Joker is a bleak, strange, violent film, and one that (if nothing else) reminds us that the world can be a dark and difficult place. Arthur Fleck struggles to connect with people, and has a condition that makes him laugh at unfunny and inappropriate things. He also has a growing tendency to lose himself in his own damaged imagination.
Few films lack any sense of redemption, but this is a movie which is all about decline and fall. Arthur is on his way to becoming the arch-villain Joker. Things do not look good here. Not for a minute. If you want hope, creativity, joy and compassion I suggest you watch the sublime Little Women instead. Rejected by all those around him Arthur creates imaginary moments of relationship and success for himself, but is quickly dragged back to brutal reality, or his own perception of reality anyway.
In my understanding the Christian world-view holds two things in tension – God is good (unlike the harsh gods we often construct and fear for ourselves) and the world is broken. This is a film about the latter. Instinctively you find yourself longing for rescue for this wounded soul. But it’s not about that, it’s about what happens when there is little sign of salvation or understanding. This week I saw the BBC’s programme about Aylesbury Prison Choir – a moving and stirring documentary about setting up a choir in Aylesbury Young Offenders Institute. There is a scene in which Gareth Malone manages, against very difficult odds, to get a few of the guys to perform songs they have written to an invited audience, including family members. I found the honesty, courage and vulnerability of those songs and the performances, in that environment, deeply moving. It reminded me, in an unexpected way, of Psalm 137, where the people are asked to sing their songs in captivity. The writer of this psalm asks how on earth the people can sing about their hopes in such a harsh environment. These guys did that, they sang. Arthur Fleck finds the whole world a harsh place and he does not find anyone to help him. (The one counsellor he visits is taken from him due to lack of funds.) We don’t have to look far to see evidence of the turbulence and catastrophe running wild in this world. Which is why we so desperately need the good news of the hope writ large in the Bible. The biblical writers knew what it was to struggle and suffer, and in the midst of that they found meaning, purpose and hope in the God who understands and offers us strength and compassion. I need that. I’m fairly sure most of us, in our moments of loneliness and struggle, need it too.