The personal website of Nimish Jha


What a joke

Movies and shows that portray a common man's rise to power have great appeal, and understandably so: the world is full of young (and not so young) men who feel powerless and insignificant. The formula is old and reliable: create a character the masses can identify with; put him in circumstances (the pivotal moment) that cause him to reach within himself for resources that were hitherto hidden; show his subsequent meteoric rise to riches, power and fame. The more average your character is in the beginning, the wider the appeal.

With Joker, they've truly scraped the bottom of the barrel to find their target demographic. Our protagonist, Arthur Fleck, is a man who's apparently mentally ill, and needs state-subsidized medicine to keep his insanity in check. The nature of his mental illness isn't very clear: all I could glean was that he sometimes breaks into uncontrollable laughter for no reason. Which isn't really a mental illness, but let's give the movie the benefit of the doubt.

The movie tries to gain our sympathy for Fleck by showing how he wants to be a stand-up comic, but fails miserably for the simple reason that he's terrible at it. A reasonable person would realise that and try something else; but Fleck is fixated on his chosen career, all feedback from the real world notwithstanding. If this inability to face reality is his actual mental illness, it's widespread: I have long and bitter personal experience with people who do the exact same thing day after day, year after year, without realising they're getting nowhere. But I digress.

The turning point for Fleck, the pivotal moment, comes during a highly implausible scene when three Wall Street types beat him up on a subway for one of his laughing fits. This, I suppose, is to emphasize the film's general theme that the rich are a bunch of douchebags who like nothing better than to trample upon the "less fortunate." Now I've seen plenty of rich douchebags in suits, but their douchebaggery is confined to acting like jerks in safe environments like upscale pubs and clubs. I can't think of any man in a suit who'd willingly speak to, much less pick a fight with a crazy-looking poor person, for the simple reason that most rich people are terrified of poor people and, having a lot more to lose, would much rather have nothing to do with them. Also, who wants to get Eau de Homeless on their expensive suit? Anyway, while being beaten up by the Wall Street bullies Fleck pulls his gun and shoots them all, and for the first time in his life, feels what it's like to be powerful, and thus begins his transformation into the Joker. So far, so boring.

Moving on, apparently one multiple homicide is enough to get the city papers to print incendiary headlines like "KILL THE RICH - A NEW MOVEMENT?" I'm fully aware of how irresponsible the press can be, but really?

The implausibility reaches its zenith when Thomas Wayne, who's running for mayor, goes on TV and calls all poor people clowns. Let's go over that again—a rich and powerful man with plenty of experience in dealing with people and, without a doubt, a team of PR advisors—who's running for political office—calls poor people clowns on live television. Apparently, Thomas Wayne is mentally ill as well.

I submit that a movie that stoops to such depths of dishonesty to justify its protagonist is a terrible movie. There is plenty of injustice in real life, without having to invent cartoonish villains that could've been lifted straight from a Soviet propaganda film about evil American capitalists. That's just lazy and pathetic.

Overall, I found the movie almost impossible to sit through because it was boring as hell and implausible in the extreme. Its protagonist is repulsive, mediocre, and uninteresting. The path to power it presents is pathetic: proclaiming give me what I want, or I'll go insane and incite riots—much like a toddler throwing tantrums to get what it wants.

The Joker is supposed to be a man of outstanding ability, a pinnacle of evil, not a whiny loser complaining that he just "needs some warmth." Heath Ledger's Joker was captivating and formidable, a fitting opponent for the Dark Knight. This one is just contemptible.

This page was last updated on Dec 29, 2019