I’ve loved The Joker for a little while. Not nearly as long as some of the true fans harkening back to comic books or the animated series’. My introduction, like many fans, was with Heath Ledger’s Joker in Dark Knight. He’s a mesmerizing idea. And I say idea because I mean idea. The very distillation of chaos personified. I have it on good authority that though Ledger’s work on the Joker was to be lauded for its quality it was not a canon portrayal of the Joker because he had a plan, a point to prove. The Joker doesn’t.
To this end I present Joaquin Phoenix. I knew when I saw the first of the teaser trailers that he was gonna knock it out of the park. I’ve followed the guy’s career for a while and he’s something else. In Joker he did not surprise me with his excellence. The result was seductive, enchanting and disturbing. Gotham, as portrayed in Joker, is dang near a dystopia referencing New York’s somewhat checkered past. It’s bleak and the contrast between rich and poor resonates. Arthur Fleck is a train wreck, suffering from a number of mental conditions that make love, friendships and meaning scarce in his life.
He is on the fringes of the fringe of society to start with and it just gets worse.
I’m continually moved to tears as the story progresses and the grungy nihilism, and brooding orchestral soundtrack set your very soul on edge. Eventually Joker rises out of the discarded remnants of a rejected human and commits contemptible atrocities in the name of ‘nothing’. Joker has arisen and he will make clowns of us all. Art should be made and artists have a right to speak but this movie tested that conviction in me. I contest the movie’s philosophy while lauding its quality and appreciating the raw humanity of it. I’m not sure this movie could be called edifying on any metric and I wonder what it says about a society that makes it.
With regard to worldbuilding I’d say this movie demonstrates a total commitment to its philosophy. The world that surrounds Joker crafts the character. The world and the narrative are breathing as one in this movie. The key takeaway is that in generating a villain who evokes sympathy the audience needs to be immersed in their world and that world must be viewed on their terms. You don’t get Joker with the cold indifference and dehumanization of the society that made him.
Stay tuned for more writing from the WorldCraft Club as we explore worldbuilding and the crafting of fictional settings to inspire your creativity.
We’re happy to host guest blogs on here whenever we can, it gives James a break and let’s other people contribute their ideas. Let us know if you have a worldbuilding concept or strategy to get off your chest, we’d love to hear it.