Opinion: “Joker” relevant in more ways than one

Ella Haas, News/Opinion Editor & Podcast Supervisor

     When I saw “Joker” Oct. 18, I was braced for one of the most nauseating films of the year. Buzz about the movie’s controversy had convinced me I’d leave the movie deeply unsettled.

     My initial reaction was what I’d been told to expect. “Joker” was indeed disturbing, with graphic depictions of murder and the main character locking himself inside an emptied refrigerator. I was jarred by the film’s content, but unlike audiences who thought it too controversial for today’s sociopolitical climate, I found “Joker” more relevant than ever.

     There is the obvious political message, a shameless callout of inequality in wealth distribution and the way we treat society’s abandoned demographics. Protagonist Arthur Fleck is a lower-class, mentally ill man living with his mother: the epitome of the neglected. He is lonely, friendless, and often ridiculed at his job as a party clown. The movie’s first scene shows him being jumped by a gaggle of teenagers. 

     “Joker” sheds light on the plights of figures like Fleck, those harmed by injustices like the wealth gap and neglect of the economic 99 percent. In one scene, Fleck speaks directly against the rich and selfish, proclaiming the upper-class will “get what (they)… deserve” in penance for their abandonment of people like him. It’s clear to see how this is the film itself speaking to an audience much larger than Gotham.

     A more subliminal theme, one frequently mistaken as a warning of the dangers of outcast figures like Fleck, is the tension that comes with a damaged and resentful majority revolting against a more privileged class. In murdering three Wall Street-type young men on a train, Fleck accidentally sparks a revolution against wealth disparity, and embraces his identity as its leader.

     The film warns if society doesn’t support all its members, even those as “undesirable” as the impoverished and underprivileged, the people it’s wronged will become fed up with living on the bottom. If they don’t obtain better treatment through peaceful protests, petitions, and letters to wealthy former employers, they’ll riot. “Joker” shows us, before it’s too late, this is not the path we want to go down as a society. 

     The main argument against “Joker” is its glorification of mass violence and full-scale rebellion. Upon seeing the movie, I saw no evidence of any validation. While viewers foster a sense of empathy, it’s impossible to see Fleck’s descent into madness and crime as admirable. 

     The movie is in no way a call to action. “Joker”’s message isn’t one in advocacy of anarchy and the overthrow of capitalism, but rather a cautionary tale about what happens when members of overlooked groups are abused beyond their limit – both by their societies, and by one another. It’s a reminder that our own world is reaching a breaking point, and our upper class’s disregard for their socioeconomically disenfranchised counterparts will come at a hefty price (one outweighimg what any real-world Thomas Wayne could afford) if we don’t take action in an effort to change our ways by rendering our world more equitable for all its members.