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Joker: Defining Society in One Movie

via Warner Bros.

There are more comic book movies out there than people realize. If you’re looking for something DC related, or Marvel, or perhaps something anime you’ll have no problem to find a caped crusader flick on a Friday night. But there are few figures that stand out in comics, or fiction for that matter, as the Joker.

When the Joker appears on screen his every action is followed with scrutiny. But why is that? Why do people care so much about the Joker? And what does that have to do with the current film adaption about him starring Joaquin Phoenix?

When I first started to learn about the art of storytelling, I was told a very important piece of information that has stuck with me to this day.

Reality influences fantasy. Fantasy, in turn, influences reality. And the cycle goes on.”

Many are aware that the character of the Joker is fictional. People are aware the literal character isn’t real. He was invented by cartoonists to portray an idea. But unlike all other villains pertaining to Batman the Joker had a special purpose. He had no clear-cut backstory. The stories often changed allowing the character to remain aloof and–most importantly–always remained as a ‘need him when we do’ type of character.

The current Joker movie shows the downward spiral life of a not so well-off failing man and a society that not only refuses to help him but beats down on him, ultimately forcing him to make choices that ordinary people wouldn’t make. We watch as a person loses his body, mind, and spirit. This well-crafted archetype journey showing a descent into madness and accepting it becomes the sum of the character and makes us sympathize with a role that we would traditionally call evil.

But why so much care for the movie? Was it the wonderful acting? The music? The directing? A comeback for DC fans? The portrayal of art at its finest? Although all of these are true to their own extent, they all avoid the point.

Remember that quote I stated earlier of how reality and fantasy are linked?

Many are aware of the society (and world) at large now. Our society seems fine on the surface but there are many structural problems that are simply falling apart. There are a lack of good jobs, failing sympathy from ordinary law abiding citizens, a gap between the rich and poor that doesn’t seem to be getting any better, a health system that seems to pushing people forward without adequate treatment and so on.

Structures that seemed to uphold society for so long are crumbling…right before our eyes. Technology has also allowed to see and learn of the events that go on across the world. People learn if an event is occurring right from their phones.

People don’t like the Joker because the movie is a reflection of what society has become. Many will recall news outlets downplaying the movie and arguing viewers not to watch it. Care to guess why that was? Remember that quote, “Reality influences fantasy. Fantasy, in turn, influences reality. And the cycle goes on.”

The more people see the fantasy the more they realize what society is. Movies are an art form. They can be fun wild rides, or they can be serious. But sometimes there are movies which show what society has been screaming for some time and ignoring. And that’s the point. When people watch the Joker–they’re not watching a movie. They’re watching the very world they live in.

Don’t think so? 10 years ago, there was another Joker on screen who portrayed a society that cared only about money and had come to the point of chaos. That joker was the representation of society at the time. Our banks had run without hesitation out of greed and nearly brought the world to financial ruin. What happens after that? Chaos. What was that Joker’s main goal in that movie? You guessed it.

Still not convinced? Compare Thomas Wayne in Batman movies 10 years ago to now. In the Dark Knight Trilogy Thomas Wayne was a billionaire but a humanist. He used his wealth to help those less off. The portrayal of him in the Joker shows an older, arrogant, somewhat careless man because society no longer considers the rich helpful. From our eyes, and the eyes of the Joker, the enemy and view of it has switched.

In the final scenes of the movie, we see society engaging in the very thing the Dark Knight Trilogy fought against. Heath Ledger’s Joker tried to prove that society was corruptible and chaotic. But Batman, and the citizens, proved him wrong.

In Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker the film progresses to the point where ordinary citizens are fed up with the way world is in all regards. They want something new. But to do so they, like the Joker, embrace their society once and for all instead of hiding from it. We see people ready to accept anything that isn’t what was before. Shackles of society’s norms are thrown down and people take the law into their own hands…much like what is happening across the world.

That’s what the character of the Joker is. He is society itself. When we see him, we see our world. When society falls apart the antagonist…becomes the protagonist.

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Written by Yensin Atagah

I'm a writer that works mostly with middle grade fantasy and fiction with the occasional young adult and romance. I believe a good story should always rely on a strong backbone structure to keep people interested. I've also worked in medicine for a number of years and know way more medical terminology than I'd care to say.

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