Joaquin Phoenix, Robert de Niro
Directed By: Todd Phillips
: 9/10, Rotten Tomatoes
Yeah, I have to admit that the Batman universe is pretty dark, so when we come to the origin of one of his most famous adversaries, then we are no doubt going to be delving into a world where no person should really ever think of going. Mind you, I’m not entirely sure if you can truly consider this to be an origin story, and if you have seen this movie you will probably know what I am talking about. However, I should warn you that if you haven’t seen the film, then this post is certainly going to contain quite a lot of spoilers, and it would be best to actually go and see the film before considering continuing. If you do continue, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.
Anyway, here is the preview that you have no doubt seen:
Where Are We Going?
Well, let us start off with a bit of a synopsis, not that it will do any good. In fact, when I read the Wikipedia synopsis I couldn’t help but think that it was way off. Then again, I suspect that whoever wrote it probably didn’t understand what was going on, or simply had their own view of it. Mind you, since Wikipedia is constantly changing, it is actually difficult to make any such claims, though I can refer you to the version that I read
, as opposed to the version that you will see now
Anyway, the film begins with Arthur standing outside a shop waving a sign when he is accosted by a gang of youths, who then proceed to beat him up in an alley (honestly, why do people insist on walking into alleys?). Well, we then return to his place of employment where he is disciplined for losing the sign, and one of his colleagues also gives him a gun. He then returns home where we learn that he is living with his mother.
Look, I could continue, but the thing is that this is a pretty complex film, with quite a lot going on, and to describe everything of importance probably will take up the entire blog. However, to cut a long story somewhat shorter, I’ll simply mention that he has this desire to become a comedian but simply doesn’t seem to have the nounce to be able to pull it off. Except, he is invited onto a talk show by the host Murray Franklin, who he then proceeds to kill.
Mind you, I probably should also mention that he was previously on a subway when he is assailed by three guys in suits. Well, he happens to have his gun on him, so he shoots two of them, and as the third attempts to escape, he shoots him as well. Mind you, we then hear that these guys were fine upstanding citizens and that they were killed in cold blood.
I’ll also mention his mother, who, like Arthur, seems to be suffering from mental illness. The thing is that she is convinced that she had an affair with Thomas Wayne and that Arthur is the child. However, the evidence seems to be pointing in the direction that she is delusional and that Arthur was actually adopted – which doesn’t quite add up, and I’ll explain that later.
So, the film ends, with Arthur in a cop car, having been arrested for killing Murray Franklin live on television. As they are driving to the station, the car is t-boned by a truck, and Arthur is pulled out of the car and placed on the hood, where he then stands up to the shouts of adoring fans. But it doesn’t end here, because we then cut to an asylum where Arthur is locked up, and the film ends here.
The Saintly Rich
Let us start off with this concept. This is something that the film completely turns on its head, and completely undermines the story we are told in the previous iterations of Batman. Except there is one problem – we never actually get to know Thomas Wayne. Sure, we know that he is Batman’s father and that he is brutally murdered after they wander down an alleyway after watching a film. Well, the interesting thing is that we never actually get to know Thomas Wayne – his death takes on a mythical quality, and he is in away elevated as a saint. This film does otherwise.
The thing is that we get to see a completely different side of Thomas Wayne if the events in the theatre are anything to go by. It is clear that he is a self-severing individual that really shouldn’t be adored in the way that he is adored down the track. Yet, the reality is that nobody actually gets to see this side of him. You know, it is like many people at the upper echelon’s of society – they are so cut off from the people below that they really don’t understand the struggles they face. Well, it actually goes one step further, in that they create stories about them, and then proceed to blame them for being in the situation that they are – the thing is that if they made it, then others can as well
This is clearly demonstrated with the three brokers (or whatever they are) who are killed on the subway. We know what they are like, and we know that they are brutes. Like, they start off assaulting a woman, and upon discovering Arthur Fleck, and discover that he is, well, not quite normal, they decide to start picking on him instead. Yet, interestingly, none of this is mentioned after they are killed. Well, one could say that there were no witnesses, except there was – the woman – she knew exactly what was going on.
Still, even if she did come forward and actually reveal the truth about their characters, I highly doubt that this would be broadcast – it just does not fit with the narritive, and that is that these people are the good guys, and the person who murdered him didn’t do it in self-defence – why would he, they are upstanding members of society – but rather he did it in cold blood.
Of course, if the riots are anything to go by, and the fact that the rioters are all dressed up as clowns, it is pretty clear that not everybody buys this story, and there is a suggestion that these people actually believe that they got what they deserve.
Lighting the Gas
In some of the commentaries that I have read the concept of gaslighting seems to regularly come up. Yeah, this film seems to be replete with examples of people being gaslighted. Look, I referred to a couple of incidents above, namely with Thomas Wayne, and with the three murdered brokers. The media is constructing a narrative, and in a way hiding the reality of what is going on. In a way, they are reconstructing all of the historical events.
The Wikipedia definition of gaslighting is as follows:
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation
in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual
or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own
memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.
However, this is actually where the genius of the film comes about, because halfway through we are thrown into complete doubt as to what is real and what is not. I’ll go into further detail of that later, but the thing is that we are lead to believe that he was in a relationship with this woman, but it turns out that it was all in his head. This means that there are a lot of things that we don’t know.
For instance, there is this thing about the gun. Arthur is given a gun by a colleague for protection, and then when he is entertaining kids at a hospital, it falls out onto the ground. Obviously, he is immediately given the sack, however, while he is talking to his boss, we are told that he actually approached this colleague asking for the gun – so, what version is the truth – was his given the gun, or not?
Well, I suspect that it was the first option, namely because it becomes evident that nobody really likes Arthur – he is just too strange. So, they are going to make any old excuse to try and get rid of him. The thing is that people simply don’t believe anything Arthur says, and they know that if they lie, then they are going to be believed. In a way, what we are seeing is that Arthur is perpetually being gaslit, because he is different, and in doing so they are driving him further into insantiy, to a point that they know that they can say, and do, what they like with him, knowing full well that nobody is going to believe him.
So, what about Penny Fleck. We are told one thing, and then another. Did she sleep with Thomas Wayne or not. Well, everything points to the fact that she is delusional, including the contents of her psychiatric report. Yet, there are a couple of things that don’t add up – first of all, there is the photo that suggests maybe she was telling the truth, and then there is the huge question mark over whether she would have been eligible for adopting somebody. If she had a history of mental illness, I’m not sure if the adoption agency would have let it through.
Of course, there if also the third bit of evidence, and that is that Thomas Wayne is a fine, upstanding, member of society – he is going to be believed over some employee. In fact, he knows that, which is why he can get away with it. Of course, he is going to deny everything – he doesn’t want to have a paternity suit come his way. Yet, what about the psyche file – is it at all possible that he has enough power and influence to change it – quite possibly, especially if he has psychiatrists in his employ. In fact, having worked in personal injury, it is quite easy to get a psychiatrist to commit somebody if you are willing to pay the money, and we do know that there is an awful lot of corruption out there.
Another this that stands out is the whole ‘I actually like you, despite nobody else doing so’. We see this a few times in the movie, and I suspect that we have all had that happen to us as well. You know, when some absolute cretin treats you like dirt, and they then follow up with ‘but I’m your friend’. In many cases that is working to actually destroy you mentally, and put you under the thumb of somebody who really doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
Is he an Incel?
This is quite an interesting question, and one that I believe needs to be explored considering the fact that there are some criticisms being level against the film in this regard. Now, Incel stands for involuntary celibate, and they are generally people who take their frustrations out on the world at large for the position that they are in. Mind you, it is actually quite a nasty feedback loop, because if you blame your problems on others, it is only going to make you even more unattractive, and so on and so forth.
I remember dating a woman years ago who told me something that I actually find quite helpful:
Looks don’t mean anything, but confidence does. You could be the most attractive person in the room, but if you have no confidence, if you have a bad personality, nobody is going to want to touch you. However, you could be the ugliest person in the room, but if you have the confidence, and a kick-arse personality, the the world is your oyster.
So, the big question, is Arthur Fleck an incel? I’m not entirely sure. He certainly doesn’t act like it, not at first. But as he is driven further and further into insanity, we begin to see him lash out at people. He kills his boss, he kills his mother, and in the grand finale, he kills Murray Franklin live on national television. Yeah, in a way he is taking his frustrations out on people, but you can hardly call them innocent. His boss certainly isn’t.
What about Murray Franklin – is he deserving of death? Well, it is interesting that Arthur tells a rather gruesome joke and is chastised for it. Yet, we see Murray constantly using Arthur as the butt of his jokes, and this certainly goes down pretty badly since we do know that Arthur does hold Murray in high regard. Mind you, what we also discover is that the original plan is to kill himself on television – he wants his death to be much grander than his life. Well, that certainly changed pretty quickly.
Is he the Joker
Now, this is the biggest question of them all. Notice how the title of the film is ‘Joker’ as opposed to ‘The Joker’. That is certainly quite misleading, especially since we go into the film believing that it is the origin story of The Joker. Well, it is what one would call a bait and switch. Personally, the way Arthur’s character is constructed, I’m not entirely sure whether we can consider him to be the ‘Clown Prince of Crime’. This isn’t just because of the ending, but also because of who he is.
Honestly, Arthur Fleck just doesn’t seem to have it in him – he is simply too disconnected from reality to be able to fulfil that role. The thing is that the Joker might be crazy, random, and out to sow chaos wherever he goes, but the one thing I get is that he still has his wits about him – this is certainly the case with Heath Ledger’s Joker, as was the case with Jack Nicholson.
The other thing is that while he might be able to inspire people, and he certainly does inspire people, I’m not entirely sure if he will be able to lead people, not in the way that The Joker is able to lead people. Then again, what we have is a symbol, a symbol of somebody rising up against society, a symbol of somebody lashing out against the structure that exists.
What we also have are an awful lot of people who have decided to take on his form. At the end of the film, the entire city is full of people who have dressed up as clowns. Then, of course, we have the ambiguity of the ending, particularly since it is more than possible that he was actually killed in the car crash. Remember that early on in the film he suggested that he feels more comfortable in an institution – well, that is where he ends up in the end, and it certainly is much cleaner than the asylum that we saw in the film.
Anyway, there is so much more that I could write, such as the nature of mental illness as portrayed in the film. Yet, in a way, Arthur’s condition seems to go far beyond that to be bordering on being complete disabled, in the same case as his mother. It is also interesting that it seems that his mother has also is unable to discern reality, except for the fact that the whole affair thing is quite ambiguous as well.
However, I guess it is time to bring this to an end. I’m sure there are many other thoughts on the film, but these, well, these are just mine.