The Top 5 Most Disturbing Scenes from ‘Joker’, Ranked

Any standalone movie about The Joker, one of the darkest, demented comic book villains of all time is bound to be a violent and grotesque viewing experience. After all, this is the comic book villain that killed a group of children with poisoned candy and drove morally-upright superheroes like Superman and Batman to do unspeakable things. So, it’s no wonder why Joker was the first live-action film in the Batman cinematic universe to receive a hard R rating for its brutal violence and gritty tone.

Director Todd Phillips’ Joker reveals the origin story of the crazed clown and how he became the universally-recognized antagonist we know today. Actor Joaquin Phoenix stars as Arthur Fleck, an aspiring stand-up comedian who works as a clown for hire. After a series of dehumanizing, violent events, Fleck devolves from a man who simply wanted to bring the world joy and laughter to a man who simply wants to watch the world burn.

Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix | Photo by Amy Sussman/WireImage

Joker is by no means an easy film to get through and is full of cringe-worthy, brutal moments that will make audiences with even the strongest of constitutions flinch. So, here are the top five most disturbing moments from Todd Phillips’ Joker.

*This article will contain disturbing subjects discussed in the film and spoilers for Joker.

5. The implications of what happened to Arthur’s neighbor, Sophie

Throughout Joker, Arthur seems to be longing for a sense of genuine companionship and human connection. At first, he seems to have found it after a brief exchange with his neighbor, Sophie. The two appear to hit it off and spark a romantic relationship. It isn’t until later in the film that a heartbreaking realization sets in: Arthur’s relationship with Sophie was entirely in his head.

He later breaks into Sophie’s home and mimics the finger gun gesture that Sophie made when they first met in their apartment’s elevator. Terrified and confused, Sophie begs for Arthur to leave, telling him that her young daughter is asleep in the next room. After a small eternity of silent stares between the two, Arthur eventually does leave the apartment. Police sirens can be heard in the distance and Sophie is never seen again, leaving the horror of the situation to the viewer’s imagination.

4. Arthur commits his first murder on the subway

At this point in Joker, Arthur has just about lost it all. His social worker has not been helpful or supportive in helping Arthur seek treatment for his mental illness(es). He was recently jumped and brutally attacked by a group of young men. Just about every character he has encountered, with the exception of his mother and Sophie, has been needlessly cruel to him. Finally, he was fired from his job after accidentally dropping his gun while performing in a children’s hospital. Needless to say, Arthur is quickly reaching his breaking point.

The final push toward insanity comes after Arthur, still wearing his clown costume, is attacked by three men on the subway. He uses the gun to shoot one of the assailants in an act of self-defense but then proceeds to methodically hunt down and brutally murder the other two men. Even though the sequence is bloody and disturbing, the worst is still yet to come.

3. Arthur’s post-homicide “happy dance”

After shooting down the three men on the subway, Arthur locks himself in a public bathroom and it quickly becomes clear that something within him has snapped. With a blank, empty gaze that can only be described as cathartic euphoria, Arthur slowly dances around the bathroom, reeling from the thrill of his actions. Arthur has tasted blood and experienced the thrill of the kill and there is no going back for him. At this moment, Arthur has stepped out of the light and into the shadow of The Joker he is irrevocably fated to become.

2. Arthur murders his mother

Throughout Joker, Arthur’s closest legitimate source of love and affection comes from his mother, Penny, played by Frances Conroy. Penny has Arthur convinced that his sole purpose is to spread joy and laughter into the dark world of Gotham City, a dream Arthur worked so hard to make into a reality.

Penny claims that Arthur’s real father is the extremely wealthy political candidate, Thomas Wayne. After doing some investigating, Arthur finds that Penny was actually a committed patient of the psychiatric ward of Arkham State Hospital and that she allowed Arthur to suffer unspeakable acts of abuse from his biological father.

Arthur visits his mother after she has a stroke and confronts her with this information, before smothering her to death. What makes this scene so chilling is Phoenix’s performance. As the audience, we don’t see Penny struggle or fight against Arthur’s force. Instead, the attention is focused solely on Arthur’s face expression. As he murders the woman he cared for and tenderly loved for many years of his life, Arthur is completely calm and without a visible ounce of hesitation or remorse.

In one agonizingly long sequence, Arthur murders the person he was closest to without so much as batting an eye, further demonstrating his descent into insanity.

Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix | Warner Bros.

1. Arthur’s acolytes celebrate his actions

Arthur’s continuous acts of violence have made him into a celebrity vigilante, igniting a riotous movement among the citizens of Gotham. His followers are seen wearing clown masks in public and causing all types of violent mayhem, including attacking two detectives who were pursuing Arthur.

In the film’s final act, Arthur shoots his longtime idol and television personality, Murray Franklin, played by Robert De Niro, after confessing to his many violent crimes on live television. As Arthur is driven away in the back of a police car, he admires the view of utter chaos and brutality his actions have incited. An ambulance crashes into the side of the police car, killing both of the officers. Arthur’s admirers rescue him from the crash and he awakens to find himself surrounded by hundreds of rioters.

As Arthur completes his transformation into The Joker to the sound of vigorous cheers and applause he waited his whole life to experience, he paints a gruesome grin on his face, running from ear to ear, using his own blood. Finally, Arthur Fleck has become The Joker we’ve recognized and feared since Batman emerged into mainstream culture.

Phillips’ Joker is full of deeply grotesque scenes that will continue to haunt you long after the end credits roll. Audiences debate whether or not the film glorifies violence and contributes to the stigma of mental illness. Writer and director Todd Phillips dismisses this argument, saying it’s “unfair” to connect Joker to real acts of violence.

The most disturbing aspect of Joker is the implication that without the proper medical treatment and support, what happened to Arthur could happen to just about anyone in actuality. Phillips’ Joker holds a broken mirror to the face of society and asks us to look long and hard at ourselves and our treatment of others to keep this chilling, grotesque tale of a man who violently snapped within the pages of a comic book.