Joker: How a Monster is Created

October 14, 2019

Opinion, Reviews

 

Senior Lorenzo Gomez spent his summer doing what he loves–consuming out-of-the box music and film and analyzing its greater impact on culture and society. This year, he will be sharing his insight on both commercial and obscure content in his new column, Through Lorenzo’s Lens. First up, is his take on Joker.

Cartoon by Livia DePoy

 

By Lorenzo Gomez

In an America plagued with violence and negligence of mental health concerns, Joker provides disturbing–but thoughtful–insight that engulfs its audience in discomfort. Director Todd Phillips’ comic book movie debut is far from the normal all-star lineup of good guys beating the bad guys; instead it studies a broken man’s downward spiral through an early-Martin-Scorsese-directing-style. 

Arthur Fleck (portrayed by Academy Award-Nominee, Joaquin Phoenix) seems to have the worst life anyone can imagine, and it only gets worse. As the audience watches Fleck’s descent into madness and his transformation into one of the most infamous fictional villains of all time, they are simultaneously asked to consider essential questions about cruelty, society, the rich vs. poor, and mental health. Phillips does not glorify violence, but he portrays it in a way that can possibly open the eyes of viewers on how a monster like the Joker is created.

Joker had the biggest opening weekend ever in October.

Arthur Fleck’s terrible life is influenced by a severe mental health disorder (possibly paranoid schizophrenia) an unstable mother, lack of a father figure, and poor-living conditions that set heavy weights on his chest. To get by and provide for his mother, Fleck works as a clown for hire for birthday parties and other social events. The cruelty of the crime-ridden fictional city of Gotham fuels the fire behind Fleck’s madness. He is jumped on countless occasions and does not get the time of day from anybody he meets. As Fleck tells his checked out and unsupportive psychiatrist, “Is it just me or is the world getting crazier out there?” It is clear that he is trying hard to maintain a smile on his face, no matter how hard it physically and mentally pains him. His obsession with late night talk show host, Franklin Murray (Academy Award-winner Robert De Niro) and aspirations of being a successful stand-up comic can only keep Fleck on the right path for so long. As he slowly transforms into Gotham’s clown prince of crime, the Joker, Phillips presents ideas of how terrible conditions, particularly cruelty, can influence these kind of transformations. This is the first time in DC’s film catalogue that a director has forced audience members to see through the eyes of the Joker, leaving the viewer feeling sympathetic and compassionate toward the villain while also recognizing his absolute brutality. 

America contains a largely divided political climate, especially with debates on gun control and mental health. The fear of violence and inhumane behavior is strongly felt by many who just want to live their daily lives safely. Controversy is sparked in the media about entertainment that comments on harsh realities, exemplified by the outrage against Joker. The film’s depiction of violence, and arguably the romanticizing of it, is no doubt present. But this is the case for many of art’s greatest works. It can be argued that the media targets specific pieces of entertainment as a “fall guy” for the influence of a generation of school shooters and mass murderers. Though there is no way of logistically proving whether violent films directly or indirectly incite violent crimes, it can be inferred that Joker is more of a cautionary tale of how these offenders may be bred. Phillips analyzes external factors of violent offenders in order to spark conversation on how America can possibly aid itself in this epidemic. 

It seems as if Phillips believes an essential way to possibly deter violent offenders is to change the societal conditions which can be controlled. While Phillips does not directly say that Joker’s actions are good or evil, it is obvious that he, along with everyone in the audience, knows that Joker is not a good person. The question, though, is how did he become so bad? Everybody has problems, but some cannot be controlled or changed. Fleck was dealt the worst hand possible in life, and his mental health conditions prohibit his ability to play this hand well. This is probably the case for a lot of people. Though not justifying his personal decisions, a lot of influence for Fleck was the cruelty he experiences throughout the film. This is where an arrow in the right direction may be presented. It can be argued that if the people who surrounded Fleck were more compassionate and welcoming, his transformation may have been lessened or not have occurred at all. 

There is a negative stigma around those with mental illness, especially if they have a hard time suppressing it. According to Mental Health America, nearly 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with some sort of mental health condition in their lifetime while only about 44% of those officially diagnosed receive the proper medical treatment they need. Mental health is just as essential as physical health, and negative stigma against these issues are not beneficial to the individual or society as a whole–particularly as we see violence and mass shootings rise at an alarming rate. Phillips is clearly aware of this issue and highlights it throughout the movie.

Believing that he could solve the violent issues and mental health negligence in America was probably not what consumed Phillips’ mind while crafting Joker. However, it is clear through his narrative that he does believe that the cruelty that some Americans invoke on each other has a significant influence on the creation of monsters. Though the phrase “be a good person,” may seem surface-level and cliche, it proves true according to Phillips latest effort. 

Joker proves to be a timely film questioning the norms of society and the cruelty of human nature through gritty and ominous storytelling. 

 

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