*Major spoilers for Joker to follow*
Todd Phillips‘ Joker builds to an explosive conclusion that sees the beat-down Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix)—now rocking the full green hair and clown suit of the Joker—murdering talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) live on the air. It’s a shocking moment not just because of its sudden violence, but also because the lead-up to that scene suggested Arthur’s plan was to kill himself.
When Collider’s Steve Weintraub spoke to Phillips and Phoenix, the director confirmed that Arthur originally planned to take his own life but changed his mind in the moment to send a message.
“[I]t sends a message out there in a way, as fucked up as it is. If you watch the movie, you do get the feeling like..you get the feeling he is going to kill himself on TV, that that’s where it’s headed. And Arthur changes his mind in the moment. He was going to do that, if you ask me, and then he sort of changes his mind.”
What made Arthur change his mind? For Phoenix, it boiled down to the character’s need and desire for attention, preferably the biggest audience possible, even in death.
“It’s also that particular personality type. It’s somebody that is seeking recognition and all of these personality types are suicidal, and yet they want their death to mean something. He has that part in his journal, where he says that, “I hope my death makes more sense than my life.” So we’d remember talking early on about the sequence in which somebody wants to take their own life, but they want the biggest audience possible because in some ways they feel like that will fulfill the feeling that they need, this need for recognition.”
Phillips seconded the fact that Arthur is looking, mostly, for attention, pinning the violent crime on the character’s “narcissism.”
“We don’t really talk a lot about what Arthur’s symptoms are, we don’t want to speak like psychiatrists. I didn’t want even to tell him what we think Arthur has. The one thing we all had agreed on was Arthur has intense narcissism. Outside of that, his other mental conditions or what have you, we’re not really sure what he suffers from, but I’m just thinking about the narcissism of, he wants to kill himself but wants to do it in front of… you know like do this idea that it should mean something.”
For more on Joker, be on the lookout for Steve’s full interview with Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips soon. Until then, here’s our full review of the film and a look at whether Joker could be a game-changer for Warner Bros.’ DC Comics slate.