Joker definitely goes its own way with the depiction of the legendary Clown of Prince of Crime, right up to its explosive and unforgettable climax.
Now that everyone's had a chance to see the film, it's time to talk about what it all built to and how it all paid off.
Spoilers ahead for the entire film!
The whole of Joker is about the transformation of Arthur Fleck from downtrodden, beat-up loser to hero in his own mind, sometimes literally in his own mind.
The last time we see Arthur he's walking out of an interview room in Arkham State Hospital, fresh off the triumph of the night he shot Murray Franklin and became the figurehead of an entire riotous movement.
We see Arthur leave bloody footprints as he dances down the halls.
And then, we see an orderly chasing him down the corridors, suggesting a violent escape might be in order for the newly minted Clown Prince of Crime.
The film makes it clear several times that Arthur Fleck is a man who has no trouble losing himself in elaborate fantasies, but the question of what's fact or fantasy doesn't actually change the outcome for Arthur Fleck.
By the end of Joker, whether he's escaping to a new life of crime or caught in a delusion, it's clear that he's long since passed the point of no return.
One of the most important structural aspects of Joker is just how small Arthur's inner circle is.
He has his mother, of course, and he seemingly has friends at the clown company until they begin to turn on him.
But apart from them, the only major presence left is Sophie, his neighbor who we actually know less about than some parts of the film would have us believe.
In Arthur's mind, Sophie is his girlfriend, at least until she isn't.
In Sophie's mind, Arthur is just the slightly strange neighbor she and her daughter ride the elevator with sometimes.
When he walks into her apartment uninvited and we discover his fantasy life with her, she is clearly scared but also eager to defuse the situation.
So, what becomes of Sophie?
It's hard to say, but what's clear is that the police will soon be finding a brutally murdered body in Arthur's apartment, so they'll probably be knocking on her door to ask questions, at which point she'll discover just how lucky she was.
Throughout the film, as Arthur goes through his own deeply personal descent into violent, vengeful madness, a massive groundswell of support for him is building right under his nose.
Near the end of the film, Arthur promises Murray Franklin that he's apolitical.
He says that he has nothing to do with the protestors who've adopted clown masks in solidarity with the then-anonymous subway shooter, but he's clearly pleased by the idea that people have begun to idolize him in some way.
By the end of the film, Arthur has fully embraced the people who have become his followers, standing up among them as a leader for one triumphant moment before the film cuts to him in Arkham.
So whether Arthur stays in Arkham State Hospital or not, the Joker Gang will simply not calm down and go home.
They might dissipate, or relax their protests a bit and eventually fade out, but that doesn't just go away because the Joker is in jail.
He was simply the face they adopted for their own social unrest.
The gang is still out there, and they might still be causing vast amounts of chaos.
Arthur's explorations of his mother's true motives as she obsessively writes letters to Thomas Wayne take him on an emotional rollercoaster.
He initially only sees Wayne as his mother's former employer, then Penny confesses that Wayne is his father.
Thomas Wayne and his butler Alfred deny this, and Arthur later seemingly confirms their denials after stealing his mother's records from Arkham and confirming that he was adopted.
But is that the whole truth?
After he kills his mother, Arthur finds an old photo of her with an inscription on the back signed by "T.W."
So perhaps Thomas Wayne is not Arthur's father, but had an affair with Arthur's adoptive mother?
Or did it go down like Penny insisted?
The whole adoption story was a coverup for what really happened?
We can't say for sure, but that little inscription suggests that there's more to the story than those Arkham files had to offer.
Joker spends much of its runtime dodging potential comic book connections.
When those connections do kick in, though, they lead down a dark path, a chain reaction started by Arthur that ends in the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne.
One of the final images of the film is Bruce Wayne standing alone in that same alley, the bodies of his parents on either side of him.
It's an image that Arthur laughs at, and the film suggests that he'll hold onto that image going forward as Bruce Wayne grows up.
The big question that the film doesn't answer, though, is how seeing a clown shoot his parents will end up changing Bruce.
Batman is usually depicted as a guy who fights criminals in general, but this version of Bruce might end up having a very specific agenda on his hands when he's all grown up, one that would fundamentally alter the Dark Knight as we know him.
Very early on in Joker, when Arthur goes home to relax in front of the TV with his mother at the end of the day, we see the first traces of the fantasy life he leads as he imagines himself in the studio audience of Murray Franklin's show.
Later, the film shows us that this fantasy can go much, much deeper.
This is all important because it emphasizes just how lonely and unstable Arthur is.
It's also important because it forces us to contend with the possibility that at least some of what Arthur does during the film's climax didn't actually happen.
Was he really carried out of the cop car by his followers after the crash?
Did he really murder his therapist?
Does it go deeper?
Was he really in the asylum the whole time just imagining all of this?
Is that why the color of his clothes always matches Arkham's decor?
These are questions that encourage repeat viewing of the film, to see just how many details point to the reality or fantasy of each scenario.
Joker is, among many other things, the origin story for a villain, even if it's not the same version of the villain we're used to seeing on the comic book page or even on the big screen.
By the end of the film, Arthur Fleck is directly asking people to call him Joker, and drawing a big smile on his face in his own blood seems to seal the deal.
He's the Joker now.
"When you bring me out, can you introduce me as Joker?"
But there's also no mystery over the Joker's identity this time around.
So how can we reconcile him with the comic book version?
Well, the short answer is we don't have to, and the film doesn't really want us to.
But if you're really interested in digging that deep, there are a couple of possibilities.
One is that this is just another version of the many fake origin stories that Joker likes to throw around to confuse people.
The other is that Arthur Fleck is not the only "Joker," and that one day, perhaps when Bruce Wayne is all grown up, a mystery man will adopt the moniker with Arthur as the inspiration.
Then again, maybe it was all a dream.
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