All I Have Are Negative Thoughts.Arthur Fleck
These are exactly the ingredients needed that created Joaquin Phoenix’s 2019 interpretation of the DC villain Joker. Note that I used the word ‘created’ and it is not a mistake; society gave birth to him.
Now before I proceed further, I must admit that I know nothing much about the Batman universe. There are too many installations and different portrayals of Joker; the iconic one by the late Heath Ledger, the modern Joker by Jared Leto, and in this show, a mentally ill-turned villain by Joaquin Phoenix. I genuinely assumed that they will be somehow related but oh boy was I terribly wrong.
In Todd Phillips’ film, the ‘villain’ Joker is a Gotham City resident who was raised in a physically abusive environment which left him with a mental condition that makes him laugh for no reason. For fears that the public may misunderstand him, party clown and aspiring stand-up comedian Arthur keeps the card as seen below with him in his pockets. One might argue that the beginning of the end of Arthur’s life started when a lady sitting in front of him did not return him back his card, causing him to shoot in self-defense when three Wayne Enterprises employees assaulted him on the New York Subway.
GOTHAM PRODUCED BATMAN. AND HIS NEMESIS.
In this case, it takes the whole of Gotham City to produce a villain. If that lady on the bus had returned him his card, he could have prevented himself from shooting those three employees dead. If those deaths had not occur, billionaire Thomas Wayne would not have condemned the killings and launch for mayor and so on and so forth. Well in technical aspects this sequence of events serves as plot progression but these events send Arthur’s life to be in a downward spiral.
The people that crossed path with Arthur all played a role in his eventual downfall (and rise as Joker) but the issue is that none has an incentive to support him. None, even the magnate Thomas Wayne is obliged to assist him financially or in kind. It is for this reason why social services are in operations and yet their funding are slashed. With social services funding cut, Arthur literally has no means of stablising his condition which leads him to behave in a ‘different’ manner when on the New York Subway. (This brings up how mental health is not regarded as an essential service during the “circuit breaker” in Singapore.)
Was Arthur wrong for spurring tensions and conflicts within the society? Or was he merely forced to choose this criminal path because society turned his back against him? (gosh I am reminded of my days in urban economics class where I learned about Gary Becker’s economic theory of criminal behaviour…). Like what I have been arguing so far, this ‘Joker’ is only one of society’s production. Arthur’s ikigai is to bring joy and laughter into the world and while Thomas gets to build his empire, Arthur finds himself unable to do so and builds his criminal empire instead.
Other DC films may have portrayed the Joker as mainly a psychopath and notorious match-worthy villain to Batman, but Todd Phillips’ one depicts Joker the way he is: just a regular human being. To live with mental illness is uneasy as we see Arthur hallucinating the happy times with Sophie. Being mocked at on national television for his mental illness is also another troubling thing and this part shames us all as we surely have done something or called someone ‘crazy’ or a ‘lunatic’ before. Joker is interesting not just because it is an origin story but also owing to the fact that it is one (precautionary) tale that we can, sadly and unfortunately, identify with.