What does Joker teach us about ourselves? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
First off, spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen Joker yet and plan to see it, do not read this yet. If you keep reading, don’t get angry with me and say “You spoiled something!” You were warned at the beginning. Yes. There are a lot of them in here and if you read ahead you will get filled in on several key plot points.
Anyway, my wife and I saw this movie yesterday thanks to a friend who gave us a couple of tickets to see whatever movie we wanted. This is definitely a dark movie and you might want to take your kids with you to see Batman, but I recommend you really consider before taking them to see this one.
Also, something that my wife would want me to say and I agree with is that Joaquin Phoenix is masterful at this role. We have a Joker who could rival Heath Ledger and even in her mind the best Joker of all, Mark Hamill, from Batman: The Animated Series. Phoenix does an incredibly convincing job of playing a man wrestling with delusional thinking to an extreme.
This movie also gives us a look at what mental illness can be like and the problem when the system doesn’t seem to be there. I could understand that. It’s hard to find good therapists and good psychiatrists nowadays. There’s also a stigma involving mental health.
Probably the best quote in the movie about this is something Joker writes in his notebook. “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” Now I’m not saying there isn’t some element of the will involved in mental illness. I have a problem with it when people make a negative condition their identity. I also think it’s wrong to think that psychiatric medications will solve all the problems. They can help, but good therapy does the best.
At the same time, we would never go to someone in a wheelchair and expect them to get up and walk as if they were fine. We give full understanding there. Yet when it comes to mental health, there is a stigma. Watch what happens next time a mass shooting takes place. What will be the first thing said before we really know anything about the shooter? Mental health. After all, such a person would have to be mental. Right?
This brings us to something about the evil in Joker. Let’s start with the beginning. Joker’s name in this is Arthur Fleck and at the start, he is a clown waving a sign to advertise for a business. Some street kids steal the sign and he pursues them only to have them knock him down by breaking the sign in his face and kicking him relentlessly while he’s on the ground and leaving him alone. These are kids sadly doing evil just to do evil.
Because of this, one of his fellow workers gives him a gun to defend himself. Arthur knows he’s not to have one but he’s told it will be okay. Later on he’s on a Subway and some guys start assaulting him there. At one point, he starts shooting at them. Now I am someone who believes in self-defense and thinks when you’re in the midst of being assaulted and you are in danger, it is proper to fight back.
He goes beyond that. He takes out two of the three who have assaulted him. The third is wounded and hobbling away. Arthur chases after him and ends up shooting him to kill him. At that point, it is not self-defense, but murder, seeing as Arthur was in no danger from the guy at the time.
The thing is Arthur has no remorse. There is no sadness to him. If anything, he lives with freedom. He seems to become a more confident individual. As he tells a social worker he works with, he now knows that he exists. He has made some sort of impact on the world. He has not been a doormat. He stood up for himself.
We see him walking into the apartment of the woman he wants and kissing her and her wrapping her arms around him and kissing back. Soon they’re going out together and when his mother gets sick and is in the hospital, she’s right there by his side. She thinks whoever shot the guys on the subway was a hero, not knowing it was him.
Here’s the problem with that though. None of that happened. We find out later on that he wanders into her apartment and she doesn’t know who he is and refers to her as the man down the hall. It all looks real, but it’s part of the delusion. This is why I put a pause on the mental topic. Joker really does have issues and a large part of this movie is wondering what is real and what isn’t.
He reads a letter his mother has sent to Thomas Wayne where she writes that Thomas Wayne is really Arthur’s father. He finds a way to get in to see Wayne, unless that’s part of the delusion. He is told he is adopted and gets the files from Arkham to see. In them, we find that it is said that Arthur is an adopted child and not the son of Thomas Wayne.
Once again, is this real or not? Fans of DC comics will know that faking adoptions is nothing new to the rich and powerful who want to cover up anything that could damage their reputation. It’s entirely possible Thomas Wayne could have had an affair and then painted Arthur’s mother as delusional and faked several documents to that effect.
One other major delusion involves the figure of Murray Franklin. Murray is a talk show host that Arthur and his mother watch every night. Arthur has a delusion where he is in the audience and shouts out to Murray that he loves him. Murray talks with him and asks him to join him on stage and tells him privately something along the lines of, “You see all these lights and all this fanfare? I’d trade it away in a second to have a son like you.” Murray becomes the father in a sense that Arthur doesn’t have and in his apartment with his mother there are several video tapes of the Murray Franklin show, not common for a talk show.
Yet at one point Arthur goes to do some stand-up and a condition that he says he has that causes him to laugh uncontrollably for no reason at times kicks in. The tape is sent to the Murray Franklin show where it is played and Murray mocks Arthur and refers to him as a Joker, hence the name. Later, the show says there was a positive response to the clip and they want Arthur to come on the show to talk with Murray.
Again, keep in mind what I said about spoilers.
Before he goes on, Arthur ends up killing his mother with a pillow, probably revenge since he thinks she lied to him about his origins. Next, he kills the co-worker who gave him the gun that he could use. Then, he goes on Murray’s show and admits to killing the guys on the Subway. After some conversation, he kills Murray on live TV and riots break out all over Gotham as clown figures take to the streets that had been inspired first by the Subway killings and then Murray Franklin’s death propelled it even further.
While the police are taking Joker away, some clowns driving an ambulance crash into the car and pull Joker out. We also see at this point one of the clowns follow Thomas Wayne and his wife out killing them in front of young Bruce Wayne. Joker is treated as a hero by his fellow clowns.
The movie ends with him talking to another social worker, same race and gender as the first, at a mental hospital, probably Arkham. When he leaves, his footsteps are bloody for awhile and then he is being chased back and forth by someone. I honestly still don’t know what to make of this scene. Does it mean everything was a delusion? Hard to say. Fans of the series do know that some things are real, such as the murder of the Waynes and Bruce being left behind.
We also know Joker does become a sociopath villain, yet here is the real danger. I do not think Joker is the threat he is because he is a sociopath. He is the threat because his heart is evil. This is the real culprit behind everything. Sociopathy could make him more prone to that as could perhaps any mental illness, but you want to know who is really incredibly capable of doing great evil out there? You want to know who it is we should really watch for great evil?
You and me.
Clay Jones did his own research on genocides for his book on evil and found out that the people who commit genocides are normally ordinary people. You can see Hitler was the mastermind behind the Holocaust, but Hitler could not have done everything on his own. He needed to enlist the aid of others. These were men who were often good fathers to their kids and good husbands to their wives.
In Lamentations, Jeremiah writes about a siege and how good women cooked their own children who became their food when they were starving. Today, people who would otherwise be good people murder their own children in abortion and think nothing of it. It would be easy to say everyone has a mental illness and if we could just eliminate the illness, we would remove evil from the world.
That’s a delusion in itself.
Joker is delusional? Yep. So are every single one of us to some extent. We all readily believe lies about ourselves and about God consistently. We all think things that we shouldn’t and believe things that we shouldn’t. Christians do it. Atheists do it. Everyone does it. Unfortunately, we also convince ourselves our thinking is spot on in all of this.
So who could be the Joker? You or I could. If we think that we are above a certain evil, that could be the sign that we are most likely to fall for it. Of course, it doesn’t mean we will, but pride often comes before that fall. How many guys have had friendly chats with that female co-worker over lunch thinking nothing will come of it only to wind up in a hotel room a few months later? Yep. It happens.
Joker is definitely a film to get you to think about human evil and what it is. I left the film thinking I had seen something interesting, but still unsure about what it was. I suppose that’s intentional on the part of the writers and directors. Maybe we cannot know what is and isn’t true in Joker’s story, but we can know that despite what he says about his life being a comedy, when he uses it for evil, it is a tragedy.
Let’s use our lives for good. Be a comedy.