One of the strangest scenes that fans have been wondering about in Joker is the moment when Arthur Fleck climbs inside his fridge and shuts the door. The DC stand-alone film tells an original origin story to the infamous Batman villain, which goes deep into social commentary about the treatment of the mentally ill. With much of the film left to open to interpretation, there are plenty of questions that fans are left to figure out for themselves.
A significant turning point in Joker has to do with his relationship with the significant political candidate, Thomas Wayne. When Arthur and his mother spend end their night in front of the television, his mother is adamant that Thomas Wayne is going to provide for them. Her obsession with Thomas becomes more revealing after Arthur discovers some letters his mother has been sending to him, in which she refers to Arthur as “your son.” All his life, Arthur has never known the identity of his father, and and now he learns that he’s the most wealthy and influential figure in Gotham.
After a failed attempt to see Thomas at the Wayne mansion, Arthur sneaks into a stage performance where his “father” is enjoying the show with Martha Wayne. Arthur follows Thomas into the bathroom and confronts him about their connection to each other. Expecting a more positive and welcoming response, Arthur is ridiculed by Thomas after being told that his mother is delusional and made her secret affair with Thomas up. Their encounter ends with Arthur getting punched in the face as Thomas storms out in disgust.
Immediately following the sight of Arthur leaning on the sink in the theater’s elegant bathroom is a hard cut to Arthur alone leaning on the sink in his dark apartment. Arthur proceeds to rip all the food and shelves out of his fridge and shut himself inside. Looking at the scene on its own, this action comes across as random and pointless. However, this moment is the crucial low point in Arthur’s descent into madness. With all the abuse on stage at the comedy club and feeling the rejection from society, Arthur’s dismissal from Thomas is the moment where he wants to give up altogether.
The fridge moment wasn’t actually in the script for Joker, but was improvised on set by Phoenix. Speaking to CinemaBlend, cinematographer Lawrence Sher explained that certain scenes in the movie “had no plan at all,” and were instead set up to allow Phoenix to experiment. “When he climbed in the refrigerator, we had no idea he was going to do that,” Sher recalled. “We set up two camera positions, and Joaquin just thought about what he would do if he was a massive insomniac.”
Arthur isolating himself in his fridge can be interpreted in different ways. The least disturbing implication is that Arthur simply wants to hide away from the world that keeps rejecting him. Hiding in a small, confined space can be comforting for Arthur compared to be surrounded by the open world full of people. The more disturbing interpretation is that Arthur actually intended to kill himself through suffocation or hypothermia. With all the rejection he has faced, between losing his job and having Thomas Wayne ridicule his heritage, Arthur might have been ready to end his life. It’s not until he receives the phone call from Murray’s show inviting him on that he gains the will to live again, and goes down his violent path.