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A review on Joker, 2019

By: Masood Sabet

“An apology for the devil: it must be remembered that we have heard one side of the case. God has written all the books.” (Samuel Butler, 19th century British novelist)

It seems that we have entered a new dimension, in which the conventional common ground is too shaky to accommodate our co-existence any longer. A new reality where our artificial and fragile social cohesion is wearing off and the civilization as we knew it is falling apart. We didn’t even realize when we made the transition and jumped through the wormhole. We were probably too busy contributing to the eternal economic growth, adhering to the norms laid down by the new God: a non-edible high-quality piece of paper we hold against light to affirm its authenticity. “My death makes more cents than my life.” is the boldest joke in Joker’s notebook, a departure from the senses, indicative of a revolution against almost everything we used to hold as Objective and True. “Joker” is a quite successful endeavor to hear the other side of “the case”.

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My death makes more cents than my life.” is the boldest joke in Joker’s notebook, a departure from the senses.

Joker depicts a pernicious transformation of a man, from a meek little fellow into a creature the senses would call a “monster”. Arthur keeps taking blows one after another from the society, but all this suffering and humiliation has not yet brought him to the point to wholly succumb to his “insanity”. His metamorphosis is not complete until he kills the one he used to hold dearest. Arthur is living in a new reality now, where “Arthur” is no more. The veil has been torn. When he finds out the truth about his childhood, it triggers a chain reaction that eventually pulls the stool out from under the feet of any form of objectivity in his life. The remnant of his sanity is blown off by the revelations about his narcissistic and delusional mother. Now he’s Joker, no more tethered by any sense of morality. “Isn’t being funny subjective Murray? Just like good and evil?” He says to Murray. He’s the one who defines his own virtues now. After killing the rich kids on the train, Arthur was still reluctant to allow himself to fully enjoy and embrace the euphoria. Joker is only too happy to do it for him! He doesn’t kill Murray because he had derided his performance on his show. He kills him because he has always held him as a father figure.

Dark Knight
Todd Phillip’s Joker, in many regards, holds a mirror against Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight.

Todd Phillips is not unfamiliar with the concept of evil on earth. He starts his career as a filmmaker in 1993 with “Hated: GG Allin & the Murder Junkies”, a documentary about the notorious punk rock performer GG Allin, probably the most controversial figure in the field. Allin defied all forms of social norms and values and took this to extremes. His live performances dripped in blood and feces and even his funeral was a circus of incredible profanity, at his own behest! The director’s firsthand encounter with this character has obvious influences on his creation of Joker. Allin too had been invited to a number of conservative talk shows on TV, all of which ended in disaster, except no one was shot in the head!

Todd Phillip’s Joker, in many regards, holds a mirror against Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight. Neither have utilized any superpowers or supernatural occurrences in the narrative. Batman owes his gadgets and extraordinary abilities to his family’s limitless fortune, and Joker on the other hand acquires his power out of utter poverty and misery. Batman seems to be the product of a choice, whereas Joker’s coming to existence is an inevitability. Phillips, in Joker, recreates the scene in which Thomas Wayne and his wife are murdered in front of Bruce, Gotham’s future force of “good”. But this time, the camera stands behind the murderer, the viewpoint has reversed, the murder is not seen as a heinous act but a rightful and just retribution; they had it coming!

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The remnant of his sanity is blown off by the revelations about his narcissistic and delusional mother. Now he’s Joker, no more tethered by any sense of morality.

“The origins of Joker were disputed, but on one fact everyone, passionate supporters and bitter antagonists, was agreed: he was utterly and certifiably insane. What was astonishing was that people backed him because he was insane, not in spite of it.”[1] Joker’s first killings on the train are seen by public as an act of rebellion against the domineering and exploitative upper class of Gotham. Long years of injustice and corruption has brought the society to the verge of a complete collapse. No revolution is complete without a thorough overhaul of the virtues based on which the society was built in the first place. “The world stopped making sense. Anything can happen. Here can be there, then can be now, up can be down, truth can be lies. Everything’s slip-sliding around and there’s nothing to hold on to. The whole thing has come apart at the seams.”[2] The long-established system has become so oblivious to the concerns of the masses, while relentlessly tending to insatiable demands of the big capital. The underdog seeks a voice, an outsider, an antithesis to the current order, the one who shoots straight, on live TV, right into the eye of the voice of the established order. Now the “mentally ill loner” is the hero, revered by large crowds chanting his name in the streets. “For my whole life, I didn’t know if I even really existed. But I do, and people are starting to notice.” It’s the attention he had longed for all his life, clinging to every shred of his sanity. Alas, at long last, insanity wins!

[1] Rushdie, Salman, The Golden House (Jonathan Cape, London, 2017) P.243

[2] Rushdie, Salman, Quichotte (Jonathan Cape, London, 2019) P.138

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