The film Joker has received multiple interpretations since its release in October of 2019. Many of the interpretations revolve around the apparent delusions of Arthur Fleck and his apparent victimization at the hands of society. These types of interpretations fail to take two important things into account; first, that at the end of the movie it is revealed, or at least hinted that we have been viewing his retelling of his experiences to a court appointed psychiatrist, possibly during his prison sentence or during some sort of competency evaluation after he is arrested. This would place the movie as being told from the perspective of the psychiatrist, we are not witnessing reality, so to speak, but listening to his version of events as he relates them to her.
The delusional-interpretation also fails to consider The Joker, as a classic character, who has typically been a psychopathic clown, devoid of empathy and remorse to such an extent that he finds murder itself to be the ultimate joke. For The Joker, killing is the ultimate indulgence in life and murder and mayhem are his passions and they make him happy and fill him with laughter. The Joker has also always been very manipulative and calculating, often changing his story, altering his truth to fit the needs of the situation, as any skilled liar is capable of doing on a whim.
The common interpretation of the Joker is that most of the movie is delusion, from being attacked by the children at the beginning of the film, to even being saved by the “protesters” in clown masks. This is a naive interpretation of the film, where the trustworthiness of the film’s narrator is taken at face value. Yet the truth behind the Joker as a villain has always been the spuriousness of his words and actions. So if his story were not delusional, what if the opposite were true and the real motivations behind each crime were false?
The Joker may have in fact, orchestrated events so that he could arrive at a situation where he was able to assassinate Thomas Wayne. His plan was to kill three Wall Street punks, murder his mother and murder his girlfriend, both of whom would be the people closest to him who might be able to discover his plan, while gathering a gang together who would pretend to be protesters, and after gaining access to media, as a guest on a late-night TV show, he would commit a live murder on-the-air, which would coincide with the mayhem of his rioting gang, who would be on call, ready to save him from the police so he could get out and shoot Thomas Wayne and his family.
So in fact, what we are watching, might actually be his con, a sick joke he plays on his therapist, where he has lied and lied to her with the intention of getting her to let her guard down, manipulating her long enough to allow him an opportunity to murder her and then begin his escape from Arkham Asylum. So what we see isn’t always the truth, but isn’t always delusion, the film is an alternative set of facts, hehe, presented to his psychiatrist during an evaluation or a weekly visit of some sort. The audience is being fucked with. We are the victims here.
This is the reading of the film I am most comfortable with, as this is in line with the true nature of The Joker. He was not a victim but convincing us he was a victim is characteristic of the psychopath’s behavior, as in the infamous final recorded interview of Ted Bundy, where Bundy claims pornographic material started him down a path of serial murder, essentially blaming society, superficially exonerating himself one last time before his execution.
The history of our future has already been written, the irony of the historical significance of our current activity as a global culture, as a species, is that all coordinated movements, all collective reasoning and bargaining, amounts to an attempt to erase the perceived curse of modernity, to overwrite the nihilism of postmodernity, and to create a foundation for an existence within a world that is increasingly disappearing by processes of extinction. The futility of our current efforts consist of our denial and a failure of recognition, a failure to acknowledge that we are inside a countdown towards expiration. Our global culture is now terminal, the teleological reality of capitalism is one of extinction, which is a drive that was coded into our species long before civilization existed. Our society chose Thanatos over Eros, chose to indulge the death-drive, which is evident from our morbid fascination with violence and the instrumentation of violence, and the pursuit of all forms of warfare —physical, verbal, and digital— every sector of human existence is not only touched by semiocapitalism, but also tainted with death and oblivion as an ominous threat of potential violence.
Photography has the innate ability to capture a moment in time, offering revelations of a subject in details that are otherwise missed by the human eye. The frozen subject, when processed with alternative techniques, is stripped of the qualities of our reality, that familiarity and obviousness we take for granted; the image becomes imbued with an oddity, a glimpse of an alternate reality. Opposites are revealed in the negative; the purity becomes darkness, the punished turns serene, and the orgasmic transforms into the torturous. Photographic alternative processes not only transform the image; they also alter our perceptive interpretation of the photographic object.
The concept of the ‘splinter test’ —or, in a broader sense the utilization of a fragmentary sample as source material for a work of art— extends itself beyond merely presenting the artist with an opportunity to absorb and reapply the memories, thoughts, feelings, and psychology of the originator of a splinter. Utilizing fragmentary samples additionally allows the artist to communicate concepts to the audience in predictable, but often more unpredictable ways. The sample will always carry associations, both conscious and unconscious, in the mind of an audience member; the abject might actually carry symbolic-value for a particular individual; whereas cultural memes have often lost meaning; sacrificing the power of association for the banality of absolute familiarity, discomfort for absolute comfort, and grit for absolute perfection. Artists are able to reintroduce chance —not of process, but of effect— into their work and the audience is able to bring interpretations into the artists’ conscious mind that would have been completely unexpected otherwise. As artists, the goal should be transgression, revelation, and confusion —or over-complexification— popular appeal sentences one to death in the universe of simulation and the fate becomes one of irrelevance or inconsequence, such is the fate of being as safe as milk.
The sadist from Lars von Trier’s Nymph()maniac served as an anti-hero, a hybridization of contradictory qualities, a deuteragonist who brought Joe to life by inflicting harm upon her. K understood Joe as no other character in this film was capable, as K was the only man to sincerely serve Joe, as a sadist serving a masochist. Joe’s life long promiscuity was not merely a search for pleasure, but a search for pain; Joe was engaged in a life long expansion of a form of self-harm that many borderlines and histrionics could unwittingly recognize as their own struggle; a slow process of self-immolation by way of vapid sexuality. It was K who was able to recognize the protagonist’s drives, fulfill them, and provide Joe with the feeling she had been chasing her entire life—a feeling of ecstatic release, a symbolic bloodletting, an ejaculation of her pent up trauma as a sex addict. K may have been the only man to selflessly serve Joe, the only man to love her on her own terms—likewise, Joe may have been the only woman that K was able to love as a sadist.
The re-emergence of tribalism —the rise of the alt-right has formed a historical concurrence with opposing forms of ethnocentrism— a phenomenon fueled by the arena of social media, a space where the individual will is lost amongst millions of others’ individual wills, placed inside a chaotic mashup of signs. The solution to the loss of individuation —the chance to recover identity— is to form compartmentalized tribes based on collective attributes shared as consumers, as subcategorizations of a semiocapitalist lifestyle. Despite all efforts to run counter to mainstream conformity, all collective identities have become ‘alt’ groups of conformity, so to speak; functioning as alternative collectives, alternative groups of consumers with alternative agendas in a virtual world of apathy and nihilism —alternative users of social media formed into virtual tribes. Adopting the collective identity provides sanctuary within an echo chamber; adopting the collective identity allows one to maintain their individuation while conforming to the expectations and whims of alternative subculture. By rejecting society’s standards and adopting the standards of an imaginary outsider status, the members of these groups have denied themselves the right to free will by accepting the burden of radical belonging; our emergent tribalism is the product of fear in the face of mass extinction.