First, I find it hypocritical that a society that keeps edgy shows on the air is protesting Joker as having too much violence. People say that Joker was too gritty, but what did they watch when they went home? Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad were both breakout hits. American Horror Story and The Walking Dead continue on. Supernatural is premiering their fifteenth and final season on Thursday to huge anticipation from the fandom that sprang up around their show, and perhaps made a “fandom” a thing for television (weren’t they the first TV show in their genre to get space in the coveted Hall H for San Diego ComicCon?). And don’t even get me started on the Saw movies, and various other horror franchises that have raked in the dollars and the viewers. Don’t tell me you’re squeamish in your viewing preferences, especially with all of the Halloween horror marathons people are getting excited over. That’s not it.
Second, Gotham is a dark place – and you know this. Superhero TV shows and movies have been popular since Iron Man came along in 2008, and there have been enough of them that you know what to expect from each franchise. DC is and always has been a dark place. If you go to Gotham, hang up the rose colored glasses and get ready for gritty. This is well established. Plus, the Joker has been a dark villain in this universe for decades, folks. It’s a rated “R” movie.
The bar has been raised across the board for the past thirty years in entertainment, and this holds true for all forms: books, video games, TV shows, movies – heck, even the news! People say they want a light hearted break, but the fact is that the darkness sells and draws in viewers. It’s part of our humanity. We’re drawn to what’s different, and this kind of darkness is different from anything we’ve seen or known to date.
Third, the movie really isn’t about violence. It’s about the consequences of our inability to be decent human beings. I’m going to do what I do and point at the pink elephant in the room. Are you ready for it? Brace yourself; here it is:
Joker made us nervous because we all know that we’re guilty of being cruel to, as this BBC review puts it, “the oddball in a cruel, intolerant world that doesn’t have time to care for vulnerable people.” People are intolerant for those who don’t fit the norm in any way. If a person like me doesn’t fit in – who has nothing wrong with them but whacked up sinuses, a refusal to be a ‘girly girl,’ and an authenticity I refuse to deny – then how do you think it treats those who have issues beyond their control that prevent them from fitting in your pretty little box of “how it should be?”
It isn’t just intolerance, though. Some people treat others badly and talk ugly to others because for some reason, they feel entitled. They think they’re “above” other people, and are justified in being rude and inconsiderate. And they’re wrong. The problem, as we saw in Joker, is that not everybody is like me. They won’t snort and say “I hope you enjoyed this long, hot summer because that’s your eternity if you don’t fix that funky attitude,” and leave it to Divine intervention for that to come back around to you. There are those on the other side who feel equally justified to correct you, and they want that lesson to hurt.
I’ll be honest: I walked out of Joker wondering how mentally unstable Arthur Fleck really was. That there was a mental issue was obvious. I just saw an environment shaping him in surprising ways. Spoiler alert: things started to turn when the welfare budgets and social services were cut. This isn’t me playing devil’s advocate for the villain (as I often do). It’s about the fact that this movie could be the premise to a thesis on the role of nature versus nurture in human behavior.
Much like Martin Luther, Authur Fleck didn’t intend to start a revolution. He was just trying to get through life the best he could in a world that didn’t want to understand or accept him. As I often like to say, he didn’t have “the favor of man” on his side. He, like many of us, he lacked the charisma and charm that makes people want to do things for them, and had to work it out on his own. Square peg, round hole, like so many of us, but add some psychological disadvantages and that tilts the playing field completely out of his favor. Add a world on the brink and looking for something to vent their frustrations, and the powder keg blows. Congratulations. You have a revolution.
Obviously, I’m in the camp of believing that this was a brilliant movie. Yes, it’s dark and difficult at times. This movie is a dark mirror not only for Batman, but for all of us as well. Joquean Phoenix did a brilliant job portraying this character. He deserves an award for it. Honestly, that had to be difficult to play a mentally instable villain. Well done.
This movie is art imitating life. We already see shades of it all around us. If we’re wise, we’ll listen - and maybe even try to do better from now on. But I doubt it. The Joker character has been around since 1940. The really funny thing is that the character continues to evolve, but we “normal folks” don’t.
That’s all today. Take care, and have a great week.