Arthur Fleck: “For my whole life, I didn’t know if I even existed”
The Joker: “I don’t believe in anything”
While there are other moments, these two lines are the clearest in presenting the nihilistic streak of Arthur’s personality, long before the transformation into Joker. It becomes an increasingly powerful part of his personality as the film progresses and dives further into the psyche of Arthur Fleck, who is clearly a portrayal of the delusional men who have taken lives in mass shootings.
This nihilistic attitude was expressed by the shooters of Columbine and other early shootings. Their (extensional) belief in nothing, their beliefs about the nature of reality, not to mention the fun little concept that human beings are insignificant, are far from healthy.
Unsurprisingly, many of the shooters have also been found to have enjoyed Nietzsche’s work. But like the Joker, these men take their nihilistic philosophy to such extremities that they are essentially following a totally different philosophy: one that constantly reminds them that humans don’t deserve to live. Their thoughts about human beings snap into illogical delusions as they act out their fantasies. Their twisted delusions represent a terrifying way of thinking: all human beings need to be killed.
Again, like the Joker, these mass shooters don’t feel any real emotion, especially when taking multiple lives.
This is an incredibly relevant movie, a character study of a weirdo, a loner, who slowly turns into a monster. It is intentionally holding a mirror up to US society, intentionally challenging any viewer, yelling loudly its distressing messages through the symbolism of Joker/Fleck’s actions as well as plain ol’ observation.
The grimy state of Gotham feels like a real city, and very apt for such a dark story. It is the perfect backdrop for Joaquin to turn into the Joker, and to send chills down my spine with his painful laughter, a phrase that sounds like an oxymoron until you hear him laugh uncontrollably on a bus, physically trying to stop it by covering his mouth with his hands. When asked ‘do you think this is funny?’, the laughter increases, and combined with him shaking his head while laughing, it is rough. A scene that is hard to forget.
Rather than trying to sound like any other version of the Joker, Joaquin’s laughter is his own unsettling creation. When he was Arthur Fleck, his laughter was often painful and inappropriately timed. But after he shoots the three men on the subway, the laughter becomes less of an issue as he moves towards becoming the Joker – his confidence increasing rapidly, again meaning the laughter is often not a problem. This pattern feels too deliberate too ignore.
The laughter essentially has its volume turned down as the film moves forward and feels deliberate but weaved in with the story. This is telling, as… In case you missed it, as a great many ‘critics’ did, the film is not laughing at any violence that occurs, or somehow glamorising it, and I’d love to hear a logical reason for the latter. Honestly, I’d like to know what the logic is behind this thinking.
Which brings us to the media circus surrounding the film… well, mainly the US really… which was perhaps the biggest overreaction to a movie release in recent memory. After Joaquin Phoenix walked out of an interview, annoyed at what he saw as a ‘pointless’ question about a possible connection from Joker to real-world violence, was followed by some words by director Todd Phillips that were just a tad clumsily worded, it wasn’t long before the media machine cogs started to creak and turn.
Of course, only the most negative articles about the subject are ever reported on, the bias as strong as possible. These negative news articles filled with almost nothing but speculation is disturbing in all honestly, but it also serves to fan the flames of those protesting the movie: the media has found a group of people who will listen to almost any of their biased news stories with conclusions often matching original beliefs.
If you honestly feel this way, listen to the heavy, dark soundtrack. Pay attention to the grimy look of Gotham, the depressing colour pallet used. While the film doesn’t have much violence compared to every action film in existence, the despicable acts in Joker are depicted in an incredibly dark, deeply disturbing fashion that stays in your head like a horror film. This is the opposite of glamorisation.
This all all has created more panic about any movie premiere in my life, yet I’m not hearing anywhere as much panic about the gun control issue itself in comparison! This bizarre, near Kafka-like world feels akin to Stravinsky’s music literally driving patrons out of the theatre, causing a riot back in the 40’s or 50’s. If it weren’t so frustrating, I’d find the whole issue hilarious in its absurdity.
Complaint over, the film has a perfect climactic scene that, as Keith pondered, is fun to play around with in its true meaning. Keith had three different but equally valid theories, and my interpretation will be a little… Odd but familiar, which a sign of how fantastic this movie ends. I cannot stop thinking about it.
Also, quickly, did anyone ever think for long that he was really dating that woman? This is what good film does: it challenges and creates discourse, which this film has achieved with flying colours, if not in the manner originally intended.
But if one ponders further: it now seems obvious in retrospect that the climactic sequence wasn’t real at all, as the shot of him standing on the bonnet of a cop car cuts straight to Joker in the sterile white of a mental ward.
I have my weird theory – if anyone actually reads these posts, I’d love to hear your thoughts before I post the final part of this. Or after I post it, I don’t mind!
to be continued… again
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It’s interesting that Arthur’s laugh is different depending on the situation, and Phoenix nailed that variation in the performance. You could basically watch the entire film and just focus on his laugh!
Your theory about the ending is plausible, especially since he’s an unreliable narrator. Another take is he was in the mental ward the whole time.
Haha you can follow it just listening to the laugh!!
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Man these are great. You’ve done such a good job exploring the depth of this movie. I feel for those who only give this movie a surface reading.
Couldn’t have said it better myself mate. Its a challenging movie. Oh, and thanks a ton for the kind words! 🙂
I have a final one to post, which is my actual take on the ending, specifically.
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Great post 🙂 Could not have said anything that you have mentioned any better. Speaking of what you have written here, do you think Arthur’s emotional state could have been remedied by someone like Dr. Jordan Peterson (he has been talked about in the media in both positive and negative lights), but here is a wikipedia link to him. I say this because one wonders If Arthur felt that in the end, If he had no other choice but to take his chosen pate? Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂
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Funny you mention him, I was just listening to his book. I think there is a definite possibility that someone like him could help, depending where in the film’s timeline that happens though. But someone on such a downward spiral not seeing anyone is a pretty accurate analogy for the health mental health sector’s under-funding and therefore inability to prevent these type of people . I may be touching on that point in this final post, though its probably too long to add
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