Film Theory: Why Joker Is All A Lie

How Arthur tells us his Joker origin is no more than fantasy...

Joaquin Phoenix Joker
Warner Bros.

For a long time after Todd Phillips' Joker was announced, there was some concern that it didn't need to exist. Worse than that, actually, there was some fear that offering an origin story for the most mysterious, elusive character in comics history would be demystification too far.

After all, Heath Ledger's Joker had been a success precisely because he messed with us on the idea of where he came from and left everything unanswered. Surely offering the opposite of that would lead to the opposite results?

But what if Joker doesn't actually seek to tell a concrete story? What if I told you the Joker's story was no more than the lies of a warped mind? All of the evidence we need is right there in the film and there are seven key points to consider...

7. Arthur Gives The Game Away Immediately

Joker Debra Kane
Warner Bros.

Early on, when Arthur talks to his social worker, he tells her all we need to know about him and the story he's telling. In a candid confession, he explains that he spent a lot of his life not knowing whether he was real or not. In psychological terms, he's obviously talking about a disassociative condition, partly as a response to his past abuses and also partly because he's one of society's forgotten souls.

And as a reminder of that, we get specific moments later in the film where Arthur appears to be double-checking that he's not fantasising, particularly when he receives the phone call from Murray Franklin's show. When he's invited on, he touches his face, trying to make sure he is genuinely there and not dreaming. And there are other moments where he seems to have physical tics that help ground him and help him keep track on when he's experiencing reality - he bounces his leg excitedly, he smokes heavily... both don't seem to be part of the fantasy sequences - they're hints at when we can "believe" what we're seeing.

But then again, even trusting Arthur's own testimony about being untrustworthy is sort of difficult, because that's entirely the point. Because Arthur is an unreliable narrator inside an equally unreliable narrative that consciously seeks to be defiantly, unreasonably unreliable.


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