Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?
While generally bearish on giving Hollywood my money, I also value the ability to play the normie at work, and when the situation warrants the conversation remain mainstream. Given the rather East German existence we are all accustomed to across the entire social spectrum…it is oft times a necessary evil to be able to intelligently discuss the latest drivel. After all, red flag laws are a thing in the land of the free and home of the consumer. In that vein, I recently viewed Joker and found it nothing if not an excellent cultural snapshot of the US in the current year.
While based on the DC character, the movie doesn’t have the childish, 80 IQ feel that the majority of movies based on Marvel or DC characters do. The cinematography and backdrop of the movie reminded me a lot of Death Wish. The city is gritty, raw, and decaying, reminding me of Baltimore or Chicago. Where the movie excels is in the dialogue and acting. The writing is sharp, poignant, and relevant in a way American Psycho was, or Full Metal Jacket. I would argue it could very well become this generation’s Taxi. It is essential to watch, simply because I see the potential for it to become a cultural reference point for many, many younger Millenials and Gen Z-ers. Learn the language and culture of your enemy, or ignore it at your peril.
The movie takes place in 1981, following Arthur Fleck as he slowly descends into madness and becoming the face of a movement in the process. Working a dead-end job as a clown, Arthur endures abuse after abuse at the hands of strangers and co-workers. Living with his mother, there are definitely overtones of Stockholm syndrome and codependence between the two. The main antagonist of the story is the wealthy, white, businessmen Thomas Wayne, as well as the wealthy and exclusively white upper class. Arthur’s mother has been abused and slighted by Wayne as a previous employee and the movie spends a substantial amount of time exploring the realities of capitalism. I won’t ruin the plotline, but the movie certainly deserved its R rating. The language is relatively mild and there is no nudity, but the graphic nature of the violence is certainly not for the timid. However, it is not on the level of Saving Private Ryan, and wouldn’t call it excessive. Having said that, when it occurs it is jarring and visceral.
The cinematography and acting aside, culture critique provided by the movie is what I found most interesting. Arthur Fleck, the Joker, represents a large number of people in the US. He is socially isolated, a beta male, and has failed to marry and progress in his life past puberty. He suffers abuse in a hostile, poor, and unforgiving world that he is ill-suited to adapt to. Pining for attention of the opposite sex, he lacks the social skills necessary to make advances on a woman and chooses to simply fantasize about a relationship than engage in one. He is physically slight, to the point of being malnourished and frequently disassociated into flights of fancy into imaginary worlds wherein he is the hero. Sprinkle on top of this an absentee father, overmedication and the lack of belief system of any kind. The result is what you would expect.
In addition to the main character the social dynamic of the movie I also found fascinating. Rather than the utterly trite “whyte men baaaaaad” plotline, the storyline focused on a city divided by the wealth gap. The haves live in opulence and luxury, the have-nots live in abject poverty. The haves use their influence and wealth to rape and pillage, and seemingly suffer little backlash legally or financially. I found the inclusion of media personalities as an organ of the elite extremely refreshing, particularly their portrayal as lackeys to the elite and the culpability they have in the social climate.
My own takeaway was that the move perfectly represents the generational cultural division that has existed for years. Penny Fleck, Arthur’s mom, responds to the widening wealth gap by begging for mercy. Writing letters to a man who doesn’t care and barely remembers who she is. Arthur, on the other hand elects to burn down the mechanism being used to harm the many for the benefit of the few. The disparity in response to social pressure directly mirrors what we see today. The far right and the far left both have the same answer to the continued exploitation of the country under the religion of the dollar. Others are content to beg for scraps and lick the boots of their ‘betters’ in hopes of maintaining the status quo until the day they die. The cultural significance of this film is that it recognizes the center is disappearing, because the center is people who have devoted their entire working career to the current system.
The apotheosis of the movie occurs when the old order is confronted with the realities on the ground that it has so long strove to put aside and ignore. Arthur screams to the smug media personality “Have you seen what it’s like out there…do you ever actually leave the studio? Everybody just yells and screams at each other. Nobody’s civil anymore. ….They think that we’ll just sit there and take it…that we won’t go werewolf and go wild!” The unbearable tension breaks and the city goes from restless to riots in hours. While the movie clearly favors the socialist ‘resist’ side of the spectrum, it presents a vision of a society rapidly disintegrating in a way that feels like a compilation of today’s headlines.
I don’t doubt the movie is Hollywood’s attempt to encourage riots and political violence. Most likely it will be effective because it’s a pretty accurate picture of this gilded dumpster fire known as the US. The wealth gap is continuing to widen thanks to the uniparty, and their commitment to shareholders and the Fortune 500 who make their political careers so lucrative. Joker points that out in stark, memorable terms and an awful lot of people are going to make that connection. If for nothing else the movie is worth watching to understand the effectiveness of allegory and seeing a rather excellent portrayal of a man and a society’s descent into madness.