A month after Joker’s release, the craze over Todd Phillips’ opus seems hardly to die down. I still find myself quite ambivalent about what it was intended to mean anyway. Controversy is still brewing regarding its political and social impact. Some loved it, others hated it but truth be told, the movie was disturbing in too many ways. In fact, it embodies several chaotic meanings at once that it makes it hard to have a grasp about the ultimate goal.
I do not intend by this article to dwell on the filmmaking features but I would like to reflect on three key takeaways one should learn from Joker.
From where I stand, I was never fond of DC comics but this movie left me in a need of a lie-down. I found myself quite distraught about what I just saw onscreen.
Joaquin Phoenix portrayed the character of Arthur Fleck, a troubled failing stand-up comedian with a constant laughing disorder. Phoenix performance was incredibly amazing. The way he contorted his body to look desperate and damaged, astonished everybody. In fact, he transcended Todd phillips’ expectations and what any actor would ever dare or endeavor to perform.
The movie depicts how Arthur turned from a troubled man into Joker, becoming the villain killer with no remorse causing riots and uprisings in the bewildered Gotham city. Rejected by society and struggling to make a decent living, Arthur has crossed all pain thresholds leaving him with no choice but to descend into darkness.
In fact, the bathroom dance was the subtle hint of Arthur’s terrifying transformation. After his first horrifying killing, instead of feeling the slightest bit of guilt, Arthur grew stronger and confident, finding satisfaction in anarchy. His mother’s lifetime advice “ smile and put on a happy face” became quite irrelevant as he found joy, empowerment and a sense of liberation through violence.
Now, if I may be indulged in a personal reflexion, here are some observations I think one should learn from Joker.
Nothing happens in a vacuum
The movie is undoubtedly morally ambiguous. Though, the crimes were extremely hideous, I couldn’t but be compassionate with the character and even more justify his wrongdoings. In fact, when we dig a little deeper, Arthur’s upbringing was all but absent when he was younger, his struggles and several attempts to make a decent living and take care of an invalid mother were all vain. People also despised and disregarded him because of his laughing disorder. Aren’t these all overwhelming circumstances leading one to misbehave ? Could his misconduct be justified ? The point here is, he didn’t become an evil overnight… an unbearable pain leads him to.
A little appreciation goes a long way
Arthur strived to become a successful comedian bringing joy to the world. He believed that, one day, his audience will laugh at his jokes. All he looked for is some form of appreciation and recognition. Had society shown him a little bit of support, he would have been tremendously empowered. Instead, he was always misjudged, not taken seriously, considered as mentally ill. was he really a troubled man? I mean, aren’t we all dysfunctional in some way ?
The thing is, he was only different, but current society struggles to accept people with such differences and expect them to fit in the mold and to behave as if they did not. But who are we to judge or express sympathy towards them ? In fact this sympathy only streches the depths of their resentment and made them grow angrier and brutal.
Never underestimate the magnitude of negativity
People tend to think that negative thoughts are quite temporary and short-lived. This is hardly the case. One can be left devastated with an attitude towards life completely shifted.
The most haunting scene that struck me the most was the thoughtless question of the social worker asking Arthur “Do you have any negative thoughts?”. Arthur, goes on replying : “You don’t listen, do you? You just ask the same questions every week : How is your job? “All I have are negative thoughts. This answer says it all.
Negative thoughts should be dealt with seriously. Telling someone suffering from depression or any other mental health issue that “This too shall pass” doesn’t really treat the issue at its core. On the contrary, it only deepens the wounds and leaves one riddled with despair.
But if I learned something from Joker is that one should always be mindful of his own gestures and try to understand the impact it might have on other people no matter how small it seems.