The Joker

It's rare for a film to achieve full memetic status when it's first released. It usually takes quite a while, sometimes years, for many different layers of expression and commentary to reveal themselves within a truly memetic movie.

Not so with Joker.

Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal of rage, despair and insanity is both uncomfortable to endure and yet completely enthralling. Watching Arthur Fleck choke on the uncontrollable, maniacal laughter he tries to suppress is mesmerising as we witness two personalities battling for supremacy inside the same tortured mind. Trapped in a hopeless cycle of stupefying medication, vapid counselling and grinding despair, it's only a matter of time before Arthur finally snaps and the monster within can no longer be contained. Indeed, it is Fleck's acceptance of the Joker as his true identity which is one of the deepest and most disturbing aspects of the entire screenplay. Arthur Fleck has known nothing but despair, exploitation and alienation; while the Joker is a carefree, brutal and remorseless predator.

Joker is both the creation and a reflection of the oily, grimy and despairing city that Fleck and the other residents of Gotham are forced to endure day in and day out; with each cycle of decay, promised renewal and abandonment worse than the last. Arthur Fleck is ground under by the grey, garbage filled despair of his surroundings while the Joker is perfectly adapted to his environment; finding joy in every grimy puddle and wreaking his vengeance on a world that first conceived, then abandoned him. The psychotically violent clown is unsettlingly familiar as this troubled nobody is finally driven over the edge by a world of medicated conformity and vicious social stratification.

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It was right in everyone's face, Tyler and I just made it visible. It was on the tip of everyone's tongue, Tyler and I just gave it a name.”

That incredibly prescient line from the multi-faceted Fight Club (1999) succinctly captures an embryonic cultural revolt which had already been gestating for years by the time Brad Pitt and Edward Norton took to the screen. The brilliance of Jim Uhls' far-sighted scripting lies in the way it captures an underlying idea which was not fully formed at the turn of the millennium. Whether wittingly or otherwise, his dramatisation of a fictional revolt against every aspect of our pearl clutching cultural norms gave us a glimpse over the horizon and into the 21st century. Indeed, the fundamental cultural questions Fight Club explores are still far from settled, although we now at least have some idea of what the future might look like.

If Fight Club had simply been a movie about a bunch of guys being blokeish and hiding from society's disapproving gaze, then it still would've been pretty entertaining. However, what elevates this film to a near mythical and certainly memetic category is how the fighting is merely one expression of a far deeper, over-arching and more profound existential rebellion. Throughout the movie, that insurgency grows into a philosophy or creed of sorts as the instigators of Project Mayhem take revenge on a society which sees the servicing of consumer debt as sufficient reason for a man's existence.

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