Joker and the Crisis of Capitalism

Viewing against the Grain

Joker explores the manifestations of capitalism while it flips the dualities of the criminal and the just, the funny and the macabre, and the sane and the insane.

That the Batman film franchise is associated with expressions of popular discontent has become a widely held view, especially since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (2012). The latest in this franchise, Todd Phillips’ Joker (2019) intensifies that association by placing the emergence of the figure of the Joker within the context of the social injustice and psychological breakdown experienced by Arthur Fleck, the protagonist. Despite his dream of becoming a stand-up comic, his personal crisis and social victimisation gradually unhinge him, culminating in his transformation into one of the arch-villains of the Batman universe: the Joker.

Of course, it is a truism that the moral quality of a society is judged by the way in which it treats its outcasts; and the vortex of trauma, violence, impoverishment, and ridicule that Fleck, a professional clown, suffers, almost on a daily basis, makes us aware of how rotten the society that surrounds him is. His crisis is aggravated by the accidental revelation that his mother Penny Fleck possibly had an affair with Thomas Wayne, a wealthy industrialist and the owner of Wayne Enterprise. But, Fleck is rudely dismissed by the butler of the Wayne household when he tries to befriend Wayne’s son, whom he considers to be his step-brother, and is later humiliated by Wayne himself. Eventually, confronted with rejection and degradation from all corners, Fleck spirals into a murderous spree. Interestingly, once Fleck succumbs to his gory frenzy, he acquires immense popularity in the city of Gotham, already reeling under socio-economic crises, as his assassinations are seen by many as expressions of outrage against the establishment. In fact, towards the end of the film, the Joker not only escapes with the help of a riotous mob, but the same mob celebrates his deranged murderousness as something seemingly heroic.

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Updated On : 2nd Jan, 2020

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