In the climax of the movie Joker, the cop blames Arthur Fleck (the protagonist) for the chaos and riots in the Gotham city. Arthur replies saying, “Isn’t it beautiful?”
In these three words he sums up his character who looks at the so-called anarchism (anarchism, in the eyes of the cop) as an expression of resistance, revolt and anger against the capitalist and ruling class who has long been responsible for the subjugation of the proletariat. Very rarely does a film feel so contemporary, while being set in a fictitious world. The film is set in a fictitious world known as Gotham City, that mirrors modern times.
Gotham City symbolises everything that is wrong in this world, where just a handful of people are eating a big slice of the cake with no empathy but just disgust for the working class, thereby pushing the city more towards crime. Thomas Wayne, who is a billionaire and the so-called ‘philanthropist’ is running for the post of Mayor in the city, resembles a defiled combination of politics and business somewhat closer to Donald Trump and other fascist leaders who are pro-capitalism.
Struggling to keep up a stable livelihood in this city is Arthur, also known as Happy, just like others in the city. He is a struggling comedian trying to make a mark for himself, not realising that comedy has been reduced to below the belt comedy by the bourgeoisie which is depicted in the movie as well. Arthur disapproves it but grudgingly laughs at such acts to ‘save’ his face.
The dehumanisation of society always hurts more to the people at the bottom of the pyramid and more so if they are artistes. Arthur has a medical condition which is often misunderstood by a dehumanised society lacking any empathy.
Once on a train, Arthur is ganged upon by some rich brats and they beat the hell out of him until he mercilessly shoots them all. This incident makes him a hero in the eyes of the proletariat who see it as someone avenging their own revenge on the capitalist class who have made their life miserable. Arthur is mocked by Thomas Wayne, potential Mayor candidate and the father of Bruce Wayne (Batman) as a ‘clown’ who the so-called hardworking capitalists do not give a damn about.
This delegitimisation of any kind of resistance of the proletariat can be seen right from Bhagat Singh’s act to the resistance of the Adivasi community and thinking individuals by labelling them as ‘Maoists’ and ‘urban Naxals’ to the recent protests against cutting trees in Aarey (touted as anti-development).
Arthur discovers the truth about his childhood which destroys his notion that his condition is natural and discovers that the very person who called him happy and told him to make the world a happier place has made his life miserable. Arthur loses his sanity completely because of what appears to be an insane world and goes on a killing spree. This is punctuated with powerful dialogues on a TV show where he says, “Similar to the way you guys decide what is right and wrong. You guys also decide what is funny and what is not.”
Someone would get the idea that he has read Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media, co-authored by Chomsky, but he was speaking from experience which does not need any reference. Arthur’s TV clip goes viral and he becomes a symbol of an anti-establishment sentiment which results in riots in the city by the very same people who Wayne referred to as clowns.
Joker is not a story of a psychopath or a narcissist; neither it is a mindless violent drama nor a film steeped in self-pity. The film’s name may be based on an iconic character, but it is the story of a sensitive individual driven to madness by a dehumanised world.
The film strongly sends a warning to the capitalist and the ruling class that if they continue with their policies then the bottom of the pyramid is bound to snap. Ambedkar too shared this view, “If the Constitution is not followed then people at the bottom of the system will blow up the system.”
The film ends with the murder of Thomas Wayne and Arthur turning into the greatest villain of the 21st century by raising his hands like a clown prince in front of an army of clowns.
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