Like most of the world I went to see Joker the day it was released. It lived up to all the praise it got in my eyes and I’m eager to see it again. Prior to its release there were individuals who felt we were under represented in the trailer and equally under represented in the movie itself too. This is true in terms of literal screen time BUT, our roles are quite pivotal to Arthur’s journey and transformation and I’m here to show you how. This goes without saying but SPOILERS AHEAD.
Social Worker – The film opens with Arthur talking to this woman. He has several conversations with her however, their last one is perhaps the most impactful. She informs Arthur that they can no longer meet as the program she works for has been cut. Upon hearing this Arthur inquires how is he supposed to get his medication to which she has no answer. The situation is out of her hands as she tells him “They don’t give a shit about people like you, Arthur. And they don’t give a shit about people like me either.”
Yet, Arthur also accuses her of not listening to him when he tells her of his troubles and this could represent how the mental health system is flawed. In 2019 we have multiple organizations that advocate and push the conversation in the right direction but in the 1981 when this film takes place that is not the case. The social worker perhaps does not even fully understand Arthur’s situation as she has no direct response to him writing “I just hope my death makes more sense than my life” in his journal. Instead, she goes into the generic “How does it feel to have to come here?” narrative after reading it aloud.
Woman on Bus (and her son) – Following the social worker scene, we see Arthur in the midst of society. He is making funny faces at a woman’s young son which she does not approve of. Upon getting briefly chastised by her Arthur bursts into laughter because of his condition called the pseudobulbar affect or simply PBA. Naturally she is very surprised at this and he hands her a card explaining his condition to which she responds “I’m sorry”. One can only imagine how many times this situation has occurred in his life. Being that the very next time we see this occur it ends in tragedy and is the “first step” in Arthur’s transformation it is a direct contrast to show the difference in people this movie showcases. The woman feels sympathy for him as well as apologetic for how she treated him prior to. The men he meets on the subway mock his condition and antagonize him for it.
Carl (Arkham State Hospital Clerk) – Carl, played by Brian Tyree Henry only has one scene in this movie. But this one scene leads to Arthur discovering he is adopted which completed his transformation. This scene takes place in Arkham State Hospital (Arkham Asylum for all my comic book/video game readers) Carl senses something is off about Arthur when Arthur alludes to his murders and recommends Arthur see someone. This small moment of care shows that Carl represents an individual who sees Arthur from the outside and wants him to get better knowing that he cannot help carl at all as he is “just a clerk”. After releasing Arthur is the son of a former patient, he gets defensive of the file which results in Arthur stealing his mother’s records directly from Carl’s hands. Had this exchange not occurred Arthur may have never learned the truth about his mother and his own origins – and thus would have never killed her. To theorize for a moment, the environment Carl is in at the hospital looks very dirty and the walls are yellow and the lighting is dim. However, at the end of the film and in flashbacks when Arthur is in this exact same location again the walls are white and the lighting is bright. Why would a change like this happen during the middle of the flow of time from the beginning to the end of the film?
Sophie – Sophie, played by Zazie Beetz is the epicenter of the biggest twist in the film. At first we see her and Arthur meet in the elevator which is semi awkward but cordial. He then begins stalking her which she confronts him about, but she does not seem to mind. Then, after Arthur murders the men in the subway, essentially feeling liberated he goes to her room and kisses her to which she happily accepts. We also see them on a date after she has attended his show which she enjoys. He confesses his murders to her to which again she approves of and supports. We later learn all these exchanges were actually hallucinations by Arthur.
Arthur’s love for Sophie shows that despite everything happening he wants human interaction and wants it at a romantic level. He seeks validation from others and wants them to understand that he has a purpose. He also wants them to support him through trials as he also hallucinates her being at the hospital with him the day his Mom gets there. She is the only person he’s close with outside of his mother in the movie however the irony is that his closeness is as far away as it could possibly be.
Arkham Psychiatrist – This woman is the final person Arthur talks to at the end of the film and as far as the timeframe of the movie his final victim. The conversation between them begins with Arhtur laughing, much like his opening conversation with the social worker at the beginning of the film. At the beginning, Arhtur’s laughter is not questioned and one can assume it is due to his condition that is revealed shortly after this scene. At the end of the film, the psychiatrist asks him “What’s so funny?” as if she is either completely unaware of his condition or if this is genuine laughter from Arthur. This conversation also ties into the theory of whether the final (and other) moments of the film are real or not as Arthur’s response to her is “I was just thinking of a joke” which she further inquiries about to which he responds “No…you wouldn’t get it”. This woman shows a much greater interest in Arthur than the woman at the beginning of the film but this could be because she sees him as a case study – something she can learn about and not sympathize for.
We have a few roles in Joker and this is fine. Truthfully, there are no major black characters within the Batman Universe overall except for the man who supplies him with most of his technology, Lucius Fox. So perhaps we are actually the most important figure in his life when it comes down to it. This film showcased us in multiple ways with each one playing a role that mattered in the grand scheme of things. And, it made BANK so like Denzel Curry said “I may be overlooked, but I’m never underpaid.”