The new film, Joker, is much more than a simple film. The intensely violent and bloody blockbuster is a statement about what has gone wrong with our society. It is yet another symptom of a culture that has lost its way.
Some films inspire people to do great things. Others contain beauty and moral meaning. Joker is made to horrify. It proposes an anti-hero that is especially dangerous for our times.
It should not surprise us that most media have already delivered predictably favorable reviews of Joker. The film was made to overwhelm. Hollywood pulled out all the stops to make this film a blockbuster. We can expect to see the best talent on display. The great acting, directing or technical effects are the best that money can buy. The intense plot development is what happens when a high-budget comic-book-fantasy-turned-horror story is packed into 122 sensational minutes.
We can also expect to see an accommodating press ever ready to glorify the violence and create the hype around films that reflect the frenetic intemperance of our times. The film caters to an adoring public that craves sensations and thrills over everything. It all comes together in Joker.
A Dangerous Message
Thus, let us leave the reviewers to rave as is their custom. We cannot and do not want to add to their adulation. Our task is to consider what films like this mean for our society in crisis.
The appearance of Joker means we have a movie industry that is willing to send a dangerous message to the public.
The message is found in the plot of the story of a deranged young man working as an amateur clown. He is beaten, humiliated and rejected in a corrupt crime-infested Gotham City. His treatment by society leads him to seek revenge by murdering cruel businessmen and joining criminal elements. This young man becomes the Joker, the arch-criminal featured in Batman movies. The film is a psychological profile and an attempted explanation of how the Joker arrived at his level of depravity.
What makes the film so dangerous is that it highlights the same psychological profile found in many mass shooters that have terrorized America with their killings.
The message is that any isolated person who considers himself society’s victim can become the Joker by following his dangerous narrative.
We do not need this message. The dangers are very real. Even Warner Brothers, the film’s producer, recognized the threat of violence by issuing a statement claiming the film was meant “to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues” not make the Joker a hero.
We do not need this conversation.
Law enforcement agencies nationwide were also well aware of the threat. They were on alert during the film’s opening weekend, just in case, some hidden “incel” loner might try to follow in the Joker’s footsteps. They know that ideas can have consequences.
A Dangerous Narrative
Thus, there arises a second major problem with Joker. The release means we have a media and culture that demonstrate a willingness to promote a dangerous and false narrative that favors a bleak world.
The film’s narrative tells confused young men how they might see themselves as victims of misunderstanding and uncontrollable circumstances. It mixes the class struggle poison of “Kill the Rich” rhetoric and action into the story. In the Joker’s world, problems are systemic, not moral. Revenge is justified and possible for all of the world’s victims. His is a nihilistic world devoid of meaning, free will and agency.
The Joker’s world has no good, truth or beauty. God has no role in this dark, twisted tale. In the words of Observer reviewer Rex Reed, the film represents “the soul of a monster in Hell, in a movie that borders on genius—repellant, dark, terrifying, disgusting, brilliant and unforgettable.”
This terrifying spectacle can belong to those who claim this narrative. It can serve as the warped model for those depressed and lonely youth that occupy the peripheries of our troubled society.
The Anti-Hero of an Anti-Culture
Someone should care about the tragic state of a culture that peddles these wares. However, no one seems to care.
While the Joker may not be “a hero,” he is an anti-hero of an anti-culture that is very much a product of postmodernity’s destruction of certainties. It is an anti-culture that cultivates horror. The film seeks to gratify our mania for sensations, even when they cause terror and fear.
Such films are toxic in today’s polarized climate. In the name of entertainment, they introduce self-absorbed characters that only intensify division and class struggle. They portray a brutal, broken and unintelligible society devoid of meaning and purpose.
Indeed, Joker represents everything that is not needed in today’s society. We need heroes that practice virtue. We need characters that can unify not divide society. There must be those who can overcome difficulties not dwell upon them. Self-absorbed characters do not build society, but destroy it.
It is not just Joker but a whole genre of entertainment that projects an image of life that appeals to all that is macabre, violent and egoistic.
Playing Out the Same Script
Worst of all, Hollywood treats such films as normal fare. The bloody violence and deranged plot are all dismissed as entertainment that has no impact on our world. The media insist that there is no connection even when the same script is played out in real life by lonely “jokers” who also live broken lives without family, structure or God.
Somewhere, the next shooter lives in dark isolation. We can only ask if Joker will not play some role in his descent into madness. Such a stern warning might seem exaggerated since it is only a movie. However, can we afford not to ponder the question?