A much anticipated origin story from the DC Universe, Joker is the film that we didn’t know we needed. I am loving the latest artistic trend of villain backstories and focusing on more than just the star or ‘good guy’. So I decided to share my views on what I truly believe is the best film of 2019.
Villain or anti-hero?
One of the first things I picked up on with this film was the Joker’s vulnerability. He was not a cruel, harsh, violent man. Instead of being the dark and twisted villain we knew from Batman, he was a socially awkward, lonely, doting son trying to make ends meet in a drab city. As the story moves along, we witness him fall victim to violent attacks from groups of men and constant misunderstanding from everyone around him. My heart finally shattered when he is informed that funding has been cut and he will no longer meet with his social worker. His response:
“Who do I talk to?”
Many might see this as a comment about who he speaks to regarding his medication, but for me it was much more than that. This and the underlying political themes throw out the question of how ‘bad’ the Joker is. Because Arthur Fleck is definitely not an evil villain.
Furthermore, by the end of the film the lines are definitely blurred within the political context. Joker becomes the face of a stance and a campaign for the hard done by, oppressed working classes who are being left to rot by the elite. His own confusion and lack of social awareness is projected onto masses who take to the streets in violent riots as the answer to the threat they face from the rich and powerful. I doubt Arthur ever wanted to use violence as a response to his situation, but it gradually becomes the only solution that works. The scene on the subway is definitely a turning point for his character and the city’s perception of their poverty.
While Joker’s means and eventual exacerbation of fighting injustice and inequality are on the wrong side of peace, the need for this fight and the consequences of the injustice and inequality continuing remain the same on and off screen.
Psychopaths aren’t born, they’re made.
This is something I strongly believe and this film proves my point whole-heartedly. When we meet Arthur Fleck he comes across as so vulnerable and sad, when we learn that he was recently detained in hospital for his mental health it gives us a whole new perspective. Nowhere in that portion of the story is he cruel, violent, or psychopathic. Whatever he was hospitalised for, there is nothing to suggest it was criminal or dangerous. It is not until he is pushed and pushed to the brink that he changes inherently. His final joke summarised this:
“What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that treats him like trash?”
The only issue I took with this angle was that, as a practitioner with lived experiences, it is incredibly important to remove the stigma people attach to mental illness. Not every mentally ill person is violent or dangerous, despite the opinions of those around us. If you want to know the stats of those opinions, feel free to check out my post on Psychosis. However, society and politics are definitely responsible for the decline of Arthur’s mental health just as much as any biological or biographical factors.
Speaking of, the subtle nuances of the character’s history that Phoenix threaded throughout his portrayal of Arthur where phenomenal. As someone who is experienced in mental health, the second I noticed his movements and dances where his hands were joined above his head I made a connection. Accurate or not, I immediately suspected trauma and possibly involving abuse and him being tied at the wrists. I just thought it was a fantastic touch.
All in all, my heart broke about 25 times throughout the course of this story. Arthur definitely comes across as a victim of circumstance and a person who deserved so much better.
Five stars. No questions.
Despite the ambiguous ending, I was left with nothing more than a broken heart and a desperate need for more. I did not feel underwhelmed and I did not doubt the immediate success of this film. Some around me have named it a ‘call to arms’ and perhaps it is. But those who know me will know that I have been calling people to arms around mental health and inequality for a very long time. I loved the subtle, nuanced approach to a very real political situation. I also loved how Arthur Fleck was not meant to be a star character or villain, anybody could have become the Joker, but now he is we absolutely HAVE to know what comes next. I’m also waiting for the entrance of a certain Dr Quinzel but that’s a whole other film!
Let me know your thoughts in the comments, thanks for reading!