This post contains huge spoilers for Suicide Squad, don't read on if you don't want to know!
As Suicide Squad releases to a middling reception but massive box office success, one of the major furores of the whole business (well, for Jared Leto anyway) has been the reportedly huge amount of Joker scenes cut from the theatrical release.
Whilst there was a lot to look forward to about Suicide Squad, audiences were especially curious to see who dared step into the shoes of Joker after Heath Ledger's posthumous-Oscar winning performance in The Dark Knight. This was also the first time we were going to see Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Joker as major players in the same live action movie, another major draw for ticket sales.
One of the things that Suicide Squad did carry off pretty well was keeping the characters fairly close to their comic book counterparts — albeit with the notable exception of the 180 degree turn in motivation that takes place during the bar scene.
And even before the movie released, the marketing appeared to suggest that something else from the comics was going to be translated over into the movie — namely the love/hate romance between Harley Quinn and Deadshot/Floyd Lawton.
Harley and Deadshot, Sitting In A Tree?
In the New 52 Suicide Squad, Harley and Deadshot have what Waller refers to as a "little fling", beginning on their first mission together when they get hot and heavy in a bathroom, interrupted by a phone call from Waller.
Deadshot remains fairly aloof about the whole thing as it progresses, but at times we do get hints that he has genuine affection for the "crazy clown". Same goes for Harley: She weeps over Deadshot's grave following his death in Issue 13, before being confronted by the returned Joker, who taunts her about her "dead boyfriend" and attempts to desecrate his coffin.
And — though you sometimes have to squint a bit — there's a fair few hints towards there being something between Harley Quinn and Deadshot (Will Smith) peppered throughout the Suicide Squad movie. From the moment on the stairwell where Harley relives her "rebirth" and asks Deadshot if he's ever been in love, to him risking his own life by betraying Amanda Waller's (Viola Davis) order to shoot her when she escapes with Joker.
But, as we know by now, the movie ended with Harley and her beau running away into the sunset together in a glorious jailbreak. So why bother sowing the seeds of something blossoming between Harley and Deadshot? The deleted scenes could explain why.
The Deleted Joker Scenes
To Suicide Squad's credit, it presented a pretty interesting take on the relationship between Harley and Joker. Drawing heavily from Harley's New 52 origins, Suicide Squad does however cut out the majority of the abusive aspects of their relationship, and gives Doctor Harleen Quinzel more agency in the creation of her Harley Quinn persona.
But even though Suicide Squad capitalises and arguably improves upon the relationship between Harley Quinn and Joker from the comic books, it doesn’t provide much of an explanation for Harley's sudden change of heart towards the end. Especially when she rejects Enchantress's (Cara Delevingne) offer to "save" Joker in favor of saving her new friends instead.
Joker Tries To Kill Harley?
The content of the deleted Joker scenes could explain this, as they appear to present a much more abusive take on Harley and Joker's relationship. He hits her, threatens to shoot her and pushes her out of the helicopter to kill her after he rescues her.
This chimes again with the Suicide Squad/Death of the Family crossover, when Joker tries to kill Harley because he feels he has lost her affections to that of Deadshot and her friends in Task Force X. Amanda Waller believes that Joker does love Harley, craving her approval in his own twisted way, but realising that he's lost her to the Squad tips him over — the classic "if I can't have you, no-one can".
Back to Suicide Squad now. The fact that Joker attempted to kill Harley in this scene explains a lot about her somber moment in the rain. In the theatrical cut we assume she's sad because she thinks Joker is dead, but Harley removes and throws away her choker which reads "Puddin'". This action seems to chime better with her having been betrayed by her beloved, rather than having just watched him die.
Deadshot lifts her down off the roof of the police car as rain falls around them, appearing to see through her cheery act. If the context of this being Harley's realisation that Joker just tried to kill her had been kept in, the meaning of this scene would've appeared to push harder towards setting up a romance between Harley and Deadshot as she pulls away from Joker.
Another big one deleted scene which explains Harley's change of heart is an entire sequence cut which we saw a snippet of in the trailers. According to a report on Reddit from early screenings of the movie, the scene played out thusly:
Joker returns during the final battle in the subway station, face half-burnt from the helicopter crash, which apparently leads to a brief altercation with the Squad. He calls for Harley to escape with him but she refuses for once in order to help her friends, and the Joker escapes after throwing a live grenade at the group to cover his own escape.
This would've been the pivotal moment, when Harley chooses Task Force X (and, by extension, Deadshot) over Joker. But it was cut, and so her character development during the Enchantress scene seems odd.
How Does This Affect The Ending?
And then of course there's that twist ending, where Joker and his goons break into Belle Reve Penitentiary to free Harley Quinn, and she leaves happily with him. One could assume that this was part of the reshoots, done in order to reinforce the continuation of the Harley and Joker relationship, but it appears that it was always the plan to end the movie on this note.
We saw snippets of this scene in the Blitz trailer, with Harley sipping espresso in her cell, and Ayer says that the ending we get in the theatrical cut was intended to be the ending from day one, as he told Collider:
Collider: The movie ends with Joker and Harley getting away, was that always the intention, was that always the way it was in the script since day one?
Ayer: We shot that during the first week of photography.
Collider: Talk a little bit about writing that sequence and why you chose to end on that moment.
Ayer: I don’t want to give stuff away but it’s that anything is possible, and that’s the thing, for as much control and commend Amanda Waller has over these guys, at the end of the day they’re supervillains and they’re gonna do supervillain stuff. Plus, the Joker/Harley relationship just seemed like the right button for the movie, it opens so many doors if another one of these were ever to turn up under a rock somewhere.
So if this was always the plan, then why does it feel so out of place when we place it next to the deleted scenes? We have to wonder: Why the change of heart?
Was the specifics of Harley and Joker's relationship altered in post-production due to the negative reaction to the overly dark and gritty tone of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Or — as The Guardian speculates — do DC just have no idea how to deal with abuse victims, like Harley Quinn and Barbara Gordon?
It's a strange dynamic, likely all coming down to the slightly disjoined editing. As for the question of how Harley's relationships with Joker, Deadshot and her fellow Squad members progresses from here, we'll have to wait for Suicide Squad 2, or the the rumored Harley Quinn solo spin off to find out for sure.