On the Joker – Emre Güntekin
Joker, which had caused many controversies as early as in its filming process, was released recently. The film drew reaction of the families of 12 people who died in the attack at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, in Colorado 2012. Families call on Warner Bros., the producer of the film, to support institutions that operate against individual armament; while some adopt more rigorous approaches. “I don’t need to see a picture of [Holmes]; I just need to see a Joker promo and I see a picture of the killer,” says Sandy Phillips, who lost her daughter at the attack in Colorado.
It was feared that the film would fuel violence, especially in the US, where individual armament and attacks have been a serious problem. US police are taking measures against possible attacks in theaters by placing undercover cops. On the other hand, it was forbidden to enter the movie theaters by face-paint or mask.
The director Todd Phillips replied to the criticisms against the movie, saying “The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world. I think people can handle that message. If you want uncomplicated art, you might want to take up calligraphy, but filmmaking will always be a complicated art.”
Actor Joaquin Phoenix expressed that: “People misinterpret lyrics from songs. They misinterpret passages from books. I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong. I mean, to me, I think that that’s obvious”. He stressed that he had contradictions in the process of accepting the role, but he did so because of the disturbing and dissent content of the film.
Narrative in Joker
The film goes back to the story of Joker as a character whose social and psychological story behind were overlooked in the previous films. But in this film, these factors that pave the way for such a character in a very striking way.
Arthur Fleck, who finds himself as Joker at the end of the film, makes his life as a clown and dreams of becoming a famous comedian. However, because of the psychological problems stemming from the violence he faced in his childhood and the consequent laughter crises, he is forced to cope with brutal biases for long time. One day, he resists the attack of three well-dressed stockbrokers on the subway with a gun given to him by his colleague and killing three people is the beginning of change . The people he kills are the employees of Mayor Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce Wayne, who will appear as Batman in the future. This sparks massive violent actions of the lower classes against the rich, and this class conflict is emphasized many times through headlines on the newspapers in the film.
Fleck, receives social support due to his mental illness, while one day his psychologist states that he can no longer receive this support because of the municipal budget cuts. Here, the film forges links between the budget cuts of neoliberal capitalism and the social destruction it causes very clearly. Fleck, who gets fired because of the gun given to him by his coworker, excluded from the society in every sphere, struggles to survive with his sick mother and fails to achieve his dream of being a famous comedian. He is completely stuck and seeks its way out to be recognized and respected by society using more violence.
He tries to prove his existence to the society which has not recognized him until now by killing the people whom he thinks mocked himself. For example, the most striking scene in the film is the scene where he kills the colleague who conspires by giving him a gun, but letting his dwarf colleague go, who has been ridiculed because of being different just like him. His anger is directed only to those who insult him.
What Fleck is really trying to do is to show that the tragedy in which he lives is a comedy, and to ‘light a flare’ for those who were pushed to margins. Thus, he makes his final move on a TV show he attends. Eventually he achieves what he wants and becomes an icon in the eyes of the poor and marginalized masses of Gotham, which is the city adorned with garbage dumps and ‘super rats’ on the streets. But his message to the society loaded with contradictions is not more than to express that more violence can make them visible in the eyes of authority. By killing his former psychologist at the end of the film, we see that violence for him has become a goal for itself. Nevertheless, I’m sure many people will find themselves empathizing with Fleck while watching the film because of the conscientious motives behind his life story. Of course, there is no such thing as each empathy will end up being the Joker in real life; however, the fear of even a single exception causes fear in the United States, where the class differences is striking. This is why the film is so controversial.
Unlike classic superhero films, Philips’ depiction of Joker blurs the lines between the good and the evil. There is a huge difference between Arthur Fleck at the beginning of the film and the Joker at the end. But should the only focus be on Fleck, who can commit murder pitilessly at the end? Was the Joker inherently malicious in nature? What were the factors behind Fleck’s transformation?
In the sixth of his theses on Feuerbach, Marx argued against the acceptance of mechanical materialists that human nature is a constant phenomenon: “But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.” Until Marx, the prevailing belief was that human nature was innately individualistic and selfish. But Marx brightly demonstrates that human is the product of social relations that rise above the productive forces of his/her time. In line with this approach, Joker’s transformation from a desperate, psychologically collapsed and submissive individual to an icon of ‘malignancy’ (in the sense of criticisms) and violence that uses them as a way out of his desperate life caused by the order that reigns over Gotham.
It can be observed that the contradiction between the rich, symbolized by Thomas Wayne and the poor, who make up the majority of society, is clearly pointed as the source of anger in the film. On the one hand, the majority of the city’s abandoned, forgotten masses who are suffering among rats and garbage, with no other way out of violence, on the other side are privileged rich having gold-plated restrooms… Fleck’s mother expects her former employer, Wayne, to reach her out in almost every dialogue they have, but this expectation is wasted every time, just like the scene we see Fleck and Wayne’s first encounter. Therefore, for Fleck, there is no choice but to become a “monster”.
One of the things that needs to be discussed here is the way in which both the Joker and his followers are narrated. The film seems to be warning the forthcoming danger for the rich rather than the poor. Of course, Joker is a Hollywood film and one should not expect him to offer a revolutionary way out to the lower classes. In fact, the film does not offer a suggestion beyond destructive violence. But what we call revolution is a destructive process that unleashes the creative power within humanity.
Despite this shortcoming, it is a fact that the contradictions of the world of Batman and people like Thomas Wayne, which symbolize the “good” side of the films, are more revealing since The Dark Knight (2008). Revealing the evil within the “good’ in The Dark Knight, Joker clearly demonstrates the cruelty and indifference of “ the good” against the lower classes that are the source of what is called “evil”.