Here are our biggest unanswered questions about Joker. Director Todd Phillips delivered what he promised, a standalone origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime that is an intense character study inspired by the classic films of Martin Scorsese. Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix, who gives an awe-inspiring performance as Arthur Fleck, a mentally disturbed would-be stand-up comedian who becomes the titular killer clown.
Joker takes place in the Gotham City of the early 1980s, which is a metropolis gripped in crime, poverty, unemployment, and desperation. As Fleck ekes out a tragic living as a clown-for-hire, his elderly mother Penny (Frances Conroy) dreams that her former employer, billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), will save her and Arthur from their squalor. However, Penny kept her belief that Wayne is Arthur's father a secret from him, which is one of the breaking points that leads Arthur to become the Joker. Another is the constant victimization and abuse Arthur endures because of the neurological condition he suffers from that causes him to laugh hysterically at inopportune moments; this led to Arthur being assaulted on a subway train and Fleck murdering his attackers in retaliation - an act of violence that sparks riots in Gotham where the 'Clown Vigilante' is held up as a hero to the poor and disenfranchised people of the city. The final straw that turns Arthur into the Joker is when he's mocked on television by his idol, late-night host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), which sets Joker off on a path of bloody vengeance.
Set in its own unique version of the DC Universe, Joker not only graphically depicts Arthur Fleck's transformation into the murderous clown but it also sets young Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson) on the path to becoming Batman by showing how Thomas and Martha Wayne (Carrie Louise Putrello) died in this reality. As tidy (and deeply disturbing) a creation myth as Joker is, however, the controversial film does leave a number of lingering questions, especially in regards to the intriguing potential for fans to see more of Joaquin Phoenix's version of the Clown Prince of Crime. Here are the major questions Joker has left us pondering.
11. What Year Is Joker Set In?
It isn't explicitly stated but going by contextual clues in the film, Joker is set in 1981. Joker's Gotham City is clearly inspired by the New York City of that era, which was in the grip of urban decay. Further, Joker is modeled after the 1970s and 1980s works of Martin Scorsese, especially Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.
The best way to deduce that Joker happens in '81 is to pay attention to the film titles on the marquee as the Wayne family exits a movie theater at the climax of the film. The two movies billed are Blow Out and Zorro the Gay Blade; additionally, as the Waynes enter the fateful alley where Thomas and Martha are murdered, they pass a poster for Excalibur. All of those films were released in the same year - 1981 - the exact year Joker takes place in.
10. Did Thomas Wayne Have An Affair With Penny Fleck?
The issue of whether Thomas Wayne is Arthur Fleck's father is one of the major causes that turn Arthur into the murderous Joker. According to Arthur's mother Penny, she had an affair with Thomas when she was a maid at Wayne Manor 30 years ago and Arthur is his illegitimate child. Thomas angrily and violently disputed this when Arthur confronted him at Wayne Hall; according to the Wayne patriarch, Penny was "delusional" and was ultimately committed to Arkham State Hospital. Thomas' account is also backed by his butler Alfred Pennyworth (Douglas Hodge). When Arthur stole Penny's Arkham files, he learned that she was indeed a patient there and that Arthur was adopted; his mother lied to him all his life, which led Arthur to take revenge on her.
However, was Thomas Wayne lying about any part of his story? It's possible; in person, Wayne isn't quite Gotham's white knight, despite his public persona as a billionaire philanthropist and Mayoral candidate. While it's likely Penny Fleck really was a delusional woman who remained fixated on Thomas for three decades, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Thomas could have had an affair with his maid (whether it was before or after he was married to Martha). It's also clear that if he did, Thomas has the financial resources and influence to cover up any indiscretions and have Penny Fleck sent to Arkham. Unfortunately, Thomas and Penny take the real truth with them to their graves.
9. How Did Gotham Deal With The Super Rats?
Gotham City is falling apart in Joker and when the film begins, the TV news announces the decaying metropolis' newest plague: "super rats", which have infected Gotham's sewers. However, the super rats infestation isn't something the movie follows up with and it gets forgotten as the focus locks in on Arthur Fleck's psychotic breakdown. So, what happened to the super rats? Did the city manage to exterminate them? Additionally, the existence of super rats in Gotham seems like Joker's clever nod to an obscure Batman villain, the Ratcatcher, who movie audiences will soon meet since the villain (who will be gender-swapped into a woman) is part of James Gunn's The Suicide Squad roster.
8. Is Jim Gordon Already A Cop In Joker's Gotham?
James Gordon, one of the most prominent characters in Gotham City, is, surprisingly, not mentioned at all in Joker. This begs the question: In Joker's universe, is Gordon already a police officer in Gotham City? Most fans likely best recall that in Batman Begins, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) was the uniformed officer who was on the scene to comfort Bruce Wayne after his parents were murdered. Fans of the Gotham TV series also know Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as one of the only good cops in the city during Bruce's teenage years.
However, various Batman comics offer conflicting versions of whether Commissioner Gordon was already in Gotham during the Wayne murders. In Batman Year One, for example, Gordon was a new arrival in Gotham when Bruce Wayne became Batman. In this film, Jim Gordon could have easily been one of the detectives investigating Arthur Fleck but Joker went with two original characters instead, so Gordon's absence from Joker leaves his whereabouts completely up in the air.
7. How Did Arthur Not Know His Standup Act Was Being Filmed?
One of the inciting incidents that broke Arthur Fleck mentally was when his hero, Murray Franklin, played clips of Fleck's standup comedy and mocked him on television. However, Joker takes place decades before every person has a smartphone and records everything to post on YouTube; video cameras in the early 1980s were bulky affairs so how would Arthur not have realized someone was in the nightclub shooting his performance? The easy answer is that Arthur was in the grip of one of his delusional fantasies during his act, believing that his stand-up was killing it with the audience and that his "girlfriend" Sophie (Zazie Beetz) was in the crowd. Hence, Arthur never realized that he was being filmed and he was genuinely shocked and hurt when he was ridiculed by his idol.
6. Did Joker Kill Sophie And Her Daughter?
One of Joker's mind-bending twists is that whole sections of the movie are manifestations of Arthur Fleck's delusions - such has his entire relationship with his next-door neighbor Sophie. Beginning when Sophie knocks on Arthur's door and is flattered when he confessed he was following her to their date after his stand-up act, Arthur and Sophie's little romance was the only heartwarming part of Joker - but none of it was real. What was real was that after Arthur murdered his mother, he broke into Sophie's apartment, frightening her. She reminded Arthur that her young daughter was sleeping in their bedroom and the film reveals that Sophie and Arthur, in fact, barely know each other.
Arthur is next seen exiting Sophie's apartment but it's never made clear whether he murdered Sophie or not. A contextual clue that maybe he didn't is later, Fleck didn't murder Gary (Leigh Gill) because the little person was the only clown at his workplace who was nice to him. Did Sophie, who was at best cordial and smiled at Arthur in the elevator, also escape death for being "nice" to him? The movie doesn't say. But maybe, if she lived, Sophie called the police about Arthur, which could be another reason why Detectives Garrity (Bill Camp) and Burke (Shea Whigham) returned to Arthur's apartment building to talk to him again.
5. Why Did Thomas And Martha Wayne Take Bruce To Zorro The Gay Blade?
Canonically, in Batman comics, the movie that the Waynes watched right before Thomas and Martha are murdered in Crime Alley is The Mark of Zorro. Since it's set in 1981, Joker's bizarre twist is that the elder Waynes died after watching the Zorro movie that happened to be released that year: Zorro the Gay Blade. In this weird, comedic take on Zorro, George Hamilton plays the dual roles of Don Diego Vega (who is secretly Zorro) and his flamboyantly gay twin brother Ramón Vega, who also goes by the name Bunny Wigglesworth. When Diego is injured, Ramón/Bunny assumes the mantle of Zorro but with some changes, like using a whip instead of a sword and wearing different, garishly colored Zorro costumes.
It all begs the question of why Thomas and Martha took Bruce, who was a pre-teen, to see Zorro the Gay Blade in the first place? The questionable content of the film aside, Zorro the Gay Blade was, surprisingly, rated PG and it was a comedy. Regardless, as a Zorro movie, little Bruce would have probably wanted to see it. Meanwhile, the other movies playing at that theater, Blow Out and Excalibur, are rated R and not appropriate for young Bruce Wayne.
4. Does Bruce Eventually Become Batman?
Joker is a standalone character study of the Clown Prince of Crime and Todd Phillips' film is not connected to any past or future Batman movie, but Joker does set up the origin of Batman. The murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne are depicted for the fourth time in a movie but because Joker is Arthur Fleck's story, the audience is left to assume the events of this universe unfold as they should and that about fifteen years later, Bruce Wayne becomes Batman. However, while the Dark Knight's rise in the future is probably set in stone, Joker is unique enough that fans will understandably wonder what other deviations to Batman's legend would manifest in this universe.
3. Is Arthur Fleck The "Real" Joker Or Does He Inspire The Real Joker?
An intriguing possibility that Joker leaves open-ended is whether Arthur Fleck is going to be the Joker who faces Batman in the future - or did he instead inspire someone else to become the Joker (a scenario similar to what played out in the Gotham TV series)? The glaring issue is simply the age difference between Fleck and Bruce Wayne; it's never made explicit how old Arthur is in Joker (Joaquin Phoenix is 44) but he's significantly older than Bruce Wayne so, in 15-20 years, how could Arthur be the nemesis of Batman? (Although, in Batman 1989, Jack Nicholson was 52 when his Joker faced off against Batman played by Michael Keaton, who was 38).
Still, it's possible that instead, the clown vigilante riots at the end of Joker left a permanent scar on the psyche of many Gotham citizens so that, when Batman appears many years later, someone else (possibly even the man in the clown mask who shot the Waynes) assumes the identity of the Joker. Unless there's a sequel that provides an answer, anything is possible in this version of the DC Universe.
2. Was The Entire Joker Movie One Big Delusion?
Joker's shocking ending posits what could be the biggest joke of all on audiences: some fans theorize that the entire movie was Arthur Fleck's massive delusion and the only scene that is 'real' is the ending interrogation of Fleck by an Arkham psychiatrist (April Grace) - whom he then murders because he's loose and leaving bloody footprints in the hallway before a security guard chases him. Before the doctor was killed, she asks him what he's laughing about and Arthur alludes to "a joke" - is Arthur amused because everything the audience saw in the film was a depraved fantasy?
If - and it's a still a big if - the events in Joker surrounding Arthur's disturbing origin really were just a joke, that does open up some intriguing possibilities: including the potential that the final scene of Joker is actually happening in the present day, which would open the door for Joaquin Phoenix's murder clown to possibly meet Batman (Robert Pattinson) sometime in the future. However, this is just a theory and, unless DC Films announces otherwise, it's safest to just regard Joker as exactly what it purports to be - an origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime that stands apart in its own universe.
1. Will There Be A Joker Sequel?
Joker has already proven to be a massive hit by opening at number one at the box office with a $93 million debut weekend, setting a new October record. Currently, director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix stand by their intention to make Joker a one-off and there is no sequel planned by Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Films. However, money talks loudest of all in Hollywood and with a hit as big as Joker, it's not unreasonable to think a sequel will eventually be made. After all, Phillips made two sequels to The Hangover and, with Joker's popularity (despite its controversy), fans outcry may demand to see more of Joaquin Phoenix's Joker, whether it's in Joker 2 or in a proper Batman movie, regardless of continuity. But, ultimately, time will tell.