How did you feel about Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck in Joker? Did you feel sad for him? Creeped out? Grossed out? Whatever you felt, your opinion might change when you learn about how a deleted scene that didn’t make the movie.
Minor spoilers for Joker ahead.
In Joker, directed by Todd Phillips, the origin story of Gotham City’s notorious villain is explored through the dark journey of a failed comedian, Arthur Fleck. While Arthur struggles in his job as a clown-for-hire, he falls in love with a pretty neighbor, a single mother named Sophie (Zazie Beetz).
One of Joker’s big twist occurs when Arthur’s “dates” Sophie only to find out that those flirty conversations and their eventual hookup were completely in his imagination. When Arthur has transformed into the Joker and “visits” Sophie (read: breaks into her apartment), Sophie is terrified. She barely knows Arthur and only recognizes him as some guy who lives down the hall.
Sophie’s time in the movie ends when Arthur her. The movie then cuts to Arthur in the hallway, on his way to appear on The Murray Franklin Show. Because of the tricky way visual storytelling and editing works, the ambiguity of what Arthur did to Sophie makes us fill in the blanks. And with a story like Joker, we might fill in very, very dark things.
Now, in a video interview with IndieWire shared on Monday, director Todd Phillips confirms that a deleted scene made it clear just what happened to Sophie after Arthur’s break-in. While the final cut of the movie gives viewers room to think that Arthur killed her, a deleted scene had Sophie watching her creep neighbor on TV, where he shoots Murray Franklin (Robert de Niro) live on the air.
“He doesn’t kill her, definitively,” Phillips said. “As the filmmaker and the writer I am saying he doesn’t kill her.”
He further explains that the scene is a “litmus test” for the audience to ask themselves questions about Arthur. “We like the idea that it’s almost like a litmus test for the audience to say, ‘How crazy is he?’ Most people that I’ve spoken to think he didn’t kill her because they understand the idea that he only kills people that did him wrong. She had nothing to do with it. Most people understood that, even as a villain, he was living by a certain code.”
He added, “Of course he didn’t kill this woman down the hall.”
As director, Phillips has more authority over the narrative of his film than anyone else. So if he says Arthur didn’t kill Sophie, that should be that.
But there’s the rub: The final cut of the movie, the one that omits the extra scene of Sophie and will continue to play in theaters, Blu-ray, and streaming platforms, still leaves it open to think Arthur killed his next door crush. It is, to put it bluntly, open to a very specific interpretation.
Perhaps a better question to ask than Did Joker kill Sophie? is to ask, Does knowing about a deleted scene change Arthur? Now that you know Arthur didn’t kill Sophie, does that change your view of Arthur? Is he less “evil” because he let Sophie live? Or is he just as terrible? These are all good questions to ask, and probably go way beyond whatever Todd Phillips had in mind when he was making Joker in the first place.
Joker is now playing in theaters.