“Nihilism is a natural consequence of a culture (or civilization) ruled and regulated by categories that mask manipulation, mastery and domination of peoples and nature.”
Cornel West, The Cornel West Reader
Todd Phillip’s The Joker is a story about the decay of Western Civilisation. Set in a world ready to explode with disenfranchised people who’ve lost faith in the system and government. Crime and unemployment are through the roof with jobs and money scarce. People are angry and looking for a scapegoat.
The original 2019 Joker film centred on the fictional character, Arthur Fleck, a single man who lives with his elderly mother in a dilapidated apartment building. Welfare dependent and mentally ill, he receives regular medication and counselling from the state. In a series of painful life experiences, we watch Arthur’s story unfold as it goes from bad to worse.
I found this quite a difficult film to watch. Despite it being a brilliant piece of cinema, with a fantastic storyline, and better than authentic acting. Joachin Phoenix’s Oscar winning performance brought The Joker to life, as he tugged at our heartstrings breaking for Arthur over and over again throughout the film.
We can’t help but agonise over every tragedy he encountered and if you’re anything like me, you will want to take him into your arms, and tell him about Jesus. At the very heart of Arthur was the desire to make his miserable world good. However, his search for goodness was in all the wrong places.
The film showed his personal journey as he stands at the precipice of finding meaning and goodness to resorting to nihilism and evil. His attempt to reconcile with the man he believes to be his father, business tycoon and aspiring mayor Thomas Wayne, only revealed the truth about his childhood. He discovers the abuse he endured as a child by his own adoptive mother and her boyfriend, is the cause of his mental illness and dysfunction. The revelation sees him take a downward turn for the worse which sends him into murderous hatred and rage. Losing the only thing which truly gave him joy and purpose, working as a clown in a children’s hospital, he becomes a truly broken man. Rejected by his father, the system, his own mother, and the girl next door, his breaking point comes at the hands of bullies in business suits. Forced to defend himself, he ends up shooting his three attackers to death.
The murders empowered him as he is finally set free from his social angst. A discarded, marginalized, forgotten victim of society, finds new strength in his hatred and takes it upon himself to clean up the world of antagonists in suits. Megalomaniacal, power-tripping, corporate aristocrats who serve only themselves, as they step on anyone and everyone to get what they want, are his main target. At the conclusion of the film, we see him dancing on top of a car, in the midst of a protest. He is being celebrated and hailed as the man who finally stuck it to the powers that be.
Evil manifests two faces as Arthur goes from being the protagonist to the antagonist in his own tragic story. In him we see a snippet of ourselves in the West. We live in a delusional haze of nihilistic apathy. Though not all will become murderous psychopaths, many are plagued by mental health issues, cyclical dysfunction or some sort of addiction. With suicide rates on the rise since 2020, things don’t seem to be getting better. Sedated by the Western world’s drug of choice, whether it be the entertainment industry, consumerism or some sort of anti-depressant, it’s not until we are awakened by some tragic force are we moved to action. Like the people of Gotham city, we look for scapegoats. Whilst scapegoating gives us meaning, it does little to change our situation. We can warm ourselves by the raging anarchists only to have our fires extinguished by the city skyline, as cries for change fall on deaf ears.
In a world where people worship the state, looking at government to fix them, it’s no wonder nothing and no one improves. There is no political solution. It would be easy to see Arthur as the crazy other, and view him as though outside of ourselves. We disassociate from his situation as though far removed from it. But the only difference between Arthur and us is that we may have money and means to function better in the world. We have access to medication, and are easily entertained by whatever mind-numbing drug is available to get by. But a little bit of Arthur exists in all of us, whether we like it or not. Eventually, we will all have to choose between good and evil. The only solution for Arthurs and all the world’s problems is Christ.
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
Deep down we love Arthur. We are torn between wanting to see him heal, and find freedom from his hatred and vengeance, but we also want to see him have his day of reckoning. Unfortunately, that will have to wait until Joker 2 entitled Joker: Folie à Deux (English translation: shared psychosis) scheduled to be released in October 2024. Lady Gaga will play Dr Harley Quinn and Zazie Beetz will reprise her role as Arthur’s neighbour and fantasy love interest Sophie Dumond.