Throughout Joker, director Todd Phillips toys with moviegoers, making it unclear what is and isn’t real. Of course, the film follows the mentally ill Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), whose perspective is decidedly less than trustworthy. Accordingly, the film goes to great lengths to retain an air of mystery.
In promoting the film, Phillips has said that he doesn’t plan to release any deleted scenes. This is, in large part, because he doesn’t want to tarnish the story he has created with further clarification. But one of Joker‘s biggest questions may have just been solved.
Spoilers for Joker ahead!
Arthur and Sophie’s love story
Early in the film, we meet Sophie (Zazie Beetz), a single mother who lives down the hall in Arthur’s building. He attempts to make her laugh early on and ultimately works up the courage to pursue a relationship with her. After that point, we see Sophie serving as really the only emotional support Arthur has.
Sophie comes to Arthur’s ill-fated standup routine. She joins Arthur at his mother’s bedside during her hospital stay. Generally, she demonstrates how much she cares for Arthur every step of the way. There’s only one little problem with their relationship, aside from Arthur’s murderous, tenuous grasp on his own sanity.
How does the romance in ‘Joker’ end?
The entire relationship is entirely in Arthur’s head. In reality, he and Sophie barely know each other. He’s been completely alone this entire time, which fuels his descent into madness.
After murdering his mother, Arthur shows up in Sophie’s apartment. Startled, she asks him what he’s doing there, if he needs her to call anyone. Then the scene cuts away to Arthur leaving the building, and we don’t see Sophie or her child again.
This has led some moviegoers to speculate that Arthur murdered Sophie — and perhaps her child — off-screen. Joker cinematographer Lawrence Sher recently spoke to Slashfilm about this very topic.
Some people have asked me, “Was she killed?” Todd (Phillips) makes it clear she wasn’t killed. Arthur is killing people who’ve wronged him in a certain way, and Sophie never wronged him. In terms of what we did visually to play with the real and not real, there are callbacks and scenes that mirror each other. We leave hints using imagery or the way we covered scenes similarly between scenes. Outside of that, I like that people can have the conversation and come to their own conclusions.
Sher’s insight regarding how the film visually implies what is real and isn’t provides a new lens fans can use to interpret the film. Moreover, his logic about why Arthur wouldn’t harm Sophie does match up with his interactions with Randall. Of course, this only applies if Arthur doesn’t see Sophie’s perceived lapse in affection toward him as some kind of betrayal.
Could Sophie return in ‘Joker 2’?
That all being said, Sophie may be alive. If that’s truly the case, Phillips may have an opportunity to revisit this plot thread. After all, rumors are already swirling that Joker 2 is in early development.
As is the nature of a sequel, this next story would be less abstract than its predecessor. The sequel would have to literalize Joker’s rise to power to some degree. Since he’s come so far, it might be worthwhile to revisit the woman Arthur cared for prior to completing his transformation.
If Sophie does cross paths with the Joker, perhaps he’ll show her mercy. Or maybe Joker 2 will live up to the devastating violence merely hinted at in the first film. For now, fans will have to discuss among themselves what they think really happened.