THERE MIGHT BE SPOILERS FOR JOKER (2019) IN THIS ARTICLE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
I went into the theater severely hyped after people I trust film-wise had said that this was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and being a trusting person I believed it. And would have to say that they were right. It was great. Mostly because it was a very serious problem discussed in a movie that would usually just be filled with pop culture references and the occasional cameo by some well known hero like Batman.
Now let me just say that this is connected to the Batman universe, but it is done in a very good way. Thomas Wayne is running for mayor of Gotham city and he is your typical political and business-minded personality devoid of any contact with the lower layers of society where this film is told from. Arthur Fleck is mentally disturbed, but kind and caring person who seems very concerned about his mother. He is told that he is placed on this Earth to put a smile on peoples’ faces and he tries that by working as a clown at an agency.
He is clearly not a powerful person, but he tries every day to make it. The dream of becoming a stand up comedian, something previous versions of The Joker has had as a back story, and appearing on The Murray Show, a copy of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, is central to what he thinks might bring him happiness.
When he gets assaulted at the start of the film, he gets a gun from one of the other clowns at the agency. He starts to carry the gun and he drops it while he is performing at a children’s hospital leading to him getting fired. He then gets assaulted again, this time on a subway train, and this causes the death of his tormentors. Especially the last of those deaths seems like the start of his arch towards becoming The Joker.
Arthur then runs into police and his mother gets hospitalized. Intertwined with an odd love story that seems almost too good to be true, pushes him further and further away from a path where he could save himself.
The typical maniacal laugh of The Joker is also very well explained through him having something which reminds me of Tourette’s syndrome, a syndrome that causes involuntary movement, ticks or utterances, in this case laughter.
The entire movie might be read in various ways. A friend of mine told me that he felt like it spoke to him on the level of him not getting help for his psychological problems. The therapist that Arthur goes to even says that the people at the top do not care about people like Fleck. Now if you think that means that it is because he is a man, that might be a valid thing of seeing it. I do not disagree with that interpretation.
What I read from it is how I have viewed The Joker in various iterations for some time now. It is what can happen to a person who both allows and becomes pushed too far in combination of a history of abuse and mental problems. “There by the grace of God go I” is a very good way of thinking about it.
There is also the idea of the twin cities in the DC Universe in Metropolis, the city of Superman, and Gotham, Batman’s hometown. Metropolis is the city on the hill, while Gotham is the city on the constant verge of collapse. Gotham is a corrupt entity where things have grown out of control. Too much wealth in too few hands if you want to look at it through the eyes of someone at the bottom. Too many bureaucrats that take a cut from criminals or billionaires, and here Joker is perfectly placed.
It tells the story of a city that is filled with the unfortunate and broken while a bunch of tone deaf politicians that do not hear that, and even call them clowns. There is no wonder why it will become the way it becomes. It is a powder keg and someone just needs to light the fire.
I wrote a thread about how I felt like The Joker has many different origin stories and that is perfectly reasonable for a character like that. He is the perfect version of male chaos, or more a male thrown into chaos, as chaos has been often been portrayed in mythology as feminine, and all these origin story is a warning to everyone that everyone can become The Joker. He is a very good archetype that warns us about the level of spite and bitterness we should allow in ourselves.
Joker is another very good and beautiful version of that archetype and a very good film for our time as we seem to be on the edge of chaos every day.
So put on a happy face…