Joker (2019) – The End of Psychological Horror
I watched ‘Joker’ in a Parisian theatre. A few positive impressions first – the cinematography is outstanding – the camerawork, composition of the frames, the pacing of the action, the psychological evolution of the characters and the conflict development are very thoughtful. Joaquin Phoenix gave one of his all-time best performances. The fascination of the clown as a tragicomic character, the theme of the masses rioting and the inverted hero archetype, throwing a corrupt world into chaos, are excellently introduced without seeming forced or ideologised.
All that being said, based on the outcry of the pre-offended blue checkmarks, I was expecting the film to be a lot more controversial and subversive. There is nothing trully irreverent or scandalous, except for maybe trying a 10-year-old recipe for the woke critics of 2019, without gender-race quotas and politically correct bromides. Otherwise, it has the classical Hollywood message – eat the rich oppressing the poor. How are they oppressing them, specifically? Through Wayne’s corporation, cutting drug subventions, being contemptuous of the working class in late night shows, living in insulated gated community bubbles.
There’s no ‘villain’ or genuine horror; no one is truly evil in contemporary thrillers. The characters are broken, ‘deranged’, abused during childhood, victims of an unjust and unequal system. And if the system is unjust, aren’t the Joker and his followers justified in their acts of ‘civic disobedience’?
A truly subversive message would have broken the materialist axes that are the measure of all things Hollywood:
It would have introduced a transcendent dimension; the joker might have fought for something sacred – he would have given his life for Beauty or Sublime (even in a terrifying, Luciferian form); he would have ascribed to a metaphysical Truth or Goodness; he would have invoked a divine (or demonic) order with which he would confront the degradation and sterility of our own social order. We would have seen truly evil and truly virtuous characters, witnessing the transition from one to the other in the abysses of human becoming.
Lovecraft did this through his notion of ‘cosmic horror’; he regularly introduced investigative film noir-like characters who would become consumed by their desire to gain forbidden knowledge; they would overcome themselves and the other mortals and would end up discovering things from higher realms, filling them with dread; realising that the human race is doomed, that a tragic end awaits us all and the right thing to do is know nothing about it, they would either end their lives, or resign and simply return to the mundane spheres of their former existence. That’s some good storytelling coming from an avowed materialist and non-believer.
Arthur Machen similarly observed that truly evil characters are not your average serial killers, whose actions can be understood by invoking some bio-chemical imbalance or past traumas leading to compulsive behaviours. Evil consists in accessing spheres forbidden to ordinary men; knowledge reserved for the gods or their sort. Evil is a transgression, a Nietzschean Overman, a Borg living endlessly, a savant like Dr. Frankenstein. The distinction between good and evil, argues Machen, is one of nuance. the Christian saint or mystic has similarly overcome the mundane spheres and accessed higher realities; it’s just that in his case, the giver of divine epiphanies is benevolent towards humanity, whereas lord Cthulhu dreams our catastrophic end, or is utterly indifferent to our destiny.
Returning to Joker – talking about the differences between the two types of transgressions is irrelevant, because they are both missing from the plot. Such spiritual preoccupations are entirely foreign to today’s media elites. Joker’s actions and attitudes can be fully explained economically and biochemically. Deffo worth a watch, still.