It’s fair to say that the film, “Joker”, which I saw recently, has divided opinion. Some have praised the rare acting of Joaquin Phoenix, who lost weight to play the emaciated key part.
Others saw the tale, of a revenge-seeking male loner, as a justification for street riots and INCEL violence.
Actually, it’s a powerful treatment of mental illness, and what happens what a citywide system fails, through cuts to welfare and health spending.
It is Gotham City, Joker’s home, and the future Batman’s (whose childhood is enticingly portrayed in this movie), which reproduces its disintegration via this representative everyman. There is absolutely no redemptive element in the film; it is dark, dark, dark – moral decay, social breakdown, nihilistic meaninglessness.
Rats roam the streets – true to life, I saw a HUGE rat crossing the road last week. Human rats also run Gotham’s corporate governance.
It’s hard to fathom what’s happening sometimes, because the movie follows the arc of the failed comedian, Arthur Fleck, Joker’s alter-ego, who regularly lapses into fantasy.
His relationship with a neighbour is revealed as illusion, throwing into question how much we can believe the rest of the narrative, told through his delusory eyes.
The picture is part of an effort to reboot the DC comic-book franchise in the cinema, as they have always been beaten by the Marvel Universe films in box-office terms.
DC, however, have more successfully mined the dark side of the graphic novel, as opposed to Marvel, who have remained mired in a strict good-evil dichotomy.
This derives from Frank Miller’s 1980s re-imagining of Batman, as an ageing, embittered, has-been, reacting against the decadence of contemporary society.
He should really be played by Clint Eastwood, in my opinion, as an older, but fierce, crime-fighting outsider.
The films, although playing down the nihilism, have explored the moral dilemmas inherent in a fallen world.
This includes social commentary on economic inequalities, in “Joker”, and Christopher Nolan’s “The dark knight rises”.
The latter film depicts post-2008 recession fears, exploited by villain, Bane, leading to an urban uprising, and including a people’s tribunal modelled on the French Revolution.
But the figure of ‘Joker’ is explicitly non-political; the character deliberately disclaims any such motivation.
The street riots, which he inadvertently provokes, are products of the underlying injustices of the capitalist system.
This film, like Nolan’s, eschews any radical intention, as these riots are displayed as negative chaos, rather than any viable progressive political alternative.
But is it too far-fetched? Last year, I met a guy on the Tube, who was reading a graphic novel. Uncharacteristically for me, I engaged him, and asked about it.
He replied it was called ‘Batman. White Knight’, in which The Joker became ‘sane’, and was elected Mayor of Gotham.
I too possess a “Joker” comic-book, from the 1980s. But he explained he liked reading about The Joker, because it reminded him of his own father, who was a criminal from Romania.
Another mirror effect. Comic books reflecting, and affecting, reality. Stranger than fiction.