Joker Movie's Dark Truth
Updated: Jul 31, 2020
One key component of the transformation from Arthur Fleck, mentally ill loner, into Joker, prince of crime, is the role philosophy played.
Joker is the brilliant Todd Phillips film detailing the origin story of the most famous comic book rogue that has ever existed. There is not a whole lot of Batman in this film, which was purposeful to showcase that this is not a comic book movie, but a character study on the dark mind of Arthur Fleck, the doomed personage to take on the role of Joker. After a few weeks of mulling over the tragic and darkly moving scenes, I finally discovered another layer poignantly laid out beneath the blood and psychological terror infused with this fascinating tale, namely, the role medicine and philosophy plaid in his transformation.
We learn he loses access to his meds near the middle of the movie. This means he no longer takes the medicine that balances him out and keeps him from being a bit much for society. His therapist, who he sees weekly, tells him they lost funding and are shutting down. He asks how he will get his meds and is answered with a big fat, “Who cares? Not me.” Besides this scene shoving an incredibly inconvenient truth in front of the faces of the masses, it also sets up a large part of the premise of the movie: those who run society do not care about society.
The loss of Arthurs meds causes him to fall deeper into the psychotic scars that were given to him by his mother’s abusive boyfriends. He learns more and more about his history but does not fully snap until he says, in an iconic call back to the brilliant Alan Moore’s Joker origin, “I had a bad day.” I won’t spoil the scene, but it is enough to break any man.
Flash to the end of the movie, Arthur is in Arkham Asylum. You can bet he is also back on his meds. Society should be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief, but it turns out we can’t. Joker, fully made, kills his therapist. The question that has bugged me since this final scene is simply this: what made him kill his therapist?
If the meds are what is keeping Arthur Fleck from becoming Joker, then being back on the meds should have changed him back into Arthur. This is not the case. We see that meds do nothing to dampen the ill mind of Arthur because medicine was not preventing the Joker’s existence in the first place.
What we learn from this final, darkly humorous scene is what the meds prevented Arthur from was not a sickly mind bent into psychosis, but they held him from falling into something a bit darker: nihilism.
Nihilism is the philosophical rejection of moral and religious principles and acceptance of meaningless and purposelessness of existence. Once off his meds, Arthur, in as clear a mind as he can be, accepts or learns that life has no meaning, and believing in anything is pointless. Thus he tells Murray, “I don’t believe in anything.” This line is brushed off in the seventies when it is supposed to take place, but you can bet we don’t have the same carelessness now.
Back in Arkham Asylum and on his meds, Joker should be the sweet, creepy Arthur Fleck he once was, yet that can never be because he transformed on a fundamental level through his core belief system. He no longer needs to feel responsible for any of his actions because any action is ultimately meaningless. Joker’s existence is credited to anti-moral and anti-religious core beliefs.
This is an excellent example of the power and dangers of philosophy. Philosophy is ultimately the way each person lives his or her life. The environment around us almost always creates it, and in our later adolescent years, our core beliefs evolve from the most reliable ideas we have in our philosophical tool-belt. This makes up who we eventually become. For Arthur Fleck, his environment created him, but his stability, his mother, is built entirely on a lie. Without someone or some other philosophy to lean on, Arthur picked the most reliable set of principles he had in his tool-belt, which are no principles at all.
This movie serves as a warning, but also as an uplifting tale of what role each individual plays in the health of society as a whole. It was not just one person that holds the blame for Joker’s arrival; it is the blame of many people who refuse to see the damage they can do to a person. Thus, it is not just one person who benefits society; we have to work together. Thankfully this movie is fiction, but it holds the dark lesson we have to learn unless we want to see the silver screen become reality.