Directed by Todd Phillips, the newest installment in the “Joker” franchise was released earlier this month to mixed reviews. We cover the evolution of the classic villain and how this movie portrays a different side of the character and society itself.
In Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” we see a world with hope. Towards the end of the film, the Joker sets up a bit of a test for the people of Gotham, where two ferries are each given the chance to blow the other ferry up to ensure their own survival. Ultimately, neither ferry hits the button. The Joker was so sure his plan would work, but the people of Gotham proved they aren’t killers. That’s when Christian Bale’s Batman turns to Heath Ledger’s Joker and asks, “What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone’s as ugly as you?” Before he makes his final assessment, and concludes to the Joker: “You’re alone.”
“The Dark Knight” came out in 2008, right as the world seemed to be turning a corner for the better. America was on the brink of electing its first black president, which many believed could usher in a post-racial society. An end to the long-enduring Iraq and Afghanistan wars seemed imminent and, when the movie hit theaters in July, the world was oblivious to the fact that the stock market would crash just two months later.
Now, 11 years later, Todd Phillips’ movie “Joker” seems to believe that maybe deep down, the Joker isn’t alone. “Joker” portrays a Gotham where the citizens may actually side with a homicidal clown, taking to the streets to riot and celebrate Clown Prince of Crime. The world of Joaquin Phoenix’s “Joker” is ablaze even before lonely Arthur Fleck takes on the movie’s title as his own. Rats and trash infest the streets, mental health program funding is being slashed and the public transit system is dark, dirty and violent. It seems like a set-up for a hero to come and save the day… but instead, there is no hero. Batman doesn’t yet exist and Bruce Wayne is still a child. By the time he comes of age, there may be nothing left to salvage, not with Joker on the loose, unimpeded.
And that’s the most jarring thing about the movie, “Joker.” The character of the Joker has always existed solely to serve as Batman’s arch-nemesis, his perfect foil. The Joker revels in chaos and trickery, while Batman longs for order. In the new movie from Todd Phillips, Gotham has lost its way in the absence of Batman.
Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” ends with a famous monologue from Commissioner Gordon, where he concludes that Batman is “the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.” 2019’s “Joker” seems to believe that Batman is the hero Gotham needs, but not the one its citizens deserve.