THE JOKER (2019)
The Joker seems to be all things to all people. Tyler Cowen believes it is “the most anti-Leftist movie I have seen, ever.” The Leninist Komsomol of Sverdlov oblast (LOL) hailed it as a masterpiece showcasing the “problems of a capitalist society.” It upset the more genteel Alt Right boomers such as Trevor Lynch, who called it a “boring movie about a disgusting loser”, while The Daily Stormer gave it 10/10 and praised its justification of violence “as an appropriate response of abused white men to what society has done to them.” The New York Times was enraged it didn’t signal hard enough against problematic whiteness, highlighting trivial issues like mental illness and class war instead.
This because The Joker is an unreliable narrator. That is the single most important observation about the film – the main character’s mental problems means we can’t know which of the scenes are real, and which are hallucinations or flights of fancy. The only thing we really know for sure is there is a mentally disturbed incel called Arthur Fleck who lives in a shitty apartment with his no less crazed mother, scraping by and trying to ends meet as best he can with his limited abilities in a metropolis that seems to be going down the dumps. He has a severe case of jungle fever for a neighboring single mother, whom he imagines going out with, only to be told to leave the one time he finds himself in her apartment. This narrative device leaves the audience free to interpret the film anyway they like. Judging from Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, ordinary people enjoyed the creative ambiguity, while the official reviewers were much less enamored. This makes it very different from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which was a straightforward paeon to conservative values of law and order and the dangers of populist anarchy.
Two scenes in particular set the stage for Arthur Fleck’s transition into The Joker. In the first scene, he gets jumped while working as a human billboard by a band of diverse Youths, who run away with his sign. They lure him into an alley and beat him up. In the second scene, a band of drunk Wall Street Frat Boys beat him up for his weirdo mannerisms, which he can’t help on account of his mental illness. The Frat Boys work for Thomas Wayne, an oligarch with political aspirations who is supposed to be a stand-in for [insert generic tough on crime conservative oligarch]. Only this time, he fought back, and lethally so – and became a folk hero of the masses in the process. These two scenes can be considered to be a composite of a real event in New York in 1984, in which a white man called Bernhard Goetz shot four Black muggers and was acquitted by a jury.
However, it strikes me that the following question is basically a short Political Compass test: Did any of these two assaults actually happen, at least in the way they were portrayed?
- Youths N / Frat Boys N – You think the Joker really is just a low-IQ loser with mental problems. [sort of centrist/rationalist?]
- Youths Y / Frat Boys N – You are a crypto-racist conservative like Charles Murray. [bottom right]
- Youths N / Frat Boys Y – Youths dindu nuffin, Frat Boys exercised their toxic white male privilege. You are an SJW and want the Joker to go on Chapo. [left]
- Youths Y / Frat Boys Y – You think the FBI is correct on the color of crime, as well as skeptical about the elites and cuckservative establishment. You are Alt Right. [top right]
Personally, I lean towards (1), though I don’t exclude (2) – aside from statistical priors, there’s also actually less circumstantial evidence showing the Fray Bot assault happened than the Youth assault (e.g. visible physical damage, the missing sign). Though in theory, any of these combinations are possible – even (3), which I consider to be the least likely. But the key point to emphasize here is that people with different biases and priors from me will come up with different probability rankings. This gives scope to interpret the causes of the Joker’s descent (or ascension?) from the Underground Man to a Raskolnikov character who is beyond good and evil any way one wishes. In this sense, it is a very nihilistic, postmodernist film. There are no unalloyed goodies or baddies. It is neither anti-capitalist, nor anti-antifa.
This “all viewpoints are equally valid” theme seeps into every niche and crevice. The oligarch Wayne is an unsympathetic, cold-hearted conservative, but one will improve things through broken windows policies. The Joker is held in adulation by the proles (or lumpenproles?), but can he really be a hero of the working class when he openly declares he has no political positions? He certainly doesn’t read theory – he’s not interested, and probably doesn’t have the intelligence for it anyway; dependent on whether Wayne is lying or not about being his father, Arthur Fleck is either an orphan (average IQ = one S.D. lower than population average; more mental health problems), or the son of a mentally ill woman who claims the father was Wayne, but who I suspect was actually the abusive boyfriend who tormented the young Arthur and then left her (all personality traits are heritable).
However, importantly, it is also the mental illness that humanizes The Joker – can one really blame him for going haywire when Reaganesque oligarchs such as Wayne are shuttering the free mental health clinics that people like him need to cope with his severe problems? However, contra Bronze Age Pervert’s take, the movie hardly endorses the liberal view on mental health provisioning either – note that the Joker’s affirmative action therapist only punches in at work, and doesn’t even listening to what he has to say; her only function is to rubber-stamp his medications. Once again, the movie teases people of all ideological stripes while delivering to no-one.
It is this ideological malleability that is making The Joker a cult classic amongst people of very different ideological persuasions, be they leftist anti-capitalist critics or rightist HBD pessimists. Not surprisingly, the only major class that are taking exception to this are the NYT bugmen, the Blue Checkmarks, the NPCs – for them, there is one correct answer: Toxic masculinity and white privilege as the root cause of all evil, anything else being distraction at best.
PS. I survived the screening of The Joker without getting shot or any other major incident in a Moscow theater – except at the end, when clapping broke out and spread to the entire audience. Not the reaction I expected to see. However, on checking up a closed nationalist Telegram chat, I saw that one of its participants said he had started clapping at the end of the movie, inciting the rest to join in; furthermore, I was pretty sure it was that same theater, as the guy was also in Moscow and the time he posted it at correlated perfectly with when the movie I was at ended. Globalization in action in our clown world: Russian shitlord adopts Alt Right meme, gets Russian normies to unwittingly partake in an American movie about a killer clown, I experience it IRL and then get to hear the full story via a nationalist Telegram chat.