Amid the variety of opinions surrounding The Joker, I decided to go see the film, even though I was a bit hesitant to do so since I wasn’t sure what I was in for — however, upon being introduced to the film, I began to understand why it had unsettled so many viewers and to appreciate the exploration of how our system is destroying or at least allowing life to destroy so many lives.
Joker isn’t, as some might say, the glorification of a poor white male who decides to take matters into his own hands. It isn’t a tale of revenge, or justice, or a manifesto on how to bring about the change so many of us are craving. Instead, it’s a complex portrait of how much pain and suffering one endures before falling apart, and how little help there is to be had before, during, and after the fall.
Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is poverty-stricken. He has a disability. And he is shunned by people who don’t take the time to understand who he is — including his social worker and his co-workers. So whose fault is it that he finally cracked? Is it the social worker’s, or the program that shut her work down? Is it his co-workers’ fault, for not embracing him as he was? Or is it his fault, because he couldn’t pull himself up by his own bootstraps?
The answer is never simple. The blame could go in a million different directions, but placing the blame isn’t productive anymore. We know that our healthcare system needs work. We know we have people living in poverty. We know that there are countless people living on the street or nearly there, who need help. We know all these things, and yet very little happens to create change. Some of us vote some of us volunteer, some of us give what we can to help those around us, but by ourselves, we can’t manage the change we want to see. We can’t do any of this alone.
This is why the system fails. We think we can solve things on our own. That by our own power, we have what it takes to change the entire world. But we can’t do it alone. Phoenix’s Joker tried to make a change on his own, and the result was violence because that’s all we can manage when we try to make such big changes on our own. Even the heroes in our stories deal with problems in this way, alone and/or violently.
We need each other. We need people from every place, every station, every background, every profession, we all have to band together and use our unique talents if we’re going to get anything done in a way that helps instead of hurts. We can do our part, but we need to recognize that the major shifts that have to happen can’t happen unless there’s a unified front. We can’t allow those in power to separate us. To tell us we’re alone.
Because the bottom line of Joker is that when we’re alone, we believe we don’t matter. The Joker just wanted to matter to someone, and when all your power is taken from you, the only way you feel you matter is if you take power from someone else. If you raise your voice, if you’re the one in control, if you take matters into your own hands. That is what has been glorified throughout history, and if we are to continue as a race, we need to stop believing in the notion that one person can change the world in a healthy, sustainable manner. It takes all of us. It will require all of us to join hands and promising each other and ourselves that we will make peace and push forward as one.
This is what has been taught by the people who have spoken out to power and have then been silenced. There’s a long list of such people whose words remain in our history books instead of being put into action.
The world cannot continue as it is — and we will be doomed to the violent upheaval of power-driven change until we learn to accept that each of us has a part to play and that only by bringing about change together will we be able to remedy the cracks in the system and build something better.