The social worker then sums up the state of affairs in one line, ‘they don’t give a sh*t about people like you, Arthur. And they really don’t give a sh*t about people like me either.’
An Analysis of the Film Joker: Socio-Political Injustices and Power Dynamics within Western Society
[Spoiler Alert] Arthur represents the revolutionary downtrodden of society, who will not allow himself to be victimised. He is a man who is tender at heart, deeply caring for his mother, as he is shown bathing and feeding her. On the Murray Franklin show, he states, ‘She always tells me to smile and put on a happy face. She says I was put here to spread joy and laughter.’
Despite this, he is deeply shunned as nobody cares to even understand his mental ailments and inner sufferings, demonstrated as the boy’s mother on the train tells Arthur ‘stop bothering my son’, despite the fact Arthur only made funny faces to make her son laugh. The attitude this woman displays is reflective of the state of anger that has bottled up within the masses of the people; anger from the system oppressing them that they internalise and project onto the likes of Arthur. Rather than looking at the real picture and projecting their anger back at the system that has left them disenfranchised, they express their anger unjustly, at the most vulnerable as they are not able to understand an individual such as Arthur, nor do they have the energy to understand.
What is more striking is that this lack of understanding and alienation of the weak in society even permeates into the structures that were created to support such individuals. This was demonstrated by the social worker who interrupted Arthur in one session, as he was describing how until a while ago, he wasn’t sure if he really existed; she interrupts him stating, ‘Arthur, I have some bad news for you’, to which Arthur proceeds, ‘You don’t listen, do you? I don’t think you ever really listened to me. You just ask the same questions every week. “Are you having any negative thoughts?” All I have are negative thoughts. But you don’t listen.’
This scene demonstrates the contempt for the lower social class and their concerns, as Arthur is hopeless and has given up on the institutions of support that fail to address the root cause of his pain. The main concern of Arthur is to receive his medications, in order to reduce the symptoms of the illness he is experiencing and to numb his sufferings, but the social worker proceeds, ‘they cut our funding. This is the last time we’ll be meeting’. As far as Arthur is concerned, whether the social services exist or not is equal, since even whilst they existed, they provided no real value to people like him, except the medication he relied on, that even now has been taken away. The social worker then sums up the state of affairs in one line, ‘they don’t give a sh*t about people like you, Arthur. And they really don’t give a sh*t about people like me either.’
We see this internal rage building up in Arthur, as he is almost beaten to death by three Wall Street businessmen on the subway, simply due to laughing uncontrollably. This unexplainable beating also demonstrates the anger internalised by the upper class, that are so engrossed in their unlawful privilege and exploitation of the weak, that they project it through laughing and beating a helpless man.
These men represent the by-product of a system that allows the rich elite to act with impunity, subjugating the socially inferior to all kinds of humiliation and to even get away with killing, due to their own social status that provides them with immunity and such ‘privilege’, whilst also conscious that the system won’t come to the aid of the socially inferior. Arthur whips his gun out and kills all three men. The rich businessmen clearly underestimated that someone of Arthur’s status would even muster the courage of self-defence in that kind of way. As Arthur later explains on the Murray show, ‘they think that we’ll just sit there and take it, like good little boys! That we won’t werewolf and go wild!’
Sophie Dumond, a neighbour of Arthur, spots the event on the news and exclaims to Arthur, ‘Do you believe that Sh*t. F*** them. I think the guy that did it is a hero. Three less creeps in Gotham City. Only a million more to go.’ Dumond represents the collective working-class members of society, who are desperately seeking to witness the destruction of the ruling class, by any means necessary.
This gives us an insight into how bleak the conditions of the downtrodden are in society, that even if three supposedly ‘innocent’ men are murdered by a maniac clown, they are indifferent because as Arthur later on reveals, ‘ugh, why is everybody so upset about these guys? If it was me dying on the sidewalk, you’d walk right over me! I pass you every day and you don’t notice me! But these guys? Well because Thomas Wayne would cry about them on TV?’ Indeed, Arthur’s killings went on to incite a demonstration against Gotham’s rich, with protesters donning clown masks in Arthur’s image.
As Thomas Wayne, who was running for Mayor was interviewed about the subway killings, the Good Morning Host comments, ‘there seems to be a groundswell of anti-rich sentiment in the city. It’s almost as if our less fortunate brethren are taking the side of the killer.’ This scene demonstrates the way our media operates; the ‘less fortunate’ are made to be the problem, as they sympathetic with ‘killers’, thus seeking to turn the issue on its head; as though what led to such killings isn’t the arrogant mentality of a capitalist society that worships the rich, to the extent that they feel immune from the repercussion of any aggression they might commit, but they paint the picture as though the issue at hand that needs tackling is the ‘groundswell of anti-rich sentiment’!
When asked about the fact that the suspect was in a clown mask, Wayne replies, ‘what kind of coward would do something that cold-blooded? Someone who hides behind a mask. Someone who is envious of those more fortunate than themselves, yet they’re too scared to show their own face. And until those kinds of people change for the better, those of us who made something of our lives will always look at those who haven’t as nothing but clowns.’ The irony of such words is that they were coming out of Wayne, a billionaire mayoral candidate who is working within the ruling class to maintain the status quo.
Indeed, it is the likes of Wayne who are ‘hiding behind the mask’, as they perpetuate systemic inequalities and oppressions that are imprisoning the masses into a vicious cycle of mental illnesses, that can only lead to the dysfunction of society. Not only are the likes of Wayne the perpetrators and responsible for the widespread corruption, but they blame the oppressed they have subjected under their rule for the situation they find themselves in, whilst degrading them as ‘clowns’ and praising themselves as the bastions of the rule of the law.
The plot twist occurs when Arthur discovers that Thomas Wayne is actually his father, and when he confronts his mother with the reality she says, ‘We were in love. He said it was best that we are not together because of appearances.’ However, when Arthur confronts his father Wayne, he is told, ‘well, that’s impossible. Because you were adopted, and I never slept with your mother. What do you want from me? Money?’ According to Wayne, absolving responsibility of his biological son can be settled with money, as is everything else in his world, further reinforcing the culture that dominates the capitalist elite, who are willing to sell their own flesh and blood for prestige.
Not only that, but when Arthur begins to uncontrollably laugh due to his medical condition, Wayne slaps him and threatens to kill him for arguing with his other biological and aristocratic son at Wayne Manor. Despite the fact that both Arthur and Alfred who were arguing are Wayne’s sons, it matters little to Wayne whether his mentally poor son Arthur is alive or dead, simply due to the social divide that exists between them.
The greatest shock occurs to Arthur when he visits the hospital and the psychiatry file reveals that not only is Penny not his biological mother, but that he was battered and abused as a child whilst his mother looked on, however these were Wayne’s official fabrications to hide his affair. This causes Arthur to strangle his own mother to death. The warm-hearted Arthur, that would get mad at anyone who dared call his mother ‘crazy’ or ‘sick’, resorted to killing his own mother, as she gave in to a corrupt system at the expense of her own son.
Arthur couldn’t deal with his mother’s surrendering to the unjust power structures, as she slept on the lies and abuse, and proved he would go out of his way to kill anyone who facilitates injustice in any way, even it be his own mother who was also manipulated by the same system. This is also demonstrative of the cunning work of those in power, who perpetrate systemic crimes against the population and cause the victims of their crimes to blame and attack one another, rather than fight with the instigators of the crime.
In another scene we witnessed Arthur being mocked by Murray, after he was invited for a comedy sketch and demonstrated his uncontrollable laughter on stage, ‘here’s a guy who thinks if you just keep laughing, it’ll somehow make you funny. Check out this joker’. Murray represents the mass media machine that is careless and ignorant about how the most marginalized and already oppressed in society feel; despite the fact Arthur saw Murray as a father figure, the latter sought to profit through mocking him. What is clear is that Arthur garnered the sympathy of the masses, who are also enduring the mental pain and suffering of Arthur, whilst being subjected to the obscenity of the same media.
Murray was so confident in the aftermath of his mocking Arthur, that he proceeded to speak with him normally and invited him again on his show, as though he didn’t just make a laugh out of him on live television. Arthur asks Murray in the iconic scene to introduce him as ‘Joker’, and rather than allowing himself to be victimized on stage, Murray is taken aback as Arthur expresses how he really makes him feel, ‘You’re awful, Murray … Playing my video. Inviting me on the show. You just wanted to make fun of me. You’re just like the rest of them!’ This illustrates how the media is never held to account and does not even expect those they mistreat to react.
Arthur throws a bombshell when he confesses to killing the three Wall Street guys, whilst Murray proceeds to taunt him, ‘look at what happened because of what you did. What it led to. There are riots out there, two policemen are in critical condition – you’re laughing, you’re laughing. Someone was killed today because of what you did.’ This scene vividly captures the mass media machines deceit and hypocrisy, through defining Arthur’s killing as nothing but a ‘killing’. By focusing on the ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’, they seek to twist the reality; as though Arthur’s extreme behaviour is a product of his own evilness and not the system’s neglect for the poor, which has hardened Arthur on the outside and who refuses to be a helpless victim. As Murray requests for the police to be called amid the confession, Arthur whips his gun and shoots Murray in the head.
Through this Arthur became the real symbol of the oppressed people, as the masses took to the streets on a full-blown riot. It was a revolution through which its people did not how to express themselves, thus manifesting itself in chaos, looting and killing. Arthur’s erratic behaviour and that of the people in the riots are simply a product of a corrupt system that has yielded such extreme behaviour. Wayne and his wife get shot amid the riots, and the movement Arthur created symbolized a revolution calling for the downfall of the corrupt financial, legislative and media components, that are the three pillars of the system. This was manifested in the shooting of the Wall Street businessmen, the billionaire Mayoral candidate Wayne, and the talk show host Murray.
The end scene depicts Arthur returning back to the psychiatric hospital and leaving behind him a trail of bloodied footprints. The ending is one of despair and hopelessness; that is whether you are ‘extreme’ or ‘moderate’ in your approach to eradicating injustice, you will not be successful in dismantling the main pillars of the corrupt system, as the Capitalist structure is able to absorb it all and simply reshapes the things, that recreate and reproduce themselves in a worse manner – it is simply a matter of changing faces that will soon replace the Wall Street businessmen, the Wayne’s and the Murray’s. That is because what the masses are doing has simply become a part of their habits. If they are revolutionary today, tomorrow they will not be so.