There is something so crucially urgent about the character Arthur Fleck that will ring in your mind, long after the credits have rolled on.
The joker is undeniably one of the most popular and iconic characters and has surprisingly been one celebrated villain, an evil mastermind in The Dark Knight.
We are yet to recover from the groundbreaking portrayal of the Joker by Heath Ledger and here we are overwhelmed with the feral depiction of Arthur Fleck, a tormented soul in the 2019’s Joker by the terrific actor Joaquin Phoenix that took the silver screen with triumph.
Warning: Serious spoilers from this point on.
There’s a point in the first half of the movie when Arthur Fleck is talking to a social worker, who he has his therapy appointments with. We can hardly see the evil in those decent, softening eyes when he asks the social worker, “Is It Just Me, Or Is It Getting Crazier Out There?” Even though the movie is set in the 1980s, it reverberates with the current theme of lawlessness, chaos, and disorder.
This is where we know, the story is not really about a born villain, but a person settling on the unsettling edge of an insidious process of turning into the most feared villain in Gotham city.
We cannot even decipher if this is ‘the person’ going to turn into the antagonist. Is he really the antagonist? The movie is a tightrope walk between feeling pity for Arthur and having to despise him because of his grim and bestial actions.
Arthur, is a decent, almost categorically docile, living in an economically-depressed resident with his mother, who he takes good care of.
To top it all, he was suffering from a neurological condition in which he had bouts of uncontrollable laughter, without any triggers. Fleck, an aspiring stand-up-comedian who was already a winner in his mind, set out to struggle for a stable job in reality. As insults, belittlement, and failure started closing in on him, he gradually started disabusing himself of his philosophy to bring laughter to the world.
It is sad how a guileless person’s hope of being accepted by society and bringing peace and happiness to the world was crushed under the snowballing mockery, disheartenment, and embarrassment. You will sympathize with Arthur, as much as you will relate to him.
Everything is manageable until he gets fired from job for illegally carrying a gun while entertaining in a children’s hospital ward. This was indeed an innocent measure on Arthur’s part as the idea of carrying a gun was entirely devised by Randall, his co-worker. Preceding this incident, Arthur gets brutally kicked and punched by a gang of outlaws. Arthur doesn’t find justice in being fired from the job because he didn’t really consider himself guilty. Which is to some extent, reasonable.
Getting fired from his dream job was a trigger to his underlying chaos, and loneliness. His life was that of a loner, desperately trying to keep his ever surging insanity as a whole. He never had a proper social connection, not even one failed date. The other time he connected with a lady living in the same vicinity, who he starts dating but later in the movie, it’s revealed that the entire incident was his delusion.
His co-workers were not really fond of him. They always boycotted him as ‘weird’ and deviant. It was only sometime later that he realized his co-worker had conspired against him to get him fired.
Remember, the movie is set in Gotham City, a city rife with confusion and perplexity. Half of its inhabitants are left unemployed and impoverished. A furor is conjuring up against the mayor on the run, Thomas Wayne, who feels is the savior of Gotham city of its anarchy. Under such circumstances, Gotham city’s perturbation symbolizes the growing chaos inside Arthur Fleck as his personal experiences increasingly getting deleterious for him.