Joker: A Reflective Character Study of Our Culture in 2019 (Spoiler alert)

Arthur Fleck

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You know the story.  You know the character.  You know the mythos behind him and all that he has spurned. From the legendary performance of Jack Nicholson, to the beloved and extremely well done take of Joker by the late Heath Ledger, The Joker has emblazoned himself in the annals of our imagination. Now, Joaquin Phoenix dons the face paint and does a chilling job, but also serves as a chilling backdrop to our society as well.

It does set the commentary of our day as well in terms of socio-cultural rhetoric

The movie begins with Arthur Fleck, a broken man who you know from the get go is not all there. He works in a party favor store for hire as a clown, but he is mentally unstable and we see it. Fraught with a condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably in situations, it’s what gets him into trouble, earning him snide comments; he even gets beaten up because of it.  Throughout the movie you see in chilling detail the mental state of this man.

Delusion, broken mental faculties, and borderline schizophrenic tendencies with suicidal thoughts all converge in Arthur’s head, and the disposition of Gotham City takes its toll on him. Arthur bides his time taking care of his mother, until situations come up where we find Arthur’s past is not what it seems, the blame seemingly lying at the feet of those closest to him. Arthur ultimately tumbles into nothingness and turns into the force of nature we know and love today.

The Beginnings of the Myth

Many have stated this movie exists outside of the current DCEU, but that it does not take away from the beloved myth that spawned comicdom’s greatest detective, Batman. Yes, this movie is, in fact, the origin story of The Joker, Batman’s arch nemesis and perhaps his counterfoil. But it comes at it from a position of confusion and mental disassociation.

It serves as a character study on chaos. This movie is a veritable treasure trove of tidbits for students intent on psychiatry, as Arthur is definitely someone worth diagnosing. We can see, however, that Arthur is simply the spark of cultural revolution and the downward spiral of a city that just needed that spark to ignite the keg.

Parallel Convergences

But perhaps the most chilling thing this movie depicts is just how insane a commentary it provides on our day.  What kicks this off is the notion that Gotham City is a city of economic disparity; that the rich need to pay for the ills of those less fortunate, as most of the movie dictates that it is in fact the rich who take.  This conclusion finally became the central theme when Joker ends up killing three young executives from Wall Street, the pinnacle of financial success, in a subway.

These guys were depicted as drunk, belligerent good for nothings, and so deserved to be murdered as part of a small answer to the big problem of disparity. The movie continues forward to the climax of the film where we see a city in chaos. In the eye of the storm stands Arthur, who just committed another heinous crime with no remorse, and the city breaks down. It is here we also see the origin story converge with this one, delivered in the R-rated fashion this movie is showing.

It is in fact a rated R movie but only in the best way; chilling, depth of character, and violent; very violent. Gotham basically burns because of the Joker’s act, but it became the forge that lit the flame of justice in a young Bruce Wayne; you all know THAT story. But the parallel that is most shocking is the one that exists alongside the movie in terms of how we are existing today. So many people today talk about disparities, from pseudo-intellectual professors to politicians.

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Joker: the Symbol of Revolution

The rich are demonized while being poor is championed as a bastion of moral dignity; because of this disparity, it is the billionaires that need to pay. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even went on to state that perhaps aspiring to billionaire status should not be desirable. Yet in the movie, the downtrodden denizens of Gotham were so broken because of the rich that they went all Ferguson after Michael Brown was killed. Essentially, the symbol of Gotham’s revolution was the Joker.

Some people in the movie also equated the rich Thomas Wayne and those like him with fascists. Where have we heard that before? It is as if the producers of the movie wanted to make a statement against the rich, but in turn provided a social commentary more so about how the Left operates.  Granted, that might be a stretch, but it does serve to prove that Thomas Wayne and Wayne Enterprises (and those like him) desired to help the city amidst the turmoil.

He ultimately meets a gruesome end and dies hearing this chilling statement, “Hey Wayne, you get what you f***in’ deserve!” He leaves a young Bruce standing there, and we know the rest. But what if that were to happen for real? A person crazy enough to start a fire that has no point except to watch the world burn. We see this kind of behavior in ANTIFA. No rhyme, no reason, just anything remotely right of center that stands against their ideology, and they go on an offensive that turns into a riot.

Verdict: A Harrowingly Chilling Take Worth Watching

Ultimately, this is a movie that plays out the origin story of the Joker in a very well done fashion.  Joaquin Phoenix does a fantastic job of portraying the mental breakdown to the point where he has become the force of nature we know the character is today. Oscar worthy, some are saying? Probably not because the enemy of this movie will be comparison. Too much weight is placed on the Heath Ledger portrayal that there may not be another Joker that compares. 

Joaquin does a better job than Jared Leto for sure, and Joaquin does attempt to harness the Mark Hamil tone of the villian. But this movie also melds into it the cartoonish characteristic of Jack Nicholson’s Joker, while incorporating the dark moody vibes of a Christopher Nolan Batman Begins tone in terms of cinematography. It is perfectly set in the early 70s. Overall, nicely done and well portrayed for an iconic character. It does set the commentary of our day as well in terms of socio-cultural rhetoric. One worth thinking about.

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