JOKER: The Warning

The movie Joker is nothing if not deeply disturbing. But what makes the movie so goes far beyond the demented social warrior/anti-hero of the character of Joker.  Rather, the real issue of the movie is that it offers nothing beyond him.  The lie of the movie is not the injustice shown, but the truth that is not shown.  There is no redeeming context, no balance to his brokenness, no light.  In short, it is not Joker who is so frightening; it is the world in which he lives, a world with no moral compass, no ray of hope – a world without God.

A significant sub-plot emerges in Joker’s relationship with his neighbor, a young single mother who lives in the same apartment building.  Forced to use the same antiquated, barely functioning elevator, a metaphor for the no-escape, boxed-in world in which they find themselves, the shared misery of their lives blossoms into a hoped-for promise of the salvation found in love.

Soon after, in a scene reminiscent of De Niro in Taxi Driver, while menacingly brandishing a gun in the solitude of the tiny apartment he shares with his invalid mother, Arthur Fleck begins to embrace his alter ego, Joker.  Later, in a conversation with his newfound girlfriend she teases him with the idea of robbing her place of employment.  He admits he has a gun and she smiles.  Empowerment that comes not from the gun, but her implied confirmation of his righteousness elevates him above and beyond any moral restraints.  His path is set.  His frightening response to his first killing, even if as much self-defense as murder, is neither horror nor shame, but to dance and take his girlfriend as a lover.   But love born of murder is not just macabre, it is insanity.  And on no level can it be called love.

Certainly, the mythology of Batman, the Dark Knight, is filled with internal conflict.  It is the conflict between that piece of each of us that reflects the image of our Creator and the fallen nature of mankind.  That battle expresses itself in pervasive societal injustice and is what plays out with depressing regularity all day every day across 24-hour news cycles.  It is this evil against which Joker purports to rage… even as he feeds on, adds to, and perpetuates it.

But despite the all too self-evident brokenness of creation, the reality absent in Joker is the existence of real heroes.  Men and women who, imperfect as they are, confront evil, willing even to sacrifice their very lives for others... for no man hath greater love than he who lays down his life for another.  That is the truth of this universally fallen, diseased world in which we live missed by the movie.  There is light.  There is hope.  For God so loved the world....

As a culture, we race to deny any standard – necessarily outside of that which is measured – by which we might hold ourselves and each other accountable.  Increasingly our all-about-me society refuses to measure our shortfalls against any such a yardstick.  Without such, we lose our guide for the way forward.  Instead, our cultural response is the destruction of eternal standards replaced with politically correct and ever-diminishing personal opinions, written not on our hearts for all time but scribbled in vanishing ink on decaying parchment.

Joker’s final slide into insanity is triggered by his recognition that the saving grace of the love in his life is not real.  Unable to see past his own darkness into the light of Truth, Joker steps irrevocably over the line into the abyss.  Without the light of Love, he sees nothing but darkness.  But light does exist and any belief that conflicts with that reality is a lie.

Approaching the final scenes of the movie, when asked if his clown make-up made him part of the protests and riots raging across Gotham, Joker defends himself with “No… I don’t believe in anything.”  And therein is both the lie of the movie and the hope of mankind.  Refusing to see Truth does not make it any less true.  Denying its existence does not lessen its reality.  A man, a culture, even all the world identifying as God-less does not change the simple and profound Truth in the first four words of the Bible: In the beginning… God.

Joker’s warning is this:  If those who would ban God from our culture prevail, the movie will serve not merely as an indictment of wrongs that are, but a harbinger of horrors to come.

Mike Kirkwood, essayist and social commentator, has authored What If… a collection of short works and Fathers, a novel about how the failed search for truth over the last 50 years brought America to where it is today.

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