Updated: May 13, 2020
All movie analysis is partial and incomplete, bringing a partial perspective. Joker is a film that has triggered in many people the need to write about it, because it is a film that reaches us all, when dealing with violence, mental health, social exclusion, among other situations that affect us daily. Joker deserves a lot of analysis, although this analysis presented here is long, a blog does not contain all the details that the film demands to be analyzed.
Watch the movie and make a happy face if you can...
The movie Joker is not funny, the clown is not funny, the comedians are not funny, all the games shown in the movie are not funny.
The film's sense of humor reflects a sociopathy that many still believe is the right sense of humor. The movie is also a slap in the face for humorists who can't make humor without assaulting.
The setting is ugly, dirty, abandoned, as if it represented the inner world of a traumatized person. Gotham City is full of trash, invaded by rats. Is the city responsible for the inherent aggressiveness of its residents, or would its residents be infected by the unhealthy environment in which they live?
Joker is tragic, tense. Distressing from beginning to end. The viewer has no doubt that something extremely serious will happen at any moment, and the moments are many, the tragedies are many.
Some movie viewers are still trying to play the movie, laughing out of time, but their lonely laughs join the Joker's desperate and desperate laughter. The audience laughs shut up.
A group of guys are sitting right in the back row of mine, their behavior catches my eye when they get to the movies. They form a group of strong, well-dressed, self-assured but with the same arrogance of the three boys killed on the subway.
Their anxiety is palpable. At the end of the movie they start talking very loudly, trying to compare the Joker with the bullying superhero movies, trying to disqualify the intensity of what they saw. The girls who were with them were very uncomfortable, their behavior clearly indicated that they identified with the bullyers. But in Joker the bullyers don't have a happy ending. The current order has been shattered. The boys, once so self-assured, left the cinema disoriented.
I confess I paralyzed, couldn't get up and leave to get on with my life.
Joker catalyzed in my memory the story of many of the patients I have seen in these nearly 37 years of clinical practice, about 40 if we count clinical internships in psychiatric hospitals during psychology training.
Impossible not to remember the cartoon Inside Out, and the movie Split.
In both, Inside Out and Joker, there was no room for sadness. Where there is no legitimate room for sadness, when the legitimate feeling of feeling sad is suppressed, all other emotions are affected.
Joker's out-of-context laughter shows such false, so artificial joy and happiness as the smile and passivity his mother requires him to have. He has a self-image built on his mother's stereotype, which does not tolerate sadness, quarrel, and conflict. He cares for his mother with affection and devotion, as if she was an invalid, he feeds her, bathes her, puts her to bed, as if she was his fragile baby, while he displays an extremely thin, malnourished and suffering figure. He shows her a sometimes-disconcerting tenderness and care.
He tries to insert himself into a world that doesn't accept him, he's an outcast, he doesn't fit in. Trying to look normal takes a superhuman effort. Trying to look normal, happy, funny, seems like a persona too heavy to carry. The clown profession matches his mental state, the sad clown is an archetypal figure, present in so many movies and TV shows. The clown tries to bring others the joy he lacks. He aspires to be a stand-up comedy comedian. In the midst of his journal he writes down his depressive thoughts mixed with he thinks are funny jokes. His aspiration to become a comedian denotes an attempt to appear beyond the mask, after all, he wants to be seen, acknowledged.
Immediately I remembered a patient who wore suits all the time, although not working, because in his fantasy people would think he was a respectable professional and would not realize his mental illness. This patient wanted to be seen as respectable, as people avoided him, and he sought to relate through a falsely constructed persona in order to placate his isolation. Mental illness often creates false personas in an attempt to fit into society, but especially in the fantasy of creating affective bonds.
To see and to be seen, to have their existence recognized is a natural desire, but society has always tried to hide mental illness behind the walls of asylums.
Arthur wants to be seen too, but he is not even seen by the health care professional who receives him weekly. The consultations are desperate. There is no dialogue, no interaction. There is a make-believe customer service. He clearly states that the help received is not working, that the remedies are not being effective enough, but his self-perception of his own mental health is not considered. He is as abandoned as the social worker. Both helpless by a health structure that doesn't care about them.
Only in the movie, do things happen like this? Just read the news of our country and various countries of the world to see that not. The health, physical and mental health care of a population is a sign of social inclusion, its lack therefore indicating a deliberate intention of exclusion.
It is not enough to be part of the economic elite, one must be an elite in health and education, otherwise the elites of each country run the risk, in a paranoid delusion or not, of losing their prominent position in society.
The scene of the subway killings is shocking long before the actual crime occurred.
The “good guys” in the movie are horrible! Maybe that's why the guys sitting in line behind mine at the movies got so tense about the movie, after all they were treating the girls who were with them with a level of disrespect very close to the guys in the Subway scene who thought the girl had obligation to be kind to one of them, after all, they were good citizens and deserved special consideration.
Arthur watches it and laughs, laughs nonstop. I don't know if his laughter was inappropriate at this time, or a desperate unconscious attempt to stop the abuse situation, close to so many he suffered constantly in his life, after all, what the men were doing was abominable.
How many women have not been in the same situation, where the man thinks that she should be flattered to be drawing the attention of such a special citizen (at least of his conception ...). After all, elites have always used their condition to seduce, subdue, and despise those who did not belong to their social class, and being rejected seems to be an unacceptable offense to them.
This movie makes a very pertinent critique of the toxic masculinity and humor that uses disrespect to be funny to only a minority. Men are portrayed at their worst, mocking, disrespectful, misogynistic, prejudiced, arrogant.
Arthur seems sensible enough to realize that this is wrong, but he feels powerless to challenge socially accepted and valued behavior. In the Subway he identifies with the girl who is being abused, her laugh seems the nervous laugh that so many people have, but extremely exaggerated. When men assault him, they assault him because they know he saw the ridiculous role they were playing, and they try to silence their criticism in the form of desperate laughter. They also attack him because he crossed the social class barrier, interfering with his laughter in an action they considered legitimate.
But Arthur had a gun. A co-worker, after seeing him beaten and punished by his boss, gives him a gun, saying that this way he could protect himself. Some politicians share the same belief, and the same ingenuity. Carrying a weapon is no easy task. Deciding on the right time to use it, or even whether to actually use it, depends on one's awareness of one's aggression. I am not sure how many of us have an adequate awareness of our aggression ability. We see so many scenes of verbal and physical aggression in such banal situations that surely a weapon would not be a calming factor.
Arthur never knew how to deal with his own aggression, did not learn to deal with his own feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, only to repress them. When in possession of a weapon his reaction is instinctive, he has no time to think of right and wrong. Someone who has spent his life being wronged, scorned, ignored, beaten, degradedly treated, when he puts aggression out, and the result of this aggressive act can finally paralyze the aggressor, feels empowered, invincible. The depressive state gives way to the manic state. Arthur ceases to be a defenseless being and finds himself able to defend himself, but also identifies himself with the aggressors, overcoming them.
Priviledge people tend to receive a more differentiated judgment.
While the aggressiveness of the subway men is exerted through coercion and embarrassment, aggression that humiliates and robs dignity, and hurts, this is still elitist aggression, which does not really reach the path and can still give way to condescending judgments. After all, the elite are judged by their peers, and their peers do not want to set precedents for punishment for a situation in which they could put themselves at any moment, right?
Arthur does not have this malice and ability to control his aggression at the level of aggression he cannot being caught or punished. In fact, he represents the minority, and the minority is often found guilty when the assault is from a higher social class, after all, the elite has been untouchable for hundreds of years, history and white-collar crimes are there to exemplify.
There are no conditions to measure force from equals to equals, after all, there are no equals.
Justice does not treat citizens equally, we all know that, for better or for worse. Arthur and the three men in the Subway are citizens of unequal values to society, everyone knew it all the time they were inside that subway car.
He who has nothing to lose becomes very powerful, and he himself is surprised that he did not feel bad about the murders, in fact he was relieved, as if he got rid of a toothache.
Arthur runs away, hides in a bathroom, seeks a place of intimacy, and dances. He does not wash his face, does not try to take off the clown makeup, he does not behave like a normal criminal, he was not normal. Then he dances, a soft, light, superb dance, as if he has reached a numinous moment.
Good, like evil, are ways of getting in touch with the numinous. Giving and taking one's life is a sacred moment. Anyone who has accompanied the birth or death of someone knows that the moment is very strong, sacred.
Murderers say they are never the same since the first murder. Arthur does not attain redemption through empathy and compassion, but releases psychosis and the archetypal shadow of evil by seeking justice for his life in his own hands. He starts from an impulsive action in the Subway for the cold murder of his foster mother in the hospital bed.
Victim and perpretrator are archetypal complementary polarities.
He has always been a victim of lack of empathy and compassion, after the subway murders he leaves the role of mommy's smiling son and no longer ignores or forgives this in the people around him.
Arthur does not forgive the colleague who visits him, supposedly to give him the condolences because his mother’s death, when in fact he wanted him to omit to the police that he had given him the murder weapon.
Arthur also does not forgive Murray, who ridiculed him on his show, flaunting his failure as a comedian. This time he clearly states that he invited him to the show to mock him, denouncing his disrespect and the humiliation he had been subjected to. Delusional patients tend to fantasize about public figures, and Arthur fantasized that Murray might love him as if he was his own child. He looks for a father figure in Murray. Indeed, Murray is a kind of delusional father in Arthur's family routine, after all, he and his mother have a ritual of watching the program together over dinner, sitting on his mother's bed, almost like a family reunion in fact. Both Arthur and his mother fantasize of a father to him, both famous, distant, idealized, and successful, a father that could give them a better life, which they, alone and sick, could not have.
Now Arthur does not pretend happy, he demonstrates he sees the offenses and hidden intentions, denouncing ulterior motives, in fact bad intentions disguised as good intentions. Veiled intentions, selfishness, lack of empathy and compassion were always striking in his life, he always behaved as if he did not see, after all, he was Mom's happy boy.
Joker looks like Split when he takes his new name. By going to the TV show, he asks to be announced as Joker, the father he envisioned in Murray's figure gives him a new name, as if he had in fact been reborn through crime and assumed a parallel personality.
As in Split he saves someone, he saves the dwarf, for the dwarf suffered the same kind of bullying as he, both suffered equally at the hands of "well-meaning" colleagues, whose aggression was hidden in humorless humor.
Another factor that refers to Split is the dance. Arthur and Hedwig, Kevin's eternally childish personality, dance. And their dance is terribly scary, though different. Hedwig's dance exposes the aggressiveness of Kevin's seemingly harmless personality, but an integral part of the set of personalities. The Joker's dance brings an unbearable lightness to the character, a dissociated lightness, showing a fragmentation of the personality of Arthur, a character as traumatized as Kevin.
Both characters, both Arthur and Kevin spare the characters they identify with, the dwarf and Casey, respectively, showing that even the greatest villain can have a heroic component and a preserved point of empathy within psychopathy or other mental diseases.
Both Arthur and Kevin have abusive mothers, they are abusers in different ways but are at the same time sick and unable to take care of their children properly.
Kevin's father died while seeking treatment for his mother. Arthur's mother gave him an idealized and delusional father, while in reality she allowed his companion to mistreat him to the point of intervention.
Both were subjected to mistreatment for life. The difference is that Arthur's mother didn't look all bad, after all, she seemed to be a fragile and debilitated woman. She helped Arthur create a “happy” and lovable persona, so he wouldn't have to get in touch with the suffering she caused him, either because she couldn't afford to take care of herself or allowed her mate to abuse him the way she did.
Arthur's mother was dissociated, and her way of avoiding suffering was to deny it, teaching her son the same.
The movie mixes real and delusional scenes, leaving the viewer confused, having to stop to think about what actually happened. Anyone who has seen psychiatric patients knows that this is an intense exercise, since not all delusions are in fact absurd. Arthur's mother's own delirium that he would be the son of millionaire Wayne is very recurrent in women in psychiatric hospitals. In fact some are phantasies are not phantasies, they are true, as many mental ill women suffered sexual abuse from powerful men, having babies conceived in this way.
The delusional fantasy that his own son has a special father is part of the fantasy of being special herself, and that all suffering is unfair and will one day be redeemed. This fantasy is archetypal, comparable to the Christian Jewish myth in which Jesus was the son of God Himself. If Mary of Nazareth lived today, the Christian Jewish myth would probably have a very different ending, and the Catholic religion might not exist.
By trying to discover his true origin or trying to find a father who would welcome and love him and help him care for his mother, he eventually uncovers secrets in his own history.
The lack of empathy for Arthur's suffering throughout the movie is distressing. At no time does he inspire the compassion of other characters, which I think actually occurs to the mentally ill on many occasions, people do not know how to cope, are afraid and move away. Understandable, since coping constantly or having to live with severely mentally ill people is undoubtedly challenging.
The movie does not have a single moment of hope. Perhaps the most humane approach is that of the hospital worker who realizes the impact of the information that was on Arthur's mother's record, which also refers to him. The employee realizes the impact of the information he has just provided, alias inappropriately acknowledges his error and his limitation, suggesting that he seek professional help, but the government has cut aid, he can no longer seek care.
The father that the mother fantasizes for him calls the whole population of clowns, disqualifying everyone who is not part of the same elite he belongs. It is with this speech that this man considered so special defends the aggressors of Arthur, declaring that as they were one of his own, they were special and the aggressiveness received was gratuitous, deriving from the envy that the less favored classes have of the most privileged. Any resemblance to real life is no coincidence. This is the most credible candidate for solving the problems of Gotham City. Fiction imitates reality or reality imitates fiction?
Splitting for better governance has been an effective governance strategy for centuries.
While rulers spread hatred among classes, religions, etc., they make the masses more manipulable. Social classes, religions, and associations create a group identity that can turn everything into a matter of "us and others," easily transformed into "us against others." It's what I call the smoke screen. While people fight for unrealistic privileges, politicians and “good people” of various religions and ideologies sack public coffers (and religious entities as well), perpetuating and enhancing social differences and injustices.
Arthur's encounter with Bruce in the mansion's gardens behind the bars is tense and touching. The poor rich boy is lonely, locked in his mansion, but vulnerable. The millionaires' mansion itself looks barren, dark, lifeless.
Arthur can easily get close, establish contact, and could even have killed him. Arthur seems to have identified with Bruce through sadness, trying to transform the boy's sad face into the same forced clown smile he has worn all his life.
It is in this attempt to find a father, the fruit of his mother's delusional fantasy, that he discovers that he is adopted. He discovers that he is adopted the way many children used to and still find out, by others and cruelly. In addition to discovering that he is adopted, he finds out (didn't he know?) that her mother had mental problems. While visiting the hospital, she finds from her medical record that she allowed him to be physically abused by her partner, that he was found strapped to a radiator, injured, malnourished, with various signs of violence, and that his mother was held responsible for allowing her partner to abuse him, that is, she was complicit in the mistreatment, and that her neurological illness, which makes him have fits of laughter, may have been caused by the aggressions he suffered in childhood.
The idealized mother dies but not only a symbolical death. Mental illness is characterized by the inversion between real and symbolic action. Both mingle and the symbol becomes literal, losing its numinous force. We all know that we need to kill father and mother symbolically so that we can mature and reborn the inner father and mother within us, but in psychosis the symbolic path is wrong. It is mistaken that the unconscious is only beautiful in its numinosity. The numinous can also be extremely overwhelming, destroying everything around it.
In a way, this discovery is redeeming, yet psychotic, freeing him from the oppression his mother exerted on him.
Arthur seemed to be well suited to his sweet, smiling son persona, at least until the moment he confronted her about his father's identity. Locked in the bathroom, she says she would only answer his questions about his father being millionaire Wayne if he controlled his anger. Here we see his immense effort to control himself, from genuine emotion to harrowing self-control, at least it was my perception.
Upon discovering that his mother is indeed a foster mother, and co-responsible for terrible things that have happened to him, the effect is redemptive and at the same time catastrophic. All the aggression towards the mother who had been suppressed for all these years comes out.
He tells his mother on her’s hospital bed that he never had a single second of happiness in his life, and yet she demanded that he show a happiness he never felt. By trying to ignore Arthur's speech and keep things as they were, he kills her with suffocation, perhaps a symbol of how much he has felt suffocated all his life. He had also exposed himself similarly to the social worker, in one of the first scenes, and then to the hospital nurse, always being ignored.
The clown is invisible.
He verbalizes that he was never seen or heard, the clown was invisible.
Many of our patients have a hard time getting insight like this. Had Arthur had adequate psychological and psychiatric care; would he have become the Joker?
Someone who never expresses his emotions in a manner consistent with his inner state represents a character, a persona, and in Arthur's case the clown is much more than a character, it is a yearning for life. In his fantasy, he would be loved if he always had a smile on his face, if he was always happy.
Unfortunately, it does not work that way, because we smile and are happy when we feel loved, reversing the process does not guarantee the result.
By the way, I take advantage of the film to open a parenthesis about the social demand of the smile.
It seems that there is a social obligation to be nice, especially when it comes to women or minorities.
Women are constantly called upon to smile, even if they do not want to. This is a form of abuse that often goes unnoticed. How many times are we asked to make a “happy face” by relatives and friends in a totally inappropriate way? There are families who hide all the sadness under the rug, they are perfect and trouble-free families where everyone is always fine, the family has a persona of their own, in which all members have to respect the rule, as Arthur's mother did to him.
I once had to warn my own analyst about this, as he always demanded that I smile, in a misogynist way that he didn't even know he had! Everyone knows that during a psychotherapy session we even laugh at some things, but this is not exactly the purpose of a therapeutic meeting, isn’t it?
There is a fantasy cult of happiness and well-being that is suffocating.
We need to be all right all the time, if only to make others comfortable with our presence. There is an appreciation of extroversion, easy laughter, fun people, and a desperate escape from sadness. I have even seen people questioned about why the “frowning face” of someone who was caring for a terminally ill hospitalized patient, who is due to die in the next few hours ...
Self-help and spiritual therapy programs, or whatever, teach people to be happy, to look only at the bright side of things and so on, but I wonder, where does this shadow that has not been integrated and elaborated into personality goes?
Where do the un crying cries, the sadness and abuse that have not been made to go? We know that suppressed sadness turns into aggression, we know that depressed people, if not openly aggressive, are at least passive-aggressive.
Of course, Arthur shows the exaggeration of all this because of his mentally ill condition and the multiple traumas suffered throughout his life. By the way, would Arthur have all these psychological problems if he had not suffered all these traumas and been raised in a society that leaves a child in the care of an unfit mother without any supervision? But which came first, the egg or the chicken? Is Arthur extremely aggressive because of his psychological problems or is he having psychological problems because he is inserted in a psychopathic society?
Our world, our social networks are full of clowns, enacting a smile, a happiness and lightness that are not really there. Many friendships and family relationships are abusive, sadomasochistic, and our culture seems to value this by eroticizing seductive films and characters, legitimizing a pre-existing imaginary of abuse and subjugation of the other, justified by the supremacy of the desire of the socially greatest.
Joker denounces this. The director denounces this in the least subtle way one could do it. There is no compromise in the social critique of the film, either with respect to the ruling elites, or with respect to the dominated classes. All are democratically criticized. The rich and the poor all have the same aggressive, sadistic, psychopathic behavior. Indifference reigns supreme in a society where everyone wants to be seen, and only rarely can, and many of those who receive this visibility and recognition often receive this recognition for mistaken and superficial values.