Believe it or not, I’ve always been obsessed with the Joker. Not the actors who portrayed him, but the man himself. When given the chance I had my face painted as the Joker and walked around pretending to be the Clown Prince of Gotham.
While the Joker has been a madman with an alias and no past to look back on; the character has always found ways to play tricks on everyone’s mind, ours included. And while I don’t believe he does it on purpose, it is indeed considered to be one of his many characteristics. Possibly due to the fact of how insane he is.
But who exactly is the Clown Prince of Gotham? Let’s find out!
Who Is He?
Before he became the man we know today, the Joker was an ordinary man. According to the most popular origin story (The Killing Joke), Joker used to be a lab assistant who failed to make ends meet. To make things better and support his pregnant wife, he quits his job and becomes a stand-up comedian. When things didn’t work out, he took on the persona of Red Hood helping mobsters with a heist. Things go awry when Batman is hot on his trail, during which he leaps into a chemical vat and surfaces disfigured. But what truly drove him insane was the accidental death of his wife and unborn child, truly making him The Joker.
But even though this is the most loved backstory for our favourite, his unreliable memory has sparked multiple backstories that get crazier than the last. One of which talks about how the Joker, a sadistic mobster creates the persona of Red Hood, while another backstory shows how the Joker is obsessed with the Bat and embarks on a crime spree to attract his attention.
But Arthur Fleck is not a character Comic Universe since director Todd Phillips wanted to keep the movie as genuine as possible. So, what does the movie portray? And does it have any similarities to its comic counterpart?
The Man with A Pained Laugh
I remember how negative I was about the movie when the trailer first dropped solely because Jared Leto’s version of The Joker left a bad taste in my mouth. A friend convinced me to give it a chance. And I’m so glad I decided to give Arthur a chance, or else I would’ve missed out on the brilliance Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix radiate.
*Spoiler Alert* I talk about the movie, my favourite scene and my thoughts on it. So if you haven’t watched the movie, here’s where you stop!
We first meet Arthur, watching him paint his face and “practise” a fake smile as a tear rolls down the side of his face. While most might not agree, that scene was extremely powerful to me. Not only does it show a side of Arthur we haven’t yet discovered, but it is also a side most of us try so hard to hide. Most people hide their pain and sadness behind a smile, something Arthur portrays so beautifully in this scene.
As the movie progresses, we realise Arthur has a medical condition pseudobulbar affect (PBA). PBA is characterized by frequent, involuntary bouts of crying, laughter, or other emotional displays, which are exaggerated or disconnected from the individual’s actual emotional state. It’s most commonly caused by brain injuries or neurological disorders that impact how the brain processes emotion. Unbeknownst to us this early in the movie, Arthur was adopted by Penny Fleck and her then-boyfriend who abused the child almost every single night and had him tied up in their basement.
Penny’s reason for not doing anything about it was that she didn’t know this happened and Arthur always seemed like a happy child. This painful reveal not only made me feel bad for Arthur but also made me understand just how messed up he truly was.
There were multiple occasions that I could relate with Arthur, but the one thing I related to the most was feeling neglected by society. Something that played a huge part in his transition from a small, feeble man who let his condition take over him and his life to a tall, confident man who took control of everything in his life, including his condition. A man who wanted to stop feeling sorry for himself and believed in making the people pay for whatever they put him through.
The final nail in the coffin, and what I consider the most powerful scene in the movie is everything he does on the Franklin Murray show. It’s almost like he is a completely different person. Everything from when he enters the stage, to the final joke and eventually putting a bullet in Murray’s head, the Joker completely took over. His transformation into the Joker was complete as soon as he understood that there was nothing wrong with him and he needed to stand up to people that did him wrong. Which is exactly what he did. And that is when Arthur Fleck was nothing but a lost memory.
While many people say this movie was well made, some aren’t quite impressed. “The movie wasn’t dark enough.” “They could’ve shown us more of his troubled childhood, we merely got a glimpse of it.” “We didn’t see Joker at his best.”
Bearing in mind that this movie isn’t supposed to be a part of the DC Universe, whatever has been portrayed so far, in my opinion, has been the best realistic version of the Clown Prince of Gotham. Without drawing any comparisons, Joaquin Phoenix has done an incredibly good job of portraying a character we already have way too many expectations from. And while the movie could’ve been darker, it would’ve possibly gone down the typical DC super-villain movie path instead of the raw, realistic version we were presented with.
And like with every superhero movie, multiple conspiracy theories are surrounding this one. Especially with how complex, and complicated it is. One of the most common ones being that almost all the movie took place inside Arthur’s head. He has always been in the asylum, a glimpse of which we get in the scene where Arthur is speaking to his therapist for the last time.
However, another theory states that everything plays out the way it should, the only difference? Arthur dies after the ambulance crashes into the car he is in. Everything we see after is something his brain plays out in his final moments.
Even though Todd wanted to keep this movie as authentic and genuine as possible, it reminded many fans of the Comic Book “The Killing Joke”. Everything from Arthur being a failed comedian, to the movie having an open ending seemed almost like a homage to Moore’s one-shot.
The Sad Reality of The Joker
Even though most of us wouldn’t want to admit it, all of us relate to Arthur in some way or the other. I know I do, more than I’d like to admit.
Arthur isn’t a complex character but at the same time, he is. He is a broken man that society keeps ignoring and walking away from. Neglected, invisible, and confused Arthur has always felt like he never belonged or existed. But he always has, almost as if life threw him a curve ball and he had no choice but to hit it with his best shot.
Most of us, just like Arthur believe we are invisible, neglected and broken. And we constantly live under that belief further driving ourselves insane. While insanity may not be a bad thing, why lose control? Even though the Joker made Arthur a confident man, we don’t necessarily have to go down that path. Feeling sorry for ourselves and not doing much to change it is just as bad as society ignoring us. With little to no difference between the both of us, what do we get?
What do you get when you drown in self-pity and wait for someone else to come rescue you? You Get What You Deserve.