduced on the show, and the moment he had been planning for comes, he ends up choosing not to go through with it.
Instead, he confesses on live TV to the murders he had committed earlier in the film, condemns the city and its people for the way it treats its less fortunate. When he finally does pull his gun on the stage, rather than turning it on himself, he shoots Murray Franklin in the head, killing him instantly. This, quite obviously, sends everything into a panic. The next time we see Arthur, he's in the back of a police car, laughing in his own unique way. The protests by people in Joker masks, protests that had already been going on, only grow in strength.
While Arthur had previously claimed there was nothing political in his clown look, he now embraces the chaos that he seemingly has, however inadvertently, brought about. The movie could have ended here, but instead, the police car transporting Arthur is broadsided by an ambulance. People wearing Joker masks get out of the ambulance and extricate Arthur from the back of the police car, laying him on the hood in a reverential way. We then cut to a Gotham City movie theater, showing a double feature, which includes a Zorro movie, which is a nice nod to Batman comic fans.
Thomas, Martha, and Bruce Wayne are exiting the theater. Because of the unrest on the street, the three retreat down an alley, and another bystander in a Joker mask sees them. He recognizes Thomas Wayne, and shoots both Thomas and his wife for being the rich people the protest is calling out. It's the classic Batman origin sequence , complete with a shower of pearls from Martha's necklace falling to the ground. Cutting back to Arthur, he regains consciousness and stands atop the police car.
The assembled rioters are cheering him on and Arthur accepts their accolades.
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In a final moment that seemingly completes his transformation, Arthur uses blood from his own mouth as extra face paint to give himself a larger, darker, "smile. We cut to black and the sound of Arthur laughing, but our story isn't quite over yet. We next see Arthur, in handcuffs and dressed all in white, in an all-white room. He is clearly in some sort of hospital. There's a doctor or therapist in the room with him.
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She asks what he thinks is so funny. He says she wouldn't get the joke. Finally, we see Arthur shuffling down a pristine white hallway, but with each step Arthur leaves red footprints on the floor behind him. In the film's closing moments we see Arthur running back and forth while the staff of the hospital give chase. The simplest way to explain Joker is, of course, a straightforward reading of everything that we've seen. There are some problems with doing that, but we'll get there. In this reading, Arthur's killing of three Wall Street bankers begins a grass roots movement against the wealthy in Gotham City, which is happening in the background while Arthur goes about trying to live his own life.
His video that shows him bombing at a comedy club goes viral, or what passes for it in this undated but clearly pre-internet age. This results in an appearance on a popular television show, where he kills the host, making him a leader in a movement to tear down the wealthy and privileged, which also inadvertently will create Batman, who will, we assume, rise up to fight him.
In this version of the ending, Arthur is apparently re-captured off-screen after "becoming Joker" and has been institutionalized. However, he's clearly still dangerous, as the blood that we see on Arthur's shoes could very well be that of the therapist he had just been speaking with. The problem with reading Joker in a straightforward fashion is Joker himself.
Arthur Fleck has already proven himself, long before the end of the movie, to be an unreliable narrator. There are two aspects that draw us to this conclusion in the film. First, early in the movie, we see Arthur envision himself as a part of the Murray Franklin television audience, where his idol Murray singles out Arthur for attention, giving him the adoration, and potentially the father figure, that Arthur so clearly wants. This sequence is all in Arthur's head and that's made clear, but at the same time, the sequence itself isn't filmed in any way to make it obvious that it's a fantasy.
The scene as we see it looks to be as real as anything else we see in the movie. Later, we see Arthur begin a relationship with a neighbor named Sophie, played by Zazie Beetz , She watches his performance at the comedy club and she sits with him at his mother's bedside after she has a stroke. The relationship struck me as odd as it was happening, and it turns out the reason for that is that it wasn't real.
Near the end of the movie, Arthur lets himself into Sophie's apartment and when she discovers him there, it's clear the two have no existing relationship.
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She recognizes him as her neighbor, but that's all, and she's terrified of him. The sequences with her and Arthur together are replayed for the audience to make it clear that Arthur was always alone in those moments. As such, since we now know things that presented as "real" in the film were not, we can't really trust anything that we see throughout the movie. With this knowledge, the final sequence of Arthur in the hospital takes on a very different tone.
Has everything prior to the cut to black and seeing Arthur in the hospital been part of Arthur's "joke? We don't see a similar cut to black in any other sequence of the film. There's a clear delineation between everything that came before and this final sequence. What's more, there's a reference early in the film when Arthur is speaking with a social worker about how he has been previously institutionalized. So why do false memories happen?
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Factors that can influence false memory include misinformation and misattribution of the original source of the information. Existing knowledge and other memories can also interfere with the formation of a new memory, causing the recollection of an event to be mistaken or entirely false. While we are all familiar with the fallibility of memory who hasn't forgotten an important bit of information , many people do not realize just how common false memory really is. People are remarkably susceptible to suggestion, which can create memories of events and things that didn't really happen to us.
Most of the time these false memories are fairly inconsequential - a memory that you brought the keys in the house and hung them up in the kitchen, when in reality you left them out in the car, for example.
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In other instances, false memories can have serious implications. Researchers have found that false memories are one of the leading causes of false convictions, usually through the false identification of a suspect or false recollections during police interrogations. Loftus's groundbreaking research has shown just how easily and readily false memories can form.
In one study, participants watched video of an automobile accident and were then asked some questions about what they saw in the film. Some participants were asked 'How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other? When the participants were given a memory test pertaining to the accident a week later, those who had been asked the 'smashed into' question were more likely to have a false memory of seeing broken glass in the film. Loftus has suggested that false memories form more readily when enough time has passed that the original memory has faded.
In eyewitness testimony for example, the length of time between the incident and being interviewed about the event plays a role in how suggestible people are to false memory. If interviewed immediately after an event, when the details are still vivid, people are less likely to be influenced by misinformation. If, however, an interview is delayed for a period of time, people are more likely to be affected by potential false information.
While it might be difficult for many people to believe, everyone has false memories. Our memories are generally not as reliable as we think and false memories can form quite easily, even among people who typically have very good memories. Ever wonder what your personality type means? Sign up to find out more in our Healthy Mind newsletter.
Brainerd, CJ. The Science of False Memory. New York: Oxford University Press; Johnson, MK. False Memories, Psychology of. Wright Ed. Loftus, EF. Creating False Memories. Scientific American. The Formation of False Memories. Psychiatric Annals. More in Theories. View All. Memory Mistakes Are Quite Common People often think of memory as something like a video recorder, accurately documenting and storing everything that happens with perfect accuracy and clarity. False memories are mental experiences that people believe are accurate representations of past events.