The Joker Movie I Have Not Seen
So here are some thoughts on #JokerMovie, a film I have not seen.
Yeah… yeah… I know. See it and then talk about it. But to see it, I have to put money in the filmmaker’s pocket. And only after I see it, will I know if that was a mistake. So, please accept that I’m aware of the implications here.
Also, I’m a lifelong comic reader. I know the inflection points that lead from the original Joker, created in 1940 to this current screen version. He’s always been a bad guy, but something major shifted when Frank Miller portrayed him in Dark Night. Miller’s Joker was deeply and frighteningly psychotic. Heath Ledger’s Joker was the equally alarming inflection point in film, leaving Cesar Romero’s 1960’s joker, or even Jack Nicholson’s version far behind.
And now he gets his own movie.
I have a personal baseline for the Joker. This character was never meant to be the center of some sort of dystopian fetish narrative. He was meant to have his teeth knocked out by the Batman. THAT is his purpose.
But in removing the Batman, the Joker’s story evolves into something darker, a symbol of a broken man regaining his agency and power via murderous violence, depicting that violence as his empowering response to an unfair world. The irony, of course, is that Joker’s violence reinforces the very unfairness that created him. More trauma is created. More damage is done. This irony will likely be utterly lost on the many disaffected boys and men who will view this film.
Which leads me to the question, “Why tell this story at all?”
Instead of being a foil for the moral authority of the Batman, (who’s not all there himself, by the way), the Joker is in danger of becoming a symbol of how a broken man can gain agency and power via murderous violence with no counterbalancing force to provide a check on this narrative. Some people could take this the wrong way. Some people already have.
Joker is dystopian violence porn with underpinnings of what has been reported as director Todd Phillips contempt for “PC culture.” In Phillips world, PC culture has “ruined comedy.” Great. Let’s thread that in there, too.
The risk is Joker may end up granting some boys or men permission to double down on their masculine victim hood, instead of doing the difficult emotional work of becoming healthy, connected men. They will never get the opportunity to recognize the impact in their lives of our brutal man box culture of masculinity. They will instead likely be tempted to blame others indiscriminately, avoiding any self reflection about the larger issues of gender, race and class which are at the core of our culture’s epidemic levels of trauma.
Meanwhile, a man like Todd Philips, who has likely never been murderously assaulted, makes a movie glorifying murderous assault as a way to vent what he sees as his declining privilege, even as he lives the life of a Hollywood a-list director.
If millions of men are suffering under the boot heel of unemployment, loneliness, and disposability, and they certainly are, Todd Phillips probably isn’t one of them.
Which is why I have an issue with paying money to see this film. Or even seeing it at all. I see enough men suffering. I don’t need to see men’s suffering dystopian porn glorified and framed through the depiction of violence as mass entertainment. Not when there is no moral lesson being offered beyond, “that’s right boys, you’re fucked.”
Mark Greene is the author of The Little #MeToo Book for Men.