This article is an expansion of the Slavoj Zizek critique on the lastest DC movie Joker, driven by the mercurial performance by Joaquin Phoenix and let down by the inarticulate storytelling by the Hangover director Todd Philips. I saw joker, liked it and forgot about it within 15 minutes out of theatre. It did not create a lasting impression in me, the first half dragged even with Phoenix trying to bleed into the soulless movie.
But fundamental issue is not the direction or the glorification of a criminal, it is the creation of an origin story for a character like Joker. When we look at Ledger-Nolan Joker, we get hints of his origins, but in a confusing incoherent manner.
First when he goes to negotiate with Gotham’s crime syndicate
Do you wanna know how I got these scars? My father was a drinker…and a fiend. And one night, he goes off crazier than usual. Mommy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself. He doesn’t like that. Not…one…bit. So, me watching, he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it. He turns to me, and he says, “Why so serious?” He comes at me with the knife – “Why so serious?” He sticks the blade in my mouth – “Let’s put a smile on that face!” And… why so serious?
Later he contradicts this in the fundraiser party at Wayne residence holding a knife to Rachel’s mouth
Come here. Hey! Look at me. So I had a wife, beautiful, like you, who tells me I worry too much. Who tells me I ought to smile more. Who gambles and gets in deep with the sharks… look at me! One day, they carve her face. And we have no money for surgeries. She can’t take it. I just want to see her smile again, hmm? I just want her to know that I don’t care about the scars. So… I stick a razor in my mouth and do this… to myself. And you know what? She can’t stand the sight of me! She leaves. Now I see the funny side. Now I’m always smiling!
Now such contradictions creates real commotion in Gotham’s citizens in two different manners. One at a personal level, where you think what have you done to the Joker to deserve such a fate from this criminal. Secondly at the social level where you are unable to comprehend which social institution malfunctioned, whether it is the parenting or marriage which created this monster. Unless the cause is narrowed down you cannot stop another Joker from being born.
Confronting Joker is hence like Albert Camus says “Man confronting the absurd”. Is this monster real or just a joke. This is the apotheosis of Joker, his quintessence, this irrationality, this ability to be beyond the confines of morality and logic defines him. This produces unprecedented fear in his opponents as rational means of negotiation and methods of intimidation does not work on Joker. Christopher Nolan was able to arrest this idea and produce it on his canvas of The Dark Knight (2008)
The best exposition of this is seen in the Alfred’s advise to Wayne
“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
Now with this re-orienting of DC universe back to a Nolanish spectacle from the Zack Snyder murkiness has demanded Joker to have an origin story. Hence was created Joker (2019). The movie has produced a cogent logical straight forward narrative of the origin of Joker, his traumatic abusive childhood, his mad mother, his mysterious father, his medical condition, societal apathy, class conflict, every possible trauma has been injected to humanise the monster. Commercially the movie has been very successful and had laid out a platform for Robert Pattinson’s Batman to emerge.
In accomplishing this the movie has siphoned off the lifeblood of Joker by making him answerable to logic and societal morality. It has in a way disarmed him, he has been robbed of his vitals, he is no longer a puzzle, no longer the perplexing marauding beast that he used to be. Our constant need to inject meaning into every human act and our insistence to look beyond the mask has led to the demise of one of the most intriguing characters in DC universe.
A professor of mine Prof.Vidhyanand Jha once told me that truth is easier told in fiction than in biographies. There was more truth and authenticity in Nolans Joker than in this biographical intimate portrayal of Todd Philips.
Now the joke has been made rational and boring.