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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.


Everyone knows the most infamous villain of all time, Batman’s main foe, the Joker. So it was no surprise when Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the clown prince of crime was a hit with audiences and the box office. 

There has been many iterations of the Joker over the years, each getting darker than the last. The realism of Joker lies in the issues it touches upon through this comic book character.

The Joker has always been a sort of political symbol throughout the Batman movies, whether he knows it or not. His choices and crime is purely to create chaos and disorder through the city of Gotham. In Joker, as it is an origin story, Arthur Fleck starts a political revolution with no intention of doing just that.

In the Batman universe, we often see the clear line between Bruce Wayne’s lavish lifestyle and the poverty-ridden city he protects. The subplot of Joker showcases this class inequality, very similar to the one that plagues the US.

Arthur’s descent into becoming a murderer begins in the subway car when he kills the three “Wall Street” guys. These three men are seen as heros on the news because they were tragically murdered, when really, as we have just seen, they were harassing a young woman on the train and then beat a clearly mentally ill man, unprovoked. This touches upon the fact that people with money and status can get away with more than the average person can.

This one act causes anarchy in Gotham, inciting riots of angry citizens wearing clown masks and worshipping Arthur’s clown crusade against the rich and powerful. He’s seen as someone who stands up for the poor, a murderous Robin Hood, if you will. In Arthur’s fantasies, as he and Sophie are examining the newspapers displaying the crime, Sophie expresses how she is glad that he killed those rich men that had it coming. 

Although this is a much exaggerated, parodic, view on society today. It does show the enormous division between the rich and the poor and how one horrific act can start a movement. 

Before Arthur Fleck’s mother, Penny Fleck, is revealed to be even more mentally ill than her son, her false hope in Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father, is something many can relate to. 

As the 2020 elections roll around, we are already hearing many claims by many politicians, whether it is plausible or not, it sparks our interest in that candidate to hear their ideas for the future of this country. 

Penny has an obsession with a certain claim that Wayne seems to make often; that his employees are family, and they will be treated as such. Being a past employee of Wayne Enterprises, she sees herself as family. Penny writes letters to Wayne and makes Arthur check the mail everyday to see if he wrote back, claiming that if Thomas knew the situation they were living in, he would be horrified.

When Arthur Fleck finally confronts Thomas Wayne, under the false impression that he is his father, Thomas Wayne pushes the idea of Penny and Arthur aside, claiming they are both crazy and ends up punching Arthur in the face. 

Many politicians and billionaires alike claim that they want to help the impoverished and never end up doing anything with the money they have. Thomas Wayne and his charisma keeps his followers believing. While Penny blindly follows, much like many voters in today’s time. As Arthur says in his interview with Murray Franklin, “Do you think men like Thomas Wayne ever think what it’s like to be someone like me. To be somebody but themselves, they don’t.”

The overarching theme of Joker is the fact that his mental illness drives him to do the horrific acts that transforms him into the villain we are all familiar with.

In many other versions of the Joker, his character is not even aware of the fact that he is deeply ridden with mental illness. Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal is fully aware of his condition, carrying around little cards with apologies for his uncontrollable laughter, and seeing a therapist.

At one of the therapy sessions, the therapist tells Arthur that they cannot meet anymore because the city has cut all funding. He replies by asking how he will get his medication and she responds that the city does not care about people like him or people like her, implying he will not be getting any more medication. 

This scene seems to reflect the constant battle facing the US of whether or not to increase funding and research for mental illness. Especially with the increase in shootings and the fight for gun control. 

Although Joker is grossly exaggerated, portraying a truly violent and villainous character, it does have an interesting way of creating a slightly distorted mirror into our world.


Images: 1, 2, 3

Larissa Boyack

U Mass Amherst '20

Larissa Boyack is a senior at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management. She hopes to combine her love of travelling and writing and eventually become a travel writer. As well as writing, she also enjoys acting, photography, and graphic design. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @larissaboyack  
Contributors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst