504. Darkening of the light (IX)
The film Joker (2019) already belongs to a different age, being released shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic. For a comic book movie, this film achieves considerable artistry—so much so that it contains barely any themes concerned with comic books, such as supernormal powers. The film’s real topic is the rise of populism, a tide that has now subsided.
Joker is an origin story that traces the man, Arthur Fleck, who becomes Batman’s nemesis—the eponymous Joker. Fleck is a marginal figure, a loner who lives with his mother and strings together a living—of sorts—from part-time jobs, including as a clown (hence the face paint). His real aspiration is to be a stand-up comedian, but he is terminally unfunny; ironically, he suffers from a medical condition that causes him to laugh at inappropriate moments—yet he cannot raise a genuine laugh from other people. Psychologically disturbed, Fleck attends regular—if unhelpful—therapy sessions with a black female counsellor; the casting conforms to the way contemporary progressive beliefs conceptualise black women as particularly beneficent.
Under extreme provocation and breakdown, Fleck murders several businessmen and this act proves to be a synchronous catalyst that tips Gotham—here depicted as buried in garbage, rats, and malaise—into utter anarchy. Fleck is meant to stand for “the deplorables”: the film is meant to explain, in the sympathetic way it portrays Fleck-Joker, how marginal people could come to support “populist anarchy”—the billionaire mayoral candidate, Thomas Wayne, dismisses the masses as envious “clowns”.
Fleck-Joker is, in fact, a holy fool—not unlike Rasputin. This is because he is a joker—a fool—and not a comedian; and the joker, per a pack of cards, is a complete zero. In the film’s final scene, Fleck becomes the Joker when he shoots a comedian—played by De Niro—dead on his talkshow. The shooting sparks city-wide riots, divine anarchy—the process that will cleanse Gotham. Fleck could never make it as a comedian, he could never make people laugh—yet as a joker, the man who tells the unacceptable truth, he finds his true role.
Joker is a film about gaslighting and lies. When Fleck-Joker murders De Niro’s character it might be shocking and ugly—yet the character has been mocking Fleck’s stand-up act and only invited him on the show to toy with him; an amusing “little person” to poke. Further, Fleck is secretly the child of the billionaire Thomas Wayne—father of Bruce “Batman” Wayne. Yet his mother, impregnated by Thomas Wayne when she worked as his housekeeper, was convinced that she was “mad” and placed in Arkham Asylum. Her name is “Penny”; the billionaire Wayne family is very careless with their pennies, though their other notable employee, the loyal factotum Alfred Pennyworth, shows that they know how much a penny is worth in one respect—for Alfred helps to cover up the scandal. The way the Wayne family gaslights “the little people” is somewhat reminiscent of the way the decadent educated elites in the West will tell the deplorables that the Great Replacement is not happening, being a conspiracy theory, and then the next day will crow in their columns about white minority status in the West.
So the Joker is a shamanic figure, the shadow—just like Lear’s fool is his shadow, the man who speaks the unacceptable truth. As with all shamans, he wears a mask—and he dances an ecstatic shamanic dance on a flight of steps, in a scene that was iconic from the moment it was first broadcast. His first crime: he murders Wall Street bankers on the subway—Wall Street being, of course, the big people who were bailed out by the government in 2008, while the little people lost their homes. One rule for them…Yet this is only the beginning, for the Joker must dance his shamanic dance until Gotham is cleansed—until the manipulation and the games are exposed; no matter how hard his half-brother, the Batman, covers it up.