“Joker” is, to put it bluntly, a disturbing movie. In addition to giving the audience an uncomfortable front-row seat to the mental breakdown of a struggling man, the movie takes a decidedly and unabashedly grim view of both man and society. It puts the audience in a curious position of asking: Who is the hero? Who, or what, is the villain? Where, or in what, should the audience invest itself? These are a few of a great number of questions raised by the film, which has an uncomfortable habit of not answering them.
“Joker” is the story of Arthur Fleck, a man attempting to find his path in life while struggling with crippling mental issues. What follows this premise, in the film, is a harrowing and confusing story of knotted subplots as Arthur tries to make some sense and direction of his life. The issue with deconstructing and analyzing such a plot lies in the fact that there needs to be some sort of synthesis to the story in order for there to be an analysis. What the viewer is left asking, instead, is whether or not there is any organizing structure to be had in the course of the film. Ultimately, the scattered and disintegration nature of the plot is one of the central ideas of the movie itself.
Perhaps the most appropriate encapsulation of the perspective of the story would come from Yeats: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” Arthur Fleck is a character caught up in his own little self-constructed world where he is the (inevitably maligned) hero. So is his mother: represented as a troubled and irresponsible parent also caught up in her own fantasy. It is a theme of self-wrought reality and meaning that pervades the structure of the story, leading to solipsism, and eventually nihilism.
This isolation inevitably leads to ultimate disintegration and chaos within society itself. In a world of the individual’s own construction, Fleck eventually finds that making his own meaning is far easier than coming to grips with a harsh and cruel world. The direction in which his character turns seems to ask: why strive for inherited societal values when you can simply create your own? Why accept responsibility when your circumstances can be blamed on others? We are all of us, after all, masters of our own little realities, so why not play God?
This theme of fantasy and reality is another one of those consistencies (perhaps) forming some sort of synthesized unity amidst the tangled snarl of scenes composing the story. During the course of the movie, Arthur is denied his fantasy life, and part of the resulting chaos is motivated by his desire to show just how widespread those self-constructed fantasies are. It is his implicit mission to show society just how flimsy and insubstantial its “castles on clouds” actually are. He was denied his own delusion, and now he is denying others theirs.
The odd thing about his actions, though, is that even in tearing down these empty perceptions, he is creating his own false reality and misleading persona. All of society is out to get him, and everyone is to blame but himself. His is certainly a more dramatic and harrowing representation, but it is an uncanny reflection of the tendency of each of us to bury ourselves in the comfort of a solipsistic bubble of our own self-constructed existence. As the film shows, there are profound repercussions for society when this sort of idea is rampant, and there is no longer any unifying creed or idea by which to call that mass of people a “society.”
When every character in the film is hopelessly enmeshed in his own world, it is no surprise that the story moves in the direction it does. When no one buys into any ideas of morality except what is expedient, there is a descent into chaos. When everyone blindly accepts the simple idea which explains all of their problems, we get the natural ending of this film. When there is no true value, there is no true society.
I write these reviews because I love film, storytelling, and cinema as an art in pursuit of truth and beauty. On a more personal level, I simply like writing and thinking about the themes and ideas of movies. However, if you would like to support me in this endeavor, I do greatly appreciate your support!