Let us first offer our deepest condolences to the great loss of the Marvel cinematic universe. While Marvel’s beloved Tony Stark was a man of many things—genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist—he was ultimately the one in a million noble enough to choose the cursed fate of a hero over his happy ending as a father. But before the throne irrefutably is secured, its rival DC comics has decided to make one last claim for it. So, who is its champion? Who is our new contender for the crown? Perhaps a secret agent, war hero, demigod, mutant, prince, vigilante or at least some other billionaire? Well, he is a clown. No, nothing super to it, just a clown. Save your boos, ladies and gentlemen, for they will not last long when he starts his tricks. Have no time to waste on a creepy freak who scrapes pennies off of vulgar tricks, you say? Trust me when I say he is one of a kind. Without further ado, please give a warm, welcoming applause to Joker.
The controversial yet striking masterpiece, which traces back the origin of an unconventional villain we now come to know as Joker, is not a typical superhero movie with “marveling” CGI fireworks. Grotesque and grisly as the onscreen deaths may seem, these are what tense both the audience and the critiques—that this too intimately resembles those disturbing headlines of mass shootings that can be found in the newspapers. Set aside the clown make-up, which its clumsiness only enhances his creepiness, and the fancy DC labels, this film might be mistaken as a documentary of a serial killer rather than a movie from the comics industry. The truly frightening part is that the audience, at least partially, can sympathize with him in his miserable urban life—a betrayal from a friend, verbal and physical abuses in public, internal struggles overlooked by the surrounding, a series of lies from the person whom you most trusted can all be a stabs at your heart.
A murder obviously cannot be justified by any means, but the fact that there was an emotional basis behind his actions proves that Joker is no psychopath. As he puts it, “I killed those guys because they were awful”. This—a motive too simple—is the aspect of Joker that disturbs the audience. When one scrutinizes over him, one realizes that he is not some purple-skinned alien villain; Joker is not too different from us. He was just an angry clown. This anger is the troubling theme of the movie. The film is a perfect depiction of how a single spark of rage can intensify into an irrepressible mayhem—or “revolution,” depending on the political context.
The fierce rallies from the public and the scenery of Armageddon sweeping the city are enough to unnerve the audience. While the situation the public was stuck-up with was not all sunshine and rainbows, where was that maniacal rage coming from?
A UIC student from the “Political Thoughts: Concepts and Case Studies” course agreed to share some of the insights from his class. His words were, “In the class, we observed a concept called Antisystem behavior.” The main idea is that recent statistics seem to show that people these days, especially the younger generation, are more inclined towards transgressive and antisocial behaviors, growing more defiant to the social norms. While many studies still can only speculate upon the exact source, there seems to be a persistent theme. The crux was the spread of individualism, which can develop into narcissism. He said, “To put it simply, while their hearts are permeated with individualist ethos, many people in society face limited socioeconomic status. It is not their fault. But this sense of alienation their reality throws at their face may be the possible source of resentment and angry sentiments.” Joker during the Murray Franklin Show howls out, “Everybody just screams at each other. Nobody’s civil anymore.” This may be his critique of the self-interested, egotistical present-day society. The case for Joker was that while the majority of the people learn to cope with this tragic reality through devotion to one’s certain creed—love, money, faith, dream—Arthur Fleck had nowhere to turn to. So, his solution? He created a creed of his own. With his tainted courage and nativity, he became the hero of those “oppressed.”
For Joker, life is a simple, mischievous game. The moment he pulls the trigger against you, you will be his miserable clown. That is his feat: death to a man, down to his feet.
This resonates with the conclusion of Joker in a way: “I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it’s a comedy.” Look at his face powdered with ghastly flour. His lips smeared with blood torn to the cheeks only makes it merrier. Let our hearts tremble as he asks us, “Well, who is the prey now?”