Released 10/04/2019 Rated: R
All I wanted out of this movie was a dark and gritty drama about a man with a hard life. And boy howdy did Joker deliver! If you expected anything superhero-related to come out of this, you’re in the wrong ballpark entirely. This movie is brilliant, and if you don’t think so then you weren’t paying attention.
In a nutshell, Joker is about a man who has been beaten down by society to the point where he snaps and accidentally instigates a revolt of the working class against the upper class. He’s not trying to start anything; he’s just struggling to make it from day to day, but no one seems to give a shit. He gets beaten up and blamed for things, denied access to obtain his meds for a pre-existing mental condition due to budget constraints cutting his therapy entirely, and he loses his job all the while caring for his elderly mother. And then he learns she’s harboring her own secrets. His life just gets hit over and over again.
A lot of people have a problem with the amount of violence in the movie, thinking that this is just going to instigate real life violence. Life imitating art. In actuality I see the opposite: art imitating life. This movie is holding a mirror to society, and nothing exemplifies this more than part of Arthur’s standup act: “the worst part about having a mental illness is that people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” Video games or movies aren’t responsible for all the mass shootings we seem to keep having. How about we look at mental health? Depression. Bullying. Everything Arthur goes through. If a dog gets hit often enough it’s going to bite back. And that’s exactly what happens here because Arthur has been enduring this for his entire life.
What makes this movie so intriguing is that fact that you have no idea what’s real. Did any of it actually happen? Did only some of it happen? You have to decide for yourself what is going on because everything is cast in shadow. Arthur Fleck is an unreliable narrator. And we’re in his head. The movie only gives us enough information to prove this fact.
For instance, Arthur’s mother has an old photograph with an inscription on the back signed T.W. This appears to give credibility to her story that Arthur is Thomas Wayne’s son. My theory, however, works this into her grand delusions. The picture, by the way, is of her. There’s no one else in the photo. Her boyfriend at the time probably had the same initials T.W. Her delusions led her to think Wayne was in love with her, which is why she says she signed papers to hush her up about having Wayne’s illegitimate son. I think she’s actually misremembering signing the adoption papers.
This “twist” of Arthur being Thomas Wayne’s son is something I want out of a movie like this. A different way to take the character. Of course the idea of Joker and Batman being half brothers is ridiculous, and I’m glad it’s not real, but you could totally take it that way if you wanted to. A perfect example of another interesting take on this character is how his laugh is a result of his mental illness. He can’t help it, it only creeps up on him when he’s uncomfortable, and it has to taper off on its own. And I have another theory on that one: it’s actually a result of his meds, not his brain. He doesn’t laugh like that once he stops taking the drugs which are supposed to help “normalize” him.
For all we know, none of this actually happened. Or all of it happened. Maybe he never emerged from the refrigerator. Or he’s been locked up this whole time in a mental hospital as shown in the final shot. Did he kill the nurse/psychologist? Did he kill anyone? Is this all in his head, playing out like he’s more important in a world where he’s actually the lowest and most invisible of everyone? There is no clear answer.