I saw Joker last week and enjoyed the movie immensely. I think it was both entertaining, cinematic and interestingly written; unique and modern movie in the superhero franchise, the closest relative to it being Wolverine movie back a few years ago, but Todd Phillip’s Joker was on a whole different level. I’m not good at putting words to what I love, so you can read for example Mark Kermode’s review on Joker, which I think is pretty spot on.
But one thing I thought was apparent and clear in the film, but I haven’t come across mentioned, was the fact that it states that the whole DC Universe superhero universe is merely a figment of Arthur Fleck’s insanity. Apparently, here come the spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, do that first before reading this.
The movie itself is a tangled mess of fantasies and reality, told from the perspective of a schizophrenic mental patient. Sometimes, he sees things that are real, sometimes his narcissistic mental issues take the driver’s seat: he finds himself getting called in front after speaking out loud in a talk show audience; the girl in his apartment building who once smiled at him at an elevator becomes his girlfriend. The film itself doesn’t take too much screen time explaining which one is a reality, which is happening in his mind. It’s a very popular storytelling method in films about mental ill subjects – see A Beautiful Mind as a grand example of this.
At the end of the movie, after Fleck has killed Robert DeNiro’s talkshow host character, they take him to a police car and drive him away. On the way, he watches as riots sparked by his murder spree rage all over the city. Suddenly, we even leave his perspective and follow Bruce Wayne’s parents walking away from a theatre to a dark alley, getting whacked as it happens in the Batman lore. We go back to the car where Arthur is detained, and suddenly an ambulance crashes on the side of the car. A clown-masked person comes out and helps him on the hood of a car. There, slowly, he rises up, watching as the masses of masked freaks surround him and greet him as the messiah of them all.
Then we’re back at the hospital. The woman asks: “What are you laughing about”. He says he was just thinking of one thing. Obviously, none of that happened – the ambulance never crashed the car and Arthur never was rescued from the car and made the wicked messiah he fantasizes himself to be. But that’s not all. We cut now to a single shot of Bruce Wayne as a kid, surrounded by his dead parents. The implication is that this is where he becomes Batman; then, we cut back to Arthur. Again, this was part of his fantasy. This never happened. Since we’ve stayed with Arthur all the time, cutting to another point of view, and especially at this point in the movie only implies this is his fantasy again. He creates Batman, right there, to fight the insanity in his brain, a counter-part to his cracking personality, but in reality, Bruce Wayne never becomes Batman. Probably his parents never even die.
It’s all a figment of Arthur Fleck’s imagination, and so are all the following insane characters, whether it’s the Penguin or Riddler or Catwoman. He fantasizes about this whole universe, but in reality, he’s just a nutcase who’s stuck in an asylum for the rest of his life.
Not only that, the film seems to be making a gesture towards the rest of the equally-insane superhero movies out there. I mean, look at us. We used to watch western movies, or science fiction movies, or gangster movies… But suddenly, we’re just watching, and taking very seriously, caped guys running around with fucking huge hammers, flying faster than light, snapping fingers to kill half of humanity. It’s fucking insane what we nowadays take as a regular cinema. It’s all just a weird brew spewing from some insane person’s head. And this is what Joker the movie is telling us.