Is society the punchline?
As I walked out of the cinema after watching Joker, I had this wonderful sense of satisfaction in my heart. It’s like one of those feelings you get when a lifelong curiousity is answered and made clear.
The movie has been getting tons of positive reviews, including from Kakuchopurei, so I’m not writing this just to share my opinions on why I loved the movie but also to explain why this movie managed to rise above its comic book origins and became a film worthy of analysis by fans of the Batman mythos.
If you haven’t watched the movie yet, I strongly recommend that you go do that first and then come back to read what I have to say about it. I will be spoiling the entire movie in this article.
The True Star: Gotham
Joker doesn’t spare a single second to remind you what a sh*thole Gotham was before Batman. One might argue that Gotham still remains an abysmal place to live in even after The Dark Knight became its guardian but that serves to further reinforce what I think is the biggest message from this movie:
Only a place like Gotham could have given birth to men like the Joker and Batman.
We’ve always known that Gotham is rife with crime but Joker offers a more realistic multidimensional perspective of the city and shows to its audience why so many of its people are drawn towards crime.
Unsatisfied with their measly pay, workers of Gotham’s garbage disposal company go on strike. This leads to the streets being filled with trash bags, consequently creating health problems and ruining businesses. Well, businesses owned by people who aren’t part of Gotham’s millionaire boys club.
The Wayne family and the well-to-do citizens of Gotham don’t have to go through this. When the common folk began to sympathise with the murderer (our titular protagonist) of three Wayne employees, Thomas Wayne calls out the sympathisers. He never bothers to acknowledge that his well-to-do and educated employees were condescending pricks who treated the middle-class and the poor like trash.
To Thomas Wayne, the people of Gotham are cowards who hide behind masks. He believes that they’ve “lost their way” because of their own mindset, not because that the very few who are rich keep squeezing those people into desperation.
We Are All Clowns
The most brilliant thing that this movie did was to align the decay of Gotham with the deterioration of Arthur Fleck’s (Joker’s supposed real name) mental health. Arthur embodied Gotham and Gotham was a manifestation of Arthur’s downward spiral into chaos and insanity. The two were one and the same. It’s encapsulated perfectly in Arthur’s own words:
“Is it just me… or is it getting crazier out there?”
As more trash starts to pile up in the streets and rats begin infesting the city, we see Arthur lose his job and even get betrayed by a colleague he considered a friend. When the rich start to rally behind Thomas Wayne, pouring more resources into his mayorship campaign and simultaneously bleeding the city dry. What does Arthur get? His therapy clinic shutting down, thus making it impossible for him to get medication.
It’s made very clear from the beginning that Arthur has mental illnesses, the most obvious one being that he has a condition called Pseudobulbar Affect. It causes him to have random uncontrollable episodes of laughter. Plot-wise, I think it’s a very realistic way of driving Arthur towards the Joker persona.
For the majority of his life, Arthur had to hold back his laughter out of fear that the city would consume him. As Arthur loses his reasons to hold back, the city also stops holding back the chaos that has been festering for so long. At the end of it all, Arthur embraces his laughter, becoming the Joker and having the entire city rally behind him.
To the people of Gotham, Arthur’s insanity was their insanity. At the exact moment Arthur snapped and became the Joker, Gotham didn’t find itself a hero. The city simply found itself.
At this point, I think it’s pretty clear that I absolutely loved this movie. It manages to incorporate layers of depth to its themes while maintaining a great level of effective pacing.
I went to see Joker expecting a decent comic book movie adaptation and instead, I got to experience an extremely well-made psychological thriller that used Gotham as the stage to tell its beautiful story. I don’t know if I can call this my top superhero movie of all time but it’s definitely one of the best movies I’ve ever watched.