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The Joker - The illegitimate son of late capitalism
18 October 2019

The Joker - The illegitimate son of late capitalism

From the first teasers and trailers of the movie, I realized that the movie would be good. First of all, this was signaled by the actor, who plays the main role. Joaquin Phoenix perfectly and even a little creepy gets used to the role of mentally injured people. His playing in the Master left no doubt that in the role of the Joker character he would be like a fish in water. But what will be this interpretation of the Joker?

The first trailer dotted all i. This is not a story about a supervillain, not a story about an antihero, this is not a movie about a Joker or a comic book movie. This movie is about a mentally ill person and his place in society. Moreover, the details - be it the actor’s facial expressions (as in the reaction to the question of whether the therapy helps [the spoiler: no]) or the entries in the diary

“The worst in a mental illness is that everyone wants you to behave as if it’s not. ”
and phrases from the dialogs

“ I thought my life was a tragedy, but it is a fucking comedy. ”
- let us know about a deep and serious understanding of the problems of mental illness.

Yes, the movie still relies on some images and plots from comics, but much more it relies on another. I don’t know if the screenwriter has read the following books or is it just the spirit of the times, but the script and problems that arise in the movie are very closely correlated with the themes of the books of the French writers philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychotherapist Felix Guattari.

Their two-volume book, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, is a cult in certain circles, as well as notorious. It is written in a chaotic, unstructured, schizoid language, which the authors sought. It is written so that without being somewhat schizoid, it is very difficult to understand what it is about, and certain conclusions from what is read are not formed in the form of a coherent and logical theory, but in the form of intuitive insights. Nevertheless, in a very reduced and generalized form, one can expound the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari for a wide circle of people, as well as through their prism, look at what is happening in the Joker movie.

“Capitalism and Schizophrenia” is a book about fascism, the flight from fascism and the fight against it. Moreover, fascism is understood in the broadest sense of the word: like any hierarchical structure, forcing to something. For Deleuze and Guattari, the traditional family with the Oedipus triangle is the same fascism as the police state. In fact, fascism begins with a traditional family, especially if it is a family where there is a lot of violence. One way or another, the child needs an external object and is forced to love it, even if this object cruelly suppresses it or manifests mental, physical or sexual violence towards it. Such a need ultimately translates into helplessness and servility to society, to the state machine.

The authors criticize the institution of the family itself, which forms such a need, relations built on the need both in the family and in society, and the very concept of need, trying to contrast it with the vital desire, which is not a limiting but a driving force. The authors criticize and psychoanalysis with its interpretation of behavior through the same Oedipus triangles or even ideologically biased against it, because during the unrest in May 1968, which began as a leftist radical student activism, but eventually led to the resignation of the government, some psychoanalysts published anonymously, stigmatized the protesters as “miserable infantiles engaged in the Oedipus rebellion against their father.”

The authors view on the problem of outsiders and outcasts is also interesting. So, they rightly notice that there is no absolutely legitimate and effective hierarchical or symbolic structure. All of them, proving their legitimacy and effectiveness, refer to themselves. The same elements of the system that reveal its failure are tabooed, become scapegoats, expelled from the system or destroyed by it. According to the authors, the capitalist system imposes a neurotic state, over and over again producing psycho-traumatized people, schizophrenics (again it is worth recalling that the term schizophrenia is not used in the clinical sense here), but since pleading guilty for producing such people would mean undermining legitimacy generally distrust of the system; instead, she blames them, makes the system problem personal.

Such people, “not fit into the market”, in the culture of late capitalism, become outsiders. However, the increase in the number of such people and the severity of the mental state that follows such expulsion from society lead to unpleasant consequences for this society.

An outsider faces a choice: depression or schizophrenia. He is forced to either lose his identity and self-esteem, or begin to deduce them exclusively from himself. If he chooses the first, he simply dies slowly or commits suicide. If he chooses the second, it comes into serious conflict with society and the value system existing in it, since it literally declares by its very existence that its values or its existence are higher than the values and existence of society; a peculiar Nietzsche superman, only a superman involuntarily, like a beast cornered, fighting for his life, physical and symbolic. Such a person can be realized in different ways. It can be an avant-garde artist, an eccentric inventor, a reformer politician, or a spiritual leader, but if we consider the positive and vital realizations of such a conflict with society, which is more likely a statistical error of the survivor than the expected outcome.

Another way is a destructive way. A revolutionary, a radical activist, a suicide, a murderer, a terrorist - these are the options for another implementation of the burgeoning conflict. Refusing to humbly drive away, outsiders, one way or another, are changing society, entering into a dialectical contradiction with it. Moreover, in the first case and in the second, both reformers and terrorists no longer need any ideological foundation, they contrast the system with their chthonic vitality or destructiveness.

So, back to the Joker. The movie immediately begins with the main theme - the mental illness of the protagonist. His fits of laughter, decorated with terrible grimaces and more like crying, hysteria, agony and an expression of unbearable pain, immediately tell us that the hero is VERY STRONGLY NOT OK. It is mentioned that he was lying in a psychiatric hospital and showing why (in the scene where he bangs his head against the door - auto-aggression). Nevertheless, the beginning of the movie shows it on the positive side.

Despite his condition, he tries to amuse the child on the bus, holds on to his work, tries to take care of his mother, and this concern is sincere, which becomes clear from his fantasy about the TV show. From the same fantasy, it becomes clear that he lacks the figure of a father, a strong and authoritative figure who would accept and support him, because from childhood, his mother shifts all the responsibility of her husband / father to Arthur.

The movie does not stand on ceremony and immediately shows how bad things are. Unemployment and a mess reign in the city, the main character falls into a series of disasters: he is beaten, he loses his job, social programs to help mentally ill people are curtailed. Gotham in the comics is one of the characters in the Batman universe, this city is the shadow of a metropolis, a modern city in its worst manifestations, brought to the grotesque absurdity. Unemployment, crime, natural disasters, all kinds of freaks, lunatics and sectarians are just Batman’s figure as an incorrigible defender, and Wayne Corporation as an economic prospect leaves hope for salvation. In the movie, resorting to more realistic tones, the city is still gloomy, only the crusader in a cloak is not visible on the horizon, and Thomas Wayne is not a philanthropist and the city’s hope, he is an ordinary cynical populist politician promising to save everyone from the campaign poverty, but in reality experiencing only contempt and neglect of the poor

In such a situation of confrontation between the poor and the rich, mutually despising each other, a small spark is enough to flare up the public unrest. And such a spark happens when Arthur Fleck kills three people in the subway. This was not a cold-blooded murder, at least not at first, rather it was an act of self-defense. Bullies threatened, if not Arthur's life, then his physical, and most importantly mental health, the last vestiges of self-esteem and a sense of security. The aggression shown by Arthur, as well as the cold-blooded pursuit of the last survivor of the attackers, make him feel shock, and later something new. A new sense of power for him.

Locking himself in a public toilet and catching his breath, he dances narcissistically, he does not move as constrained as before, but gracefully. The act of aggression emancipated it, released suppressed desires, including sexual ones, which we see in the next scene. On TV the next morning they put up a picture of what happened in a completely different light. The frankly socially dangerous bullies and hooligans are represented by “modest and educated employees of Wayne Investments,” and the killer, whoever he is, is a coward, a loser and an envious person, whose image Thomas Wayne ultimately projects on all the city’s outcasts. It is clearly shown how the system, referring to itself, using the media, forms ideologically biased representations and imputes a feeling of guilt to those who cannot stand up for themselves, who do not have the right to vote. Later, Arthur at a reception with a psychotherapist says that he does not know if he existed, because no one noticed him

“until recently”.

Only an act of violence could become something that society has noticed. In such a situation of lack of dialogue, the dialectical contradiction is removed by violence, this turns out to be the only form of communication with the system.

Unrest erupts in Gotham, and another sharp turn happens in Arthur's life. Firstly, he learns from his mother’s letter that Thomas Wayne is his father, and secondly, Arthur’s mother, unable to withstand the stress, is having a stroke. Arthur is looking for communication with his father, from the scene in the toilet we are again convinced of some innocence, sincerity and naivety of Arthur; he is not trying to blackmail Wayne, he is not trying to get any material wealth, all he needs is human warmth, acceptance, but instead he gets a nose from the philanthropist and savior of the city. Later, together with the hero, we learn the terrible truth, Thomas Wayne is not his father, his mentally unhealthy mother came up with this legend, he was adopted, moreover, his current state is hurt both by mental and physical trauma, inadequate conditions and violence in early childhood.

And here it’s worth talking about what kind of diagnosis he still has. His mother suffers from “paranoid psychosis and narcissistic personality disorder”, the same can be said about Arthur, his behavior as a Joker, especially when no one threatens his Joker identity, clearly betrays him a daffodil, and inventing relationships with a TV presenter in the role a father’s figure or a neighbor in the role of a girl - it’s like the nonsense that his mother designed, inventing the legend of Thomas Wayne’s fatherhood. However, taking into account the violence in early childhood and the reason why he was in the hospital, we can say that Arthur has a reactive disorder of attachment, his social disadaptation and auto-aggression are characteristic of this poorly understood disease. Suppression of emotions, sexuality (writing in a notebook: jokes about sex is ridiculous), as well as constant smoking - allude to schizoaffective disorder, schizoid personality disorder, or schizophrenia. Obviously, he has a severe psychotrauma with schizoid dissociation.

Realizing that the circumstances of his life are much more tragic than he imagined, and the hope of salvation in the form of his father's figure, which his mother dreamed of, and then he himself, is completely unfounded, Arthur finally breaks down. He strangles his mother who does not understand anything, with the words

“I thought my life was a tragedy, but it’s a fucking comedy”,
he doesn’t even kill her out of hatred, but simply finishes her off as a sick animal, on the other hand saving himself or completely abandoning needs for parents, in an external object. He goes beyond social norms and expectations, refuses to love the object, which is the cause of his suffering. This is how his anti-Oedipization occurs, which releases his energy. Unfortunately, given the biography and psychological trauma, this energy is absolutely destructive.

He plans to commit suicide on a show by Murray Franklin, thereby wanting to declare himself for the last time, draw attention to himself and to problems like him, to do this live, so that society cannot deny the undeniable fact of the existence of the problem. But on the show itself, faced with the frank mockery of the presenter over an obviously mentally ill person and realizing that, in fact, absolutely cynical to spit, the Joker kills Murray, ironically concluding the show with the TV presenter’s catchphrase: “This is life.” Turning cynicism aimed at the humiliated and offended, against those in power. Oscillating the entire movie between depression and schizophrenia, the protagonist eventually chooses schizophrenia.

Something in which the movie exceeded all my expectations, namely in the image of the Joker itself. In the trailer, we were shown scenes contrasting emphasizing Arthur's soreness and pathos and grace of the Joker. In the movie itself, Arthur // The Joker remains painful and miserable from beginning to end. Yes, in some scenes where he is alone or where he is like a messiah surrounded by a crowd, the pathos of the Joker is present, but in all scenes where he encounters a society that dislikes him, the Joker remains Arthur, mentally ill, broken, miserable person. This is not the Joker Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight, who captured every scene in which he appeared, who was completely self-sufficient in his madness and controlled everything, predicting the behavior of people. Here, even in the climax of the TV show, it is painful and unpleasant to look at him, he is not funny, he is not handsome, not graceful, not brilliant, he is wretched. His image is not heroized, he is shown as is.

Who is a joker? Hero, antihero, villain? No. He is just an indicator of a sick society, like a litmus test. The joker is a symptom, a symptom of a serious illness.
The story of Thomas Wayne's fatherhood is also interesting. One can speculate whether Arthur was the illegitimate son of Thomas Wayne, but in a sense he was. Thomas Wayne, as a collective image of a wealthy and self-righteous capitalist contemptuous of marginals and losers, personifies the system that gave birth to a mentally ill child, refusing to acknowledge paternity. No wonder Thomas Wayne in the movie is compared with a fascist, he, like the Joker, is more a collective image of systemic problems than a character. This is the system that denies parts of itself, signaling its dysfunctional and distressing situation, which ultimately leads to disastrous consequences. The senseless and merciless murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in a dark alley in the midst of growing unrest is a symbolic defeat of the system, the defeat of which could have been avoided, if she had not ignored the obvious problems.

As for the main idea of the movie, in which a strong correlation with the ideas of “Capitalism and Schizophrenia” is found, it is best described by Arthur’s words before he shot the TV presenter Murray Franklin:

“They think that we will sit and put up with it as obedient the boys. That we will not be wild and will not rise. Want a joke? What do you get if you mix a mentally ill person alone with a society that ignores him and treats him like garbage? I will say what you get. You’ll get what you deserve. “



The last scene, where Arthur sits in a room with white walls, can be interpreted differently, to the extent that everything that happens in the movie was exclusively in his head, and he always sat in asylum. This story trail is often used in movies about mentally ill people, especially where dissociative disorder appears. But such a plot trail would be tasteless for this movie, and even indirect, but the connection with the Batman universe tells us that what is happening in the movie is real.

After all, somewhere there, in a dark alley, stands above the corpses of his parents, Bruce Wayne, a man who in the future will become Gotham's defender. However, Batman, like the Joker, is a psychopath, he, like the Joker, is a product of a system that reproduces mentally traumatized people, it is this that gives their dichotomies so much depth, that fundamentally they are similar.
I would also like to focus on two frames, which are something more than just a beautiful picture:

At the beginning of the movie, we are shown how Arthur, returning from the reception of a psychotherapist, is climbing up a long staircase, which, perhaps, symbolizes the daily severity of his condition and the existence that he is forced to elude.

At the end of the movie, after the murder of a psychotherapist, Arthur, imposing walk, leaving bloody traces on the floor, walks towards the light. Later running from orderlies.

This ironic or even cynical contrast shows what freedom is for such a broken person. His freedom is the death of others. Society does not understand and does not accept it; in turn, it refuses to understand and accept society. This is the last joker joke, a joke that no one will understand until it is too late. This joke sounds like lines from a Frank Sinatra song - That’s life:

I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
A poet, a pawn and a king.
I've been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing:
Each time I find myself flat on my face,
I pick myself up and get back in the race.

He will not allow to crush his dream, even if for this he has to trample his offenders.


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