Updated: Mar 15
“Gentleman, why don’t you laugh? With the fearful strain that is upon me night and day, if I did not laugh occasionally I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do.” —Abraham Lincoln, Monday, September 22, 1862, special cabinet meeting with all members
“If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry,” is as old as the ancients. In Greece, actors who were viewed from afar wore tragedy (sad) and comedy (happy, laughing) masks so the entire audience could easily identify their emotions even if they couldn’t hear clearly. That is where the famous drama symbol comes from:
Clowns paint these expressions onto their faces. In Joker (2019), Joaquin Phoenix plays a clown who brings the dichotomy of these masks to life, and synthesizes them within a tragically tormented mind. To prepare for the role, he studied the pseudobulbar affect: uncontrollable, erratic laughter and crying, which happens to patients with brain damage (Parkinsons, Alzeihmers, stroke, MS, ALS). To think that if we rewire our brains slightly, amusement and despair become interchangeable at random, suggesting an essential synergy between comedy and tragedy. Mr. Phoenix masterfully depicts this synergy alongside a cornucopia of defense mechanisms: humor, denial, distortion, projection, and schizoid fantasy to name a few.
His skill in acting is captivating, proving that he can stand toe-to-toe with the best actors of all time, such as Russell Crowe, Kenneth Branagh, Laurence Fishburne, Denzel Washington, Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, and Kate Winslet. His skill in martial arts paid dividends in this film, as he uses his limber body and tai chi to awkwardly express emotions for which the mind of a deeply insane man could never find words.
Joker is not a feel-good film. It’s an empathy film. Unlike most anti-hero movies, it doesn’t go out of its way to pretend as if the bad guy is good. The bad looks ugly. Even his positive qualities look pitiable and tragic. The audience wants Arthur Fleck (Joker) to get better, and to get a break from his incessant misfortune, because deep down he is a kind and gentle soul who simply enjoys making people laugh. If only he could have taken his sensitive heart down the path of love and mercy, he may have found a satisfying and peaceful life.
Joker asks the audience to think about a villain more maturely, opening their eyes to the uniquely painful circumstances that created him. It also asks the audience to think about themselves critically, as it depicts the slow-drip antagonisms, psychological aggression, and bullying that apathetic and cruel people contribute every day towards creating villains like Joker, mass shooters, and terrorists. The feelings we get for Arthur Fleck are pity, dismay, remorse, and abandonment.
His mother was institutionalized for delusional psychosis and narcissistic personality disorder. The insinuation is that Arthur was already challenged at birth with inherited propensity for serious mental illness. And the cruel urban society in which he lives, not only did nothing to help him with his genetic challenges, it actively poured poison onto his struggle to exacerbate his misery.
Score: 4.5/5 Stars
Joker cannot be a perfect five, because while it is a supremely crafted work of art in almost every aspect, its limited theme and motifs ultimately fixate upon two things: the consequences of mental illness for communities and individuals, and the role that news media, politicians, and citizens have to play in a defunct, amoral, systematically corrupt urban miasma.
In just one year, fourteen people poured salt on Arthur’s mental wounds, with complete disregard and callousness. In a mentally healthy person, the events would have turned out differently. But since the mentally ill are always encouraged to appear normal, how does a person know if they are pushing a vulnerable person like Arthur over the frayed end of sanity? His journal had a profound comment:
“I just hope my death makes more sense than my life. The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”
Tai chi was a perfect choice as a motif for Arthur’s struggle with ethics. It’s a martial art that doesn’t seek violence, instead focusing on meditation and movement. It’s modeled after yin and yang, which asserts that contrasting forces in life work synergistically - good and evil, dark and light, laughter and pain. And that paradox of light and dark is stirring in Arthur‘s mind persistently, with the overwhelming cruelty and apathy that nearly everyone in his life has shown to him.
It’s tedious to read mainstream journalist reviews of Joker. They mindlessly decorate their treatments with leftwing democrat-brainwashed jargon. They claimed that Joker glamorized “young white male” mass murder. They must have been intoxicated with hippie drugs when they wrote their reviews, or else they’re as mentally ill as Arthur. First of all, Arthur is not young. This is not a coming-of-age story. Flashbacks to the past are few, dark, and bothersome. So perhaps they think an anorexic middle-aged ward of the state social services is a relatable role model for teenage boys? It’s a wickedly foolish opinion.
Secondly, nothing at all about Arthur is glamorized. Almost everything about the movie is tragic, ugly, and pitiable. I suppose these numbskulls expect a cartoonish story, where villains have no humanity at all? They can’t handle a realistic drama? Funny, because the same reviewers dote over anti-Christian, anti-Conservative villain flicks like American Horror Story, House of Cards, and The Suicide Squad.
It’s also become tiresome to listen to the racially paranoid invocations of the BLM/CRT acolytes as they inject anti-white bigotry into everything they observe. The movie was the first R-rated flick in history to gross more than $1 billion internationally. $700 billion of the revenue did not come from America. I wonder if the hordes of Asians and Latino fans abroad were thinking, “Arthur is a white guy. Of course we have no mentally ill Asian or Latino mass killers. We already forgot about Aum Shinrikyo. Also, Latin America’s medieval homicide rate has no component of mental illness. This is such a white guy problem. How interesting. Let’s make it really popular and spend all our money on the white guy experience to which none of us can relate at all.”
But it gets even better than racial stupidity. The leftist critics also said that it glorifies “incel culture.” One reviewer called Arthur Fleck “the patron saint of incels.” If you don’t know what that means, congratulations. Your purity of vernacular has yet to be debased by such inverted morality. Allow me to be the one to debase it for you:
Incel stands for “involuntary celibate.” Millennial and Gen-Z degenerates hurl the pejorative at people they think are losers, weak, stupid, or even “different.” That’s right. The young degenerates don’t like it when a person is smarter than them. They don’t like it when they’re wittier than them. So they even use “incel” to insult people whom they know are superior to them in a way. The word logically presumes that celibacy is a negative thing. It insists that you can only be an acceptable person if you can have sex with whoever you want. So much for romance and love, right? So much for “science,” in the minds of youths too stupid to have understood the meaning of “reproductive organs” in their biology classes.
When I encounter young adults online who use the term, I respond to them with my own term -- volperv. “What’s that?” they ask. I reply, “Voluntary pervert, since you seem to think that indiscreet sex is some kind of grand virtue and rite of passage for social acceptance. You’re a voluntary pervert, a volperv. Normal and intelligent people realize that your sexual exploits — real or imagined — don’t do anything to increase your value to others.”
Beyond the neurotic sexual projections of leftist reviewers, the chicken littles of the left had a field day with this movie, warning that it would cause mass murders by inspiring vulnerable, bullied young white males. Three years later, I’m wondering if they‘re looking in the mirror thinking, “I’m just like the millerites. The apocalypse didn’t come, and now I have to form a new church.” Or perhaps, Time Magazine, Rachel Miller, Vox, The Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian, and The New York Times should consider publishing counterpoints to their hysteria in the future. And then they should open an academic book for once in their lives, before spewing their baseless opinions upon the world.
Violence in the United States has plummeted since the 1980s, when cinema violence was about a fraction of what it was today. If we’re going for correlation, it would be an inverse correlation — more cinema violence, less real violence in the world. But correlation is not causation, so we shouldn’t be as stupid as these critics who associate imagined future-murders with a fictitious movie. Besides, I thought these murders were caused by video games? Or has that scapegoat lost vogue in recent years? Perhaps they should go back to the comic book, Dungeons & Dragons, or heavy metal music scapegoats for bad parenting and ineffective schooling.
Personally, I appreciated the honesty and wisdom of the film. Dangerous mental patients should not be sent to apathetic social workers with a pile of pills in their hands. They need a curated community and restraint. When a mother has abused her son in criminal acts, she is the last person social services should rely upon to stabilize him. And we should all think more carefully about how we contribute to the decline of vulnerable people with our apathy or cruelty.
I knew a guy with Asperger’s named Jacob who would stop by Starbucks on his breaks from his grocery bagging job. Over the years, I witnessed him trying to talk to nearly everyone. I was one of the ten percent of people who treated him with respect and dignity. The rest shunned him, ignored him, and even insulted him at times. We now live in a society where urban progressives impose accommodations and forced sympathy for gender dysphoria and sexual anxiety. But those same people are among the 90% who would harass or shun vulnerable people like Jacob and brain damaged people like Arthur Fleck with prejudicial visions of “young white male incels,” clanging around in their bigoted heads.
To end the discussion on a positive note: Psychology Today understood this movie well, and published a great assessment. Popularity does not always guarantee quality, but in this case, Joker deserves to be the most internationally successful R-rated film to date. And if you can’t see that the cautionary tale of Arthur Fleck encourages us to show the mentally ill a greater degree of compassion and understanding? You might want to check yourself into a clinic for an evaluation. Please bring the aforementioned mainstream leftist news editors with you.
It’s not possible to think about the sociopolitical ramifications of Joker, without summarizing the plot. Most of the movie is a series of sad events that reveal the tragic life of Arthur Fleck and push him into becoming Joker — a clown who loves chaos, and derives sadistic pleasure from punishing the cruel and apathetic general public.
First, he’s assaulted by crooked teenagers while doing his clown job for a business on the streets. They steal his sign and then gang-beat him to a pulp when he asks for it back. His boss mocks him, calls him a freak, shows no empathy for his injuries, and even docks his paycheck for the sign that the teenagers destroyed. Then his coworker gives him a gun to protect himself on the streets. When the gun falls out of his pants during a clown act for hospital kids, his boss fires him. The coworker lied to the boss, telling him that Arthur tried to buy a gun off of him. If his coworker had covered for Arthur, he may have kept his job.
Soon enough, Arthur needs the gun to defend himself. Three drunken wall street workers are harassing a woman on the subway. When she asks them to leave her alone, they throw food at her. Arthur starts laughing uncontrollably which confounds and angers the white-collar degenerates. The girl gets away thanks to the distraction, but they steal Arthur’s belongings and beat him to the ground. As they mercilessly kick his defeated body, blow-after-blow, Arthur loses his mind and pulls the gun out of his pocket. He shoots all three of them and another mental breakdown ensues, with tai chi and dancing as he escapes reality. The news media and politicians paint the white-collar degenerates as if they’re martyrs and saints, while they insult “the cowardly murderer who hides behind a clown mask.” In truth, the first two killings were self-defense, and the third was a vigilante product of his psychosis.
Later, the police interrogate everyone at Arthur’s former employer (a clown acting group). The coworker who betrayed him with the gun is concerned that he might be implicated in the murders since it was his gun. He pretends like he cares about Arthur’s mom, but Arthur sees through is phony motives as the coworker starts asking about what Arthur told the police so they can get their stories straight. Arthur then stabs him and bashes his head into the wall, in his fifth brutal vigilante murder (we’ll discuss the fourth later).
Meanwhile, his tax-funded social worker denies him a request for increased medications when he tells her that they’re not working. She then tells him that he can’t have his therapy sessions or medications anymore because they cut funding. She asserts, “They don’t care about you. And they don’t care about us either.” Arthur commits the fourth and fifth vigilante murders when he’s been off his psychiatric medications thanks to the government shutting down the services. The social worker is robotic and apathetic; her office is dark and depressing. The movie does not depict government welfare programs as effective and intelligent. While the pills might have sedated his violent tendencies, the movie implies that a tax-financed ”friend” (social worker) who listens to the problems of the mentally ill is ill-conceived.
And to be sure, Arthur’s mental illness began at a young age. His mother thinks that Arthur is the illegitimate son of billionaire Thomas Wayne. When Arthur finds out, he goes to the Wayne mansion to meet “his dad,” and does a harmless magic trick for a rich boy (Bruce Wayne) on the outside of the property gate. An employee of Thomas Wayne then insults him, tells him that his mother was delusional, and laughs at him.
Undeterred, Arthur tracks down Thomas Wayne and confronts him at an opera. Thomas tells Arthur that his mother adopted him while she was working for the Wayne household, they never had sex, and she was committed to a mental institution. When Arthur pleads with him and laughs, Thomas punches him in the face and says, “If you touch my son again, I’ll f*cking kill you.” Once again, Arthur is punished for trying to make kids smile, and for seeking familial affection deprived from him for his entire life.
To investigate Thomas Wayne’s accusations about his mother, Arthur steals her case file from the mental insititution. It says that she was admitted on November 2nd, 1952 as a 25-year-old for drug abuse, delusional psychosis, narcissistic personality disorder, and letting her boyfriend repeatedly abuse young Arthur. They found Arthur tied to a radiator, malnourished with bruises all over his body, and severe head trauma. This indicates that in addition to his mother’s genetic tendency for mental illness, she may have been an accomplice to his childhood brain damage at the hands of her boyfriend.
After he discovers what his mother did to him, he goes to her hospital bed as she lay dying of cancer. She says “You were always a happy boy.” He laughs and replies, “I haven’t been happy one minute of my entire life. You know what’s really funny? I used to think my life was a tragedy but now I realize it’s a comedy.” Arthur then smothers her with a pillow, in his fourth vigilante murder.
Throughout the series of unfortunate events, Arthur was doting over his lifetime idol, a comedian talkshow host named Murray Franklin. Murray actually finds a video of Arthur’s terrible standup comedy act and broadcasts it on his popular show just to ridicule Arthur. Humiliated in front of the entire nation, Arthur goes into an even deeper depression, which contributes to his fourth and fifth vigilante murders.
Murray’s audience enjoyed mocking Arthur so much, Murray actually invites Arthur onto the show as a guest. During the interview, Murray sarcastically mocks Arthur for the first five minutes. He confesses to the murders of the three Wall Street brokers on live television. A powerful conversation ensues:
Murray: “Why should we believe you.”
Arthur: “I’ve got nothing left to lose. My life is nothing but a comedy.”
”Let me get this straight. You think that killing those guys is funny?”
”I do. And I’m tired of pretending it’s not. Comedy is subjective Murray…All of you, the system that knows so much, you decide what’s right or wrong the same way that you decide what’s funny or not.”
”Ok I think I might understand. You did this to start a movement? To become a symbol?”
”Come on Murray, do I look like the kind of clown that could start a movement? I killed those guys because they were awful. Everybody is awful these days; it’s enough to make anyone crazy.“
”So that’s it, you’re crazy? That’s your defense for killing these men?”
”No. They couldn’t carry a tune to save their lives.”
*Audience boos at the joke*
Arthur continues, ”Oh, why is everybody so upset about these guys? If it was me dying on the sidewalk, you’d walk right over me! I pass you every day and you don’t notice me. But these guys, what, because Thomas Wayne went and cried about them on TV?”
”You have a problem with Thomas Wayne too?”
”Yes I do. Have you seen what it’s like out there Murray? Do you ever actually leave the studio? Everybody just yells and screams at each other. Nobody’s civil anymore! Nobody thinks what it’s like to be the other guy. You think men like Thomas Wayne ever think about what’s like to be someone like me? To be somebody but themselves? They don’t. They think that we’ll just sit there, and take it like good little boys! That we won’t werewolf, and go wild!”
”You finished? I mean it’s so much self-pity Arthur, you sound like you’re making excuses for killing those young men. Not everyone is awful.”
“You’re awful Murray.”
”Me? I’m awful? Oh yeah, how am I awful?”
”Playing my video. Inviting me on this show. You just wanted to make fun of me. You’re just like the rest of them.“
”You don’t know the first thing about me, pal. Look at what happened because of what you did, what it led to. There are riots out there. Two policemen are in critical condition — and you’re laughing. You’re laughing. Someone was killed today because of what you did.”
”I know. How about another joke Murray?”
”No. I think we’ve had enough of your jokes.”
“What do you get…”
”Call the police Gene.”
“…when you combine a mentally-ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?! You get what you f*cking deserve!”
Arthur pulls the gun out of his jacket and shoots Murray once in the face on live television. He laughs, shoots him another time in the chest, dances, grabs the camera and says, “Good night, and always remember, that’s life.”
Arthur is arrested, as the city is in a state of anarchy from the riots inspired by corruption, anti-police sentiment, bad economy, and unemployment. Thomas Wayne and his wife are shot dead in cold blood during the riot, in front of their child Bruce Wayne, while leaving a fine arts theater. The last scene shows Arthur escaping his mental institution after murdering his psychologist.