Jeremy Corbyn is the Joker: Joker Reviewed

The differences between the oppression-obsessed Labour leader and the D.C. villain are few and far between.

The differences between the oppression-obsessed Labour leader and the D.C. villain are few and far between.


Elliot Leavy

DC Comic’s Joker has had a reputable selection of actors reprise the role over the years. From Cesar Romero’s moustache-sporting grifter; through Jack Nicholson’s colourful crook to Heath Ledger’s animalistic madman, this is a role that has been situated within the public’s psyche for over half a century. As such, the character has achieved almost King Lear status for actors wishing to project their own personality on the classic Batman villain.

The next card in the pack for the Joker to be played by is the cackling, sick, sombre sack-of-bones, Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck: a lacklustre clown with a lust for stand-up stardom in Todd Phillip’s Joker.

Fleck lives with his mother (Frances Conroy), holds a place in his heart for the hottie down the hall (Zazie Beetz) and resides in a damaged mind within a damaged city at a damaged point in Gotham’s history. The film takes place in the 1970s, wherein Gotham is overrun by fat cats (the banking sort) and super rats (the literal sort). In short, it is a cigarette-butt society ready to burst at the seams.

This is the scenario which makes Joker a cultural moment. Across the world, populations are running the gauntlet between globalisation and automation. There is a widespread feeling that the tide that is lifting everyone else is leaving others behind. This is when a populace will gamble with the likes of the Joker; they have nothing to lose.

In Britain, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn holds this position. Emerging from obscurity, Corbyn is the Great Dismantler. His confiscatory views and policies, born out of a hatred of the establishment, look to flip society on its head with little concern for those who he portrays as the enemies of the people.  

Like Corbyn, Fleck turns out to be the blood-letter, in more than one sense of the word. Fleck too emerges from the woodwork, at first mocked, then vindicated by his triumph over them; kickstarting the beginnings of revolution: ‘I’ve felt lost my entire life, like I haven't existed. People are finally beginning to notice me,’ Fleck utters to his psychologist. After three decades in politics as a backbencher before being catapulted out of his depth, it is hard to think that Corbyn doesn’t feel the same.

The similarities don’t stop there: Fleck finds his source of human connection in the downtrodden and the left-behind. Corbyn also positions himself as the saviour of the unwashed masses. Furthermore, Corbyn is continually seen as being under attack from other Labour leaders. Similarly, Fleck is derided by the other clowns, yet he, like Corbyn, ends up a cult of personality and the face of a widespread movement against the established elite. The cherry on top is that as the world burns outside, Joker admits that he has, ‘No political leanings,’ our copycat comrade is also one with ambiguity, sitting on the fence as the biggest political event in post-war Britain, Brexit, marches on.

The film haemorrhages homages to Martin Scorsese. Playing up its chaotic nihilism in the same vein of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. De Niro (one of the lazier performances in the film) even plays a chat-show host in a role reminiscent of his character, Rupert Pupkin, in The King of Comedy. Overall, the film masters its dreary and desolate tone, devours culture for any song that references clowns (and even a song by Gary Glitter to boot), and provides commentators from all sides of the spectrum pause for thought about ‘Whose side it’s on’.

Which is what makes this film interesting enough to review. On the right-hand side, you have the commentators suggesting that Phillip’s own derogation of PC values (and subsequent backlash) as evidence of the film’s potency. On the left, you see once again accusations of racism, calls that the Joker is an incel, or that the film glamorises gun violence. Indeed, most of the mainstream media seems furious that it has not yet resulted in a massacre (fingers crossed boys).

This division is why Phillip’s Joker is having an impact: it is the opposite of escapism. Instead, it has a claustrophobic, unnerving quality in that it mirrors so many of today’s problems, regardless of which side of the aisle you shop.

In Joker, it is not only the lead role that the actor can project themselves upon. Instead, it is the entire film acts as a Rorschach test: wherein the viewer can see whatever or whomever they want to see. Some will see Nigel Farage, Dylan Roof or Donald Trump, whilst I will see Jeremy Corbyn. Ultimately what Joker does is serve as a reminder of how unsettled our current societal foundations and reassurances have become.

Which is why I didn’t particularly care for the film’s punchline - it all seems too familiar to award much credit to. For all its cultural relevance, here in the UK, we are currently waking up to images of blood-stained buildings, a capital paralysed by a fortnight of protest and the continued rise of an anti-establishment demagogue with a penchant for ‘70s drag. At this point, it’s hard to see why anyone would need to watch Phillips’ Joker. Instead, it might make a bit more sense to simply go outside and see it all for yourself.