I was not ready for what happened in the movie Joker. Spellbound, I gave up trying to comprehend what the 122 minutes on the screen were about. The explanation I had to settle for goes like this:
Uncomfortable and brilliant
One would feel that most scenes in the movie are written for them. Arthur Fleck is an unfiltered portrayal of the insecurities in our minds and the incapabilities in our actions. As an audience, I was thinking, “Of course I am slightly crazy, live in my head most of the time and I have a dark side too. I am like Arthur.” Psychological traits like the desire for fame (Arthur imagining being a TV show personality) are exploited really well. From the beginning, he was picked on by amateur hooligans - kids whom he could have easily beaten up. The world is wretched and is against him. We can’t help but see that the scales are skewed so unfairly against him. We relate to his plight, we suffer with him. We root for him and want him to win.
But at some point, we back off because after a while it gets too much. You start to realise that he’s going too far in his madness. You begin thinking, “Everything’s fine, but I would never shoot Robert De Niro on his TV show.” While you get to have a switch to turn off your mental weirdness (I hope), Joker shows no signs of self-restraint. You think you have a dark side, but you merely adopted the dark, he was born in it, moulded by it.1 But is it a matter of ‘can not’ or is it ‘will not’? Joker’s character cannot be broken down so simply like this. In reality we usually manage to cope, Arthur simply cannot. These are the points in the movie where the audience stops relating to Arthur, they just watch him do his show - it is a movie after all - amused by the acting and admiring him for his slow, jazzy, non-conforming dance moves.
Then there’s the violence. The blood. The gun. Fear engulfs you, you have an out of body experience and then notice that there are 100 other people watching the same colorful pixels as you (in the theater). If you relate to the movie, others might too. You shuffle nervously in your seat, and start focusing on the movie with the feeling of awkwardness behind you - much like the respectable people in Tyler Durden’s theater2 who think they have been shown coughs something explicit coughs in between a family movie.
So what does the Joker want? He does not want to be understood. Which scenes were real, and which were imagined by Arthur cannot be discerned so easily. Like Gotham, our cities also foresee impending epidemic of rat-plague fueled by increasing heaps of garbage. In our case, the garbage is also metaphorical. Our world is also filled with elements of chaos. The Joker shows us a glimpse of our potential - good or bad, he carries us with him in his journey to realise his potential. In spite of suffering, one can do wonders if only they let themselves be.