We Are Living in A Joker World

It’s not often that I directly speak on politics in my blog, but let’s face it, it was going to happen sooner or later.

I finally caved in and saw Joker last week in theaters. I won’t get into too many details and nor will I say it’s the most important movie this year. It is, however, important; and feeds directly into what this blog post is about.

And yes, there are some spoilers, though I’ll try to keep it as shrouded as I can for those who haven’t seen it yet.

First and foremost, Joker is a movie about mental illness. The film’s script and Joaquin Phoenix’s (Arthur Fleck, aka, Joker) vivid and powerful performance loudly illustrates that. It shows a lonely man who is really struggling with life, whose ability to face the world and overall sanity is like a candle burning on two ends; both by his crushing poverty and his deteriorating mental condition. He also laughs a lot (even when he doesn’t want to) and carries a bag of prescription meds.

Fleck on one of his last visits with his support worker. In this scene she tells him, “they don’t give a shit about you Arthur, and they don’t give a shit about me, either,” after the city announces funding cuts to health services. (WB Photo)

Along his transformative journey, something critical happens: the city cuts funding to health programs, severing his counselling sessions and free access to his meds. Call it a plot twist, but that’s reality. Countless people in our world today face the same predicament; they struggle to make ends meet in some shitty low-paying job, while self-care takes a seat. Unsurprisingly, this is where Fleck’s struggle spirals violently out of control, thus beginning his free-fall descent into his alter-ego, the Joker.

Through his actions, the Joker accidentally creates a powerful resonance of himself upon a troubled Gotham City, which he then exploits to turn it against itself

Now, you’re wondering what this has to do with politics. Well, among the things Arthur experiences is a total lack of empathy for the broken establishment; as well as human life, since killing those who wrong him becomes a natural impulse. This, in turn, feeds into an already-unstable society around him that is hungry, desperate, unemployed and struggling with pains of its own. Through his actions, Joker accidentally creates a powerful resonance of himself upon a troubled Gotham City, which he then exploits to turn it against itself. That’s why Joker is not your average movie; where the good guy wins, or leaves you on an optimistic note. No one wins; not even Fleck; he becomes a byproduct of a broken system that creates broken people by breaking their hopes and dreams. The underlying statement is also against the 1% group, which is more or less deserved.

Arthur Fleck in his final form as The Joker. (WB Photo)

This is why Joker got so much flak. It felt real. It made people uncomfortable because it spoke to the insecurities that lie in every one of us. It showed us a believable story of what can happen to a person when they have no support from anything or anyone. It wasn’t about empowering white males, or glorifying violence; that wasn’t the point. It’s about a universal problem that affects all races, all genders, all humans: rob people of their rights, rob of them of prosperity, rob them of support and respect, and eventually they’ll turn against whoever they feel is responsible for their suffering, whether it’s their leaders, their governments or other powers that be.

After the movie, I was overwhelmed with reflections of things happening right now that echo the film’s final moments. Hong Kong, for example. The whole region – a supposed hub of democracy, business and prosperity – has been plummeting into revolt, violence and chaos for months now, with no immediate end in sight. We’ve seen entire corporations turn their backs on their own people by siding with China’s overall stance on the issue that everyone who is protesting in Hong Kong is confused, emotionally misplaced, or a criminal.

Hundreds of thousands in Hong Kong take to the streets to protest China’s proposed extradition bill. (South China Morning Post Photo)

I’m not a specialist on politics, nor will I pretend to be; yet I do know enough to see that when people’s rights and freedoms are directly threatened, they will fight back. That’s nothing new; it’s happened many times all throughout human civilization and is a basic part of human instinct.

For a quick recap, the reason for all the protests and violence in Hong Kong stems from a proposed law that would allow extraditions to mainland China; so if the government doesn’t like you for whatever reason it decides, you’re in trouble. Needless to say, Hong Kong’s relationship with the rest of China has been troubled for a while now, so to put it simply: when you have an autonomous region (Hong Kong) that largely operates as a democracy inside a single-party communist nation (China) you’re going to have problems.

Except now those problems are manifesting themselves world-wide, affecting everything from global commerce, diplomacy, leadership and overall international relations. Again, this is where the Joker comes in; that flame of chaos growing stronger and more powerful as people become increasingly more desperate – and easier to spark towards violence.

Protesters in Hong Kong show signs trying to represent what they are asking for. (The Straits Times Photo)

Is there a solution? How do you ask 1.4 billion Chinese people to just “get along”? And how do you deal with social unrest around the world when it comes to a high cost of living, low salaries, poverty, inequality and class division?

I certainly don’t have the answer. But one thing that Joker doesn’t show (which reminds us it’s still just a movie) is that there are people in the world willing to listen, to lend a hand; to raise their hands up when something is wrong and putrid in our system or when those liable must be held liable. What’s happening in Hong Kong right now and the rest of the world will not be solved in one day, but hoping that, with enough open discussion and perseverance, we’ll get there someday.

Top photo credit: Getty Images

Further reading on Hong Kong Protests

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