Review Of Joker (2019). Spoilers Ahead.
In my usual habit of having no idea what’s in pop culture, it took me over a year after Joker came out for me to actually watch it. (Actually, that’s unusually quick for me.) I must admit, when I finally did, I was very ashamed of myself for waiting so long, as many of the themes in modern politics are summed up perfectly in 122 minutes throughout this movie.
I’ll admit, in large part it was because when I first heard the idea of the movie, I hated it. Jared Leto’s Joker in the awful Suicide Squad — I would make fun of the movie as “a film that shares it title with the nickname for people who saw it” but that’s too much even for a Joker review. I won’t even mockingly call him “Hot Topic employ of the month,” because even Hot Topic has would not hire Jared Leto, they have standards, not high standards, but standards. I think at least, I have no idea what a Hop Topic is and personally have no plans of learning — left such a bad taste in my mouth that even the idea of seeing the Joker made me want to vomit. The onslaught of pretentious think pieces about living in a society, plus the worship of the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s film The Dark Knight, did not help manners.
I think the film understands how iconic Heath Ledger had become as the Joker as a result of The Dark Knight, as well as how popular he made the idea of “a villain who kind of has a point” in darker movies about superheroes, and seeks not to run away from it nor imitate it, but instead to build upon it. Joker is about what leads to become Heath Ledger’s Joker people fell in love with just over a decade earlier.
You might remember when the film came out, many were worried “incels” or “angry white males” would see the film and shoot up a theater or something — a fear shared by family members of victims of the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. While the fear was irrational, as I like to point out when people show this concern, Charles Manson said he was inspired by a Beatle’s song. However, watching the film, I do not see the fear as entirely unfounded, but saying they’ll shoot up a movie theater seems to be — it’s not the idea that this film could inspire radicals, but what those radicals would be inspired to do.
Before we continue, I need to make one thing clear: I do not endorse violence of any kind. This article is simply a documentation of events over the last year compared to the actions of a fictional film character played by a disturbingly skinny actor who is usually anything but skinny. I do not want anyone to shoot up a school, a political event, or a movie theater (if they’re still around these days) as a result of what I write — in fact, I’d prefer much the opposite. However, pretending actions like those I mentioned above only happen in a vacuum only results in more of those actions happening. Basically, as Newton said, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction — and revolution is the reaction, not the action.
One scene that is going to stick in my head for years is near the end, when a massive riot is being held in response to what the newly formed Joker did on television — shoot a talk show host after saying society has failed him. Considering the film takes place in 1981, the same year both a massive recession continued hitting America and President Reagan defunded the mental health system (of which the main character had been taking full advantage of), it’s hard to argue against anyone in his situation, even minus the years of being lied to.
The Joker is not seen as a fringe as you’d expect a murderer to be, however. Even before this point, the fact that he killed three Wall Street businessmen in clown makeup has made him a national symbol, comparable to V of V For Vendetta. When Thomas Wayne, a dirty businessman who has screwed the people of Gotham, announces his run for mayor, the people all protest him in clown makeup. Personalities form around killers all the time, of course — just look at the fandom of the Columbine killers or the people who insist the Unabomber was right — so this by itself is nothing special.
However, when they meet the Joker after he confesses to these murders on television and kills another man right in front of them, they all clap for him, harder then they’d clap for any politician, businessman, or talk show host the Joker could kill. After being badly hurt in a car accident (an accident caused by one of his supports, and it’s implied this was on purpose to keep him out of prison), he uses the blood on his face to form the iconic exaggerated smile. This, we learn — in a scene that’s a shot for shot remake of the same scene in Batman 1989 — is the real reason Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed. (This also turns Batman in the 1989 film into a police officer and a bringer of the establishment, backed up by the fact Gotham’s mayor looks quite similar to Ed Koch, but that’s besides the point.) The people do not change their mind when they see his actions with their own eyes, instead, all they do is become more and more supportive.
Marin Luther King Jr. famously called riots “the language of the unheard,” a quote commonly misconstrued to mean that King supported riots. Instead, what King was saying was that riots are the end result of not being heard for long enough, that they’re a tragedy that’s the establishment’s fault. King was seeing this in his own time, with the famous March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom more or less serving as a last attempt at civility between the white establishment and the African American. Many in King’s era were siding with more radical groups like the Black Islamist Movement of Malcom X or the Black Panther Party of Huey Newton. King himself was far from a pacifist, and encouraged Black people to take up arms in response to the rampant violence the Ku Klux Klan and others were committing. However, he felt that non-violence was still the best choice possible if there was an option other than that or death on the table.
We are seeing this attitude return more and more, as most Black Lives Matter movement related protests were found to be peaceful, yet the only ones the media cares about are the violent ones. Even defenders of BLM like Chris Cuomo respond to mentions of violence by asking why protests have to be peaceful, and not pointing out how common peaceful ones actually are. As such, the amount of riots increase, as the people get angrier and angrier.
It’s funny we were warned this film would appeal to “angry white men” because the tactics of the Joker most resemble the Black Lives Matter movement than anything else. I recall seeing a black woman rant about how she doesn’t “give a fuck” about what happens to the police because “the social contract has been broken.” When George Floyd died after a police officer (who is currently out on bail) kneeled on his neck for almost ten minutes, I recall thinking that was the beginning of the end of the state as we know it — a belief constantly being confirmed by the amount of anarchists being created every day in response to that, Daniel Prude, Jacob Blake, and Breanna Taylor. Now, the once fringe idea of all cops being bastards, the police deserving to be defunded, have gone from a phrase and ideas of the radical left to one many are agreeing with.
Over in India, there’s a much more violent version of Antifa which kills the rich, and they have the support of the average India. During the French Revolution, the average peasant was in support of overthrowing and later killing the members of the monarchy, same thing with the Russian Revolution. When people are desperate, they become violent — and as such, they are much more likely to do more damage then they normally would.
We are living in time of great desperation, and as such, more and more Jokers will come as a result.