“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”Rupert Pupkin, The King of Comedy
The Joker is one of the most compelling narratives of a man’s descendent into chaos. It’s a mashup somewhere between Nabokov’s Lolita and Camus’s The Stranger. A sad, momentous reality depicted in its organized and disorganized, prompted and impromptu, ordered and disordered moments. A twist on our sense of what we call morality and chaos.
Walking into the theatre, I had no expectations for what the movie would be. I hadn’t even seen the trailer nor really remembered what the Joker was like in previous Batman films. And yet, I sat there, along with a hundred other people, holding my breath, anxiously waiting for the inevitable to happen – for the Arthur Fleck to turn from a “mentally ill loner” to the king of chaos.
I think that was in a sense why the film was so compelling. It had me nervous and uneasy the whole time — not just because everyone knew what would inevitably happen, but because the acting of the “mentally ill loner” was so uncomfortable to watch. He was always, and only, a show character – someone who performs to get the gut reaction out of someone else. The film opens with a open airy shot of Arthur, getting ready for his act. As he prepares the camera slowly zooms in, and we see a single powerful tear fall.
Oh, and not to forget the painful laughter attacks, which is so unsettling to watch. The irony of the “joyfulness” of laughing translated to ostracization. The harsh reality of being yourself becoming a social target to anyone around you.
I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it’s a comedy.Arthur Fleck, The Joker (2019)
I think there’s something so powerful about the play of comedy and tragedy, and the subjective truth that lies in between. I love that the Joker made you sympathize with his tragedy and loss, and that his actions, though violent, were his way of redemption and imprint on social life. I don’t think he ever really intended to kill, yet, he found himself when he did. And I think that’s the tragic beauty of what it means to be Arthur Fleck, the Joker. His identity is only known in true crime, and that’s the hard truth that viewers have to somehow reconcile with.
There is no punchline.Arthur Fleck, The Joker (2019)
Suffocate his mother because she suffocated him. Then stand between the curtain, awaiting his applause. Taking a life, to show that he is living and real, not just a comic threat. There’s great beauty in all the cinematography that Lawrence Sher enacted carefully yet on a whim.
And yet, the film also touches on points of what the sense of dreaming and reality, and points of subjective morality. I think there are some worthwhile, poetic discussions to be held where we wonder what the lines are between what’s wrong and what’s right – does context ever matter? Does your history of abuse tick off boxes of insanity or humanity? Does it ever make right or make art the finite sense of morality?
Comedy is subjective Murray, isn’t that what they say? All of you, the system that knows so much: you decide what’s right or wrong the same way you decide what’s funny or not.Arthur Fleck, The Joker (2019)
I can’t quite articulate how the film made me feel at the end of the day. It left me wondering, what social judgments cast away and ostracize people, which then make them act in some “unfavorable” way. Is it that we always have different methods of redemption – of self-redemption, if that even can be a thing (in which broken humans try to repair themselves). I think the movie opens up so much ground and pathways for discussion to how we consider other people, and in ways, how we can show the lost, the lonely, the wicked, any sense of justice or mercy.