He snapped when he got some power – the gun. He had the option to become Joker, and he took it at the first opportunity. So really, powerlessness was much more of a block to him than the lies.
Nearly everyone in the film is shit. Narcissism is universal. Even those who show some compassion betray him eventually. There are no good guys, and no innocent victims.
Filial piety is central to the gaslighting he’s subject to. He loves the one he thinks is his mother, and thinks that she loves him. Not on the basis of any evidence, but on the basis of the alternative being unthinkable.
Arthur is easily lied to because he wants to believe the lies. His transformation comes only when he can no longer keep reality at arm’s length. Reality gets its revenge and claims his… no, not sanity. His ability to fake half-sanity.
Arthur Fleck seeks meaning to his life. He can’t find it. It may simply be that he’s looking in the wrong place, but there’s no evidence that he has any ability to create value.
Arthur Fleck wants desperately to love and be loved, but neither of these is in the cards. Half of the problem is him – he cannot love people because he can’t perceive them as such. His fantasies are all he sees. And people can’t love him because he is pure cringe. He’s just icky.
The other half of the problem is everyone else. The Gotham of this film is a nightmare – an amalgam of everything that has ever gone wrong in New York City from the 1960s to the present day. Remember: Gotham is fictionalized, but it is not made up. There really is a city like this, full of people like this. They deserve each other.
Gotham is a city without love because Gothamites cannot love each other. Gothamites cannot love each other because Gothamites cannot be loved. Sartre said: “Hell is other people.” He was close to the truth. Hell is bad people, making each other miserable.
In the end, Arthur finds his audience and is able to bond – with violent thugs. Lovehate as hatelove. Active contempt is the tie that binds. This is his red pill. He accepts that he has absolutely no common ground or common interest with mainstream humanity.
But mainstream humanity isn’t all that great. And maybe, just maybe, Gotham deserves Joker. Don’t say they all need Jesus…
…That’s not helpful. This is a case of the powerlessness of love. Love is a nonstarter.
Don’t say Arthur just needs a hug. A hug won’t fix this. Compassion and understanding won’t fix this. Trying to be inclusive won’t fix this. Maybe that’s why there’s no compassion or understanding in Gotham – the Gothamites gave up on that bullshit long ago.
Joker is Gotham’s suicide weapon. Gotham created him, and he will destroy Gotham. And the only thing that makes him alien is his extremity: he differs from the others only in degree, not in kind. He is the vanguard.
Joker is Gotham, in the act of committing suicide.
How did this horrid metropolis get this way? I blame overcrowding. There is something about big cities that brings out the worst in people. We weren’t meant to live that way. In the Far East, cities are overtly much less bad, thanks to lots of policing. But the people there are repressed and timid (by our standards) and there are still killing sprees. Oh, and lots of suicides. These are the ways of acting out that law enforcement can’t deter. A megacity is a madhouse, with or without effective orderlies. Choose your poison…
Can Gotham be saved? Suppose some slightly unhinged playboy in a bat suit were to terrorize criminals. That would surely slow the downward spiral. But it wouldn’t address the root issue: Gotham is batshit crazy. Arthur Fleck, the most extreme Gothamite, starts out wanting to be good. Isn’t that evidence of a spark of goodness in everyone? Arthur fails, gives up, and finds happiness in embracing hate. So much for human goodness. It flat out doesn’t work. It doesn’t have the right kung fu. The darkness is much stronger than the light.
John Calvin warned us about this:
Maybe it’s not everybody. Maybe it’s just a small fraction of people who are just yahoos, and they mess it up for the rest. And the rest would be fine if they could just get some distance…
Let them have Gotham. We don’t need it anymore…