When The Dark Knight came out in 2008 it was received as one of the greatest films of the decade. It was a cultural phenomena that reinvented the already tired superhero genre into something new.

Most of you reading this will already know that. What’s important now looking at the film eleven years later is seeing just how much the tone of that film captures the tension of the societal moment of 2008.

July 2008 was a mere seven years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and four months before the election of Barrack Obama to the presidency. It was a brief moment of transition between the post-war-on-terror paranoia that riddled the country and the ascendency of the radical progressive left.

The Dark Knight was a movie fundamentally about the impending escalation of anarchy and chaos. The story is ultimately about how society bends and breaks in order to stop the forces of chaos from winning and whether or not they deserve to win in the first place.

Over a decade later, Todd Phillip’s newest film Joker reflects a much different reality than the world we lived in back in 2008. Joker presents a world without a Batman or competent authorities capable of taking on the radical fringe ripping society apart.

In the time between The Dark Knight and Joker, we’ve seen the rise of a new status quo where radical voices rule the discourse, where rioting and political violence are encouraged and where the loudest voices get the microphone. This has meant that the right has struggled to keep it’s worst elements at bay at times at the same time that the left has run as far to the left as humanly possible while still maintaining victories under the bandwagon of Trump-derangement-syndrome.

Joker is very much an expression of this particular moment. It’s a fairly deterministic work in the sense that it’s about the way that society creates monsters by marginalizing them and ignoring their problems. This isn’t a story about individual achievement overcoming poverty and mental health. It’s the story of bad systems and the people without the means to improve themselves descending into their own personal hells.

In that sense alone the movie skews somewhat liberal. As a whole though the movie has been largely abandoned by the progressive left who fear that it’s representation of “white male rage” will encourage a generation of school shooters and white male terrorists to go on killing sprees.

 

Rest assured that the movie doesn’t idolize the Joker. If anything, it makes him immensely disturbing and unsettling to watch. The character, real name Arthur Fleck in the movie, is portrayed as a deeply delusional, narcissistic and mentally unstable human being.

He’s mainly empathetic in the sense that we feel bad for him because of the immense amount of unfairness and violence that’s dished out against him. He works a bad job, lives in a bad apartment with an abusive mother and he’s regularly beaten when he goes out onto the streets of Gotham.

The movie presents his descent into becoming the classic character of the Joker as a tragic downfall brought about by the system’s inability to help with his mental issues and people’s unwillingness to show him kindness. By the time we see the character in his classic form he’s become completely terrifying. By this point he’s capable of dishing out immense arbitrary violence.

This is all shown in contrast with the rise of an antifascist/anti-capitalist vigilante political movement and a prominent corporate political figure’s rise happening in the background of the film, which are obvious allusions to Antifa and President Trump. The message is clear, society is breaking down at the seams and our inability to connect to each other with kindness is creating political violence, cult of personality leaders and an insane unstable national mood.

All that said, the movie isn’t great. Like a lot of recent conservatives v. elitist film critics scuffles we’ve seen lately there’s been a huge push to get audiences to support films lambasted by the progressive media. Unfortunately Joker suffers a bit from a somewhat weak script and highly derivative story.

If the movie suffers a central flaw it’s merely that the hodge-podge of influences that the movie draws upon don’t mesh well. Intellectually sorting out how the DC Comics references and Scorsese references are supposed to fit together thematically is exhausting. Regardless, anyone who has seen the movie this is homaging already knows where the plot is going a mile away. Without the excellent lead performance by Joaquin Phoenix and the allusions to Batman there’s not much of a stand alone film.

All things considered though, this is an excellent experiment for Warner Brothers. We need more unique, risky artist driven films coming out of big budget Hollywood and Joker is certainly that. In contrast to its predecessor it’s also an amazing gauge of where society is at the moment.

 
 
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