Movie review of Joker (2019)

Note, the following contains spoilers of about the first half of the movie, so wait for later to read this if you haven’t watched the movie but intend to do so.

There are two interpretations of the Batman franchise, a long-standing comic book with spinoffs in TV and movies.  The first way tends to be a little campy, silly, and sometimes gayed up.  The campy take characterizes the 1960s TV series, which was pretty awesome.  It also characterizes the film series that fizzled out in the 1990s, which had its moments.  Actually, Jack Nicholson’s Joker rocked the house!

The other portrayal takes it all seriously, generally pretty grim.  That characterizes the newer films, of course.  Bruce Wayne is so rich that all he really has to do to support a lavish lifestyle is show up at board meetings.  At night, he’s wearing a bat suit and beating up criminals.  What kind of psychology goes into a trust fund kid who turned into a costumed vigilante?  (Rorschach from The Watchmen is the blue collar version.)  Batman’s origin story has been covered quite a bit, of course.

The plot of Joker

The new Joker movie goes into the origin story of Batman’s number one antagonist.  All told, it’s pretty grim.  Set in 1981, it captures the ambiance of NYC prior to the Giuliani administration.  (That’s basically what Gotham City is, after all.)  In that regard, it’s much like Taxi Driver.  The following explains how Joker borrows several Robert DeNiro tropes:

Arthur Fleck, who becomes The Joker, is one of the many down-and-out who inhabit Gotham’s bleak environment, and the film covers his slow decline.  He lives with his mother in a tenement better described as a panelak, an East European term for the typical crappy government high-rises constructed during the Communist days.  He chain-smokes and appears to suffer from malnutrition.  Even early on, the drabness and anomie is stunning.

He stays with his mother, and they’re supported by his crappy job as a clown as well as her disability check.  She seems like a nice lady, but later on their past is revealed.  She had a case of hybristophilia during her “young, wild, and free” years, seeking the company of dangerous men.  Some of them tortured little Arthur, and he ended up getting brain damage from a beating.  While getting her Stockholm Syndrome funsies, she failed in her number one duty to protect her child.  I wish I could say it was only a movie, but this shit happens for real.

Getting his brains scrambled causes his strange laughter which he can’t control and happens at all the wrong times, rather like a Tourette’s outburst.  This isn’t his only problem, since he’s on seven different psych meds.  (The newer generation of drugs that came out beginning in the 1990s is pretty bad as it is.)  Other than that, he meets a Black single mom who becomes his love interest, because it wouldn’t be a recent Hollywood film without an interracial couple.  Later it turns out that most of the relationship is probably Walter Mitty style daydreaming on his part.

All told, already he’s at the bottom rung of society.  It gets worse, of course.  There’s a surreal scene at a children’s hospital where he’s dancing to “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands” among little cancer patients and other seriously sick kids.  At that point, I wanted to chug a screwdriver made with isopropyl alcohol and Agent Orange.  The kiddos actually are getting into it until a gun falls out of his pocket.  His boss fires him immediately – the guy is a dickweed, but it’s understandable.

On the subway back home, three rich guys start beating up on him for laughing.  (It’s the second time in the film where he gets kicked when he’s down, fairly symbolic.)  Then he shoots them.  The first two are arguably self-defense, but the third rates as a Murder Two.  That, of course, recalls the Bernhard Goetz “subway vigilante” case, in which actual muggers got shot, rather than very uncharacteristically aggressive rich dudes.

Other than that, he loses his shrink (who hasn’t been able to do much to screw his head back on straight) along with his supply of psych meds.  The city had some budget cuts, so the program got cancelled.  You already can tell that the downhill slide is getting into terminal velocity.  I’ll throw in a cheerful dance track to break the grim mood:

Bringing us to the real world for a moment, I might add that it sucks that mental health care isn’t better.  If you’re a Yuppie with a case of the blahs, no problem.  However, lots of the people who need therapy the most are screwed because they can’t afford it.  Talking the bartender’s ear off only goes so far.  Popping Oxycodone ain’t going to enhance someone’s life either.

Back to the movie.  It turns out that shooting the rich guys in the subway made Arthur a folk hero.  Quickly a movement arises with protesters wearing clown masks.  (Welcome to Clown World, right?)  However, they aren’t Occupy Wall Street types, who were notoriously dirty and disorderly, but never made lamppost ornaments out of any banksters or stock market swindlers.  As things turn ugly, this becomes a much more violent crowd, rather like Antifa.  I’ll add that I don’t have much of a gripe with OWS, but Antifa can put the lotion in the basket as far as I’m concerned.

I’ll wrap up at this point.  More stuff happened, and things spiraled dreadfully out of control.  What followed completed Arthur’s transformation into the Joker.

Summary

All told, this was a very grim show, rather like a Greek tragedy.  (For one example, Oedipus Rex shows that fate can be a real motherfucker.)  This brings us to something I wrote in Deplorable Diatribes:

Flawed societies tend to exacerbate problems with human nature, bringing out the worst in people. Granted, that’s a liberal idea, so it’s paradoxical that I’ve come to accept it. To clarify, a bad society will create bad conditions. Still, it’s possible to realize the truth about one’s conditions and act rationally. On the other side of the equation, society only can be perfected so far; it’s impossible to create heaven on earth, or even make everyone equally happy.

Arthur did make some choices here.  He wasn’t too crazy to do that.  Unfortunately, every desperate attempt he makes to improve his conditions – or even keep from sinking deeper – ends up with him getting kicked down yet again.  Rather than succumbing to learned helplessness, he starts lashing out.  Consider it a case of wrong heaped on a pile of wrong.  Again, I wish I could say it was only a movie, but this shit happens for real.

What happens when society continually pisses on someone all his life?  I’m reminded of Nietzsche’s remark that humility is like a worm curling up as it’s stepped on, to prevent it from getting stepped on again by the other boot.  Alternatively, a few people just snap.  This doesn’t end well.

The incel massacre that didn’t happen

Finally, I should discuss the reaction to the film even before it came out.  The way the MSM was hyping it up, they expected that the film would lead to hordes of incels going postal.  There were warnings not to attend the premier because one of these guys would gun down a crowd at the theater.  With all the buzz about the possibility, the media wizards might as well have said, “How about someone just do what we’re talking about incessantly – hint hint – so we’ll have a new lurid story to run, and our talking heads can comment on it for the next month.”  It didn’t happen, so there we have another failed MSM prediction.

For those unfamiliar with the term, an “incel” is basically a guy who can’t get a date to save his life.  I will discuss the fearmongering about them in another article.  For now, I’ll just say that society already pissed all over them, and this new rhetoric alleging that they’re inherently violent just amounts to high-tech bullyingReal classy, huh?  The MSM characters who are pushing this line are externalizers of the Oedipus Complex.

Will the film ever incite someone to go postal?  Taxi Driver, the spiritual prequel of Joker, indeed had that problem.  So did that crappy book Catcher In the Rye.  Actually, Mark David Chapman did have a wife, so he wasn’t an incel.  Unlike him, John Hinckley had a rich family and better looks, so he certainly could have had a wife or a girlfriend, if he wasn’t so starstruck over a teenage actress who turned out to be a lesbian.  The common thread there wasn’t about being incels, but rather being so mentally disturbed that they didn’t know what was real.

Maybe it’s time to figure out what can be done to help people like that before their downward slide reaches terminal velocity.  This includes the ones on the bottom rung of society – the homeless, the addicts, and those hanging by a thread.

Movie review of Joker (2019)

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