Joker is not an anti-capitalist movie. It is about the triumph of capitalism, the futility of resistance, and the evolution of the free market system.
First, the last proposition. The noirish theme of the film, which builds on mental illness, the pathos of the individual who goes against the system in which he wants to succeed in (Arthur Fleck wanting to succeed as a stand up comic and guest in Live with Murray Franklin – the talk show guesting being the icon of Hollywood glam) but ends up not fitting in.
To divorce Joker from its DC trajectory is to judge it wrongly. Joker’s story did not end in this origin movie, which I have yet to figure out if it dovetails with the evolved Joker in other movies, especially in the Batman series.
Joker, who had Pseudo Bulbar Affect, a condition which causes him to laugh or cry uncontrollably, mostly in inappropriate situations, is cast as an outcast. He was raised to believe that he was the son of Gotham’s richest man, born out of an illicit love affair (hello, ilusyunado/ilusyunada who thinks they can be like Vice Ganda or Kris Aquino). In reality, which came via sanitarium records and news clippings, he was an adopted child abused by his adoptive mother’s lover (that is he was made into a punching bag).
This is typical Hollywood 90s thematic arc, an evolution of commercial filmmaking that appropriated indie movie themes that exploited the narrative of the outlier, the forlorn, the forsaken – themes that would make feeble minds reach for a razor to slit their veins or hang themselves, not the David Carradine auto-erotic asphyxiation style. God bless the man.
Since the 90s, I sense a bent towards black in Hollywood movie endings (Requiem for A Dream, Fight Club, No Country for Old Men, American Beauty, even Avengers, Captain America). Happy endings are usually called cop outs.
Interestingly, these endings became almost canon with the rise of directors like Inarittu, Cuaron, del Toro and Mereilles.
Mereilles’ Ciudad de Dios for instance, showed a tragic society where children act like men and die early deaths. It was tragic but truthful in its context.
This is like what Zizek describes environmentalism as an evolution of capitalism.
But is the Joker story arc really the ending for the mentally ill? In our city, there is the buang (crazy) woman we call Baleleng. She was buang when I became a reporter at 19. She is buang until now.
She did not become a criminal. She did not become the archenemy of Darna.
She did not commit suicide.
Joker eventually became an icon of everything anti-Establishment, a criminal who did all things bad but not for the money (The Dark Knight). Some see it as a slander on dissenters who are portrayed as anarchists or rebels without a cause. “I’m like a dog who does not know what to do with the car when I catch it,” Heath Ledger’s Joker tells Batman.
Durkheim’s classic definition of an anomic society is where the individual gets little to no support or moral guidance.
Such is Arthur Fleck’s Gotham.
Focault once described a ship of fools where the crazies are doomed to circle the globe for eternity or until they reach the end of their wretched lives.
Comedy, it seems, has become the ship of fools in Gotham. Not surprising since comedy is used in Hollywood to stick a sword in the sides of the powers-that-be without drawing blood.
By portraying Joker as a wannabe comic, he was doomed by the filmmaker as a critic who cannot go far beyond the bar, however powerful his views might be.
Joker described capitalism but it was not in any way a critique.
In the end, cognitive dissonance takes over. We believe what we want to believe in.
But for Joker to gross $747 million in its worldwide run on the story of an outlier?
That, my friend, is pure capitalism.