Joker is a 2019 American psychological thriller film directed and produced by Todd Phillips, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver. The film cast has consists of an amazing set of talents including Robert De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix who plays the role of The Joker and has won the Best Actor award in the 92nd academy award along with 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The joker’s character is based on the DC comics series but it is believed to be an alternate from the original story and has character studies and much influence from some of famous “New York Movies” of Martin Scorsese namely Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, who initially supported the project as a producer.
It is worth mentioning that unlike the box office high appreciation of more than $1 billion, the critics have shown a rather different response to this Todd Phillips movie, claiming that it elicits a very dark narrative of our modern societies than the reality that one can perceive and that it can induce similar real life examples of social misbehavior and eventually violence.
While we want to stay clear of the details of such claims which need longer arguments, it seems very important to highlight the importance of major ‘urban elements’ of this movie.
The story line starts with a radio news in the background with the line ” The news never ends” as The Joker is sitting in front of a mirror and trying to “pull a smile on his face” while the radio is speaking of a general strike by the city’s waste management department and how the garbage is filling out the streets and how there are now “Super Rats” roaming in the streets and they require “Super Cats” to be defeated.
More than once, as the story develops the picture is trying to portray the landscapes of “Gotham City” and its public transport, the high rise buildings, the long stairs that people need to walk, dark and grim streets that are full of graffiti and endless bags of garbage which are only mounting everywhere, rich areas and poor.
It is demonstrated with much details that the upbringing of The Joker is not just because of simple hatred for the rich or how he is humiliated on national TV for his comedy, but a sense of ruthlessness that he cannot escape from, whether from his colleagues and boss or simply from people who are sharing the bus and subway with him.
When frustration mounts, he has nowhere to go but to take it out on the trash and just kicking them until he falls, but then when backed into a corner by some “respected , educated and honest ” men on the train, who are drunkenly harassing a woman and then The Joker as he cannot stop laughing, he has no choice but to take his frustration on them.
Later, he confesses how challenged he is by doing this act, even though he escapes the scene, frightened to death, but he waltzes to the calm after the storm in the only private space that he can find in the city: A public toilet.
The colors in this movie, starting from the face of the character Joker, to the choice of his costumes are an important element throughout the movie, which normally is dusted to represent much of the scenes that we can feel, taking a ride back home on a public bus in a rainy day in October as the movie emphasizes and once he reaches home and takes the elevator, he is reminded by his neighbor that “how awful is this building”.
One of the major moral questions throughout the movie, is a matter of empathy. Arthur himself is not much different than any other average citizen, in fact when he is going to retrieve his mother’s files from the psychiatric ward, he wonders how someone may end up there and he is simply told that these are people who are somehow crazy.
But even though Arthur is mentally ill and takes seven types of medication, but he shows willingness to take care of his sick mother, he is trying to put smile of the people’s face and believes that he is in this world to bring joy, but he is systematically isolated, he is told that he is a freak, he is beaten and humiliated and is told even to stop bothering others as he is trying to play with a child in a bus. He is looking for some solutions, he is trying to be happy, of course he elaborates, how hard it is to always be happy and even when facing his alleged father, he is not asking for money or threatening him with controversy, but he expects a hug as a sign of decency, a hug that he images receiving from a comedy TV show host that ridicules him in front of all his audience and is even looking to make a whole show out him, as a clown, which he does not want to be, but he and many others are seen as such, according to Thomas Wayne, the person who is running to be the mayor and who believes himself to be the only savior of the city.
There are many other details that can be brought to attention about this movie, and more than anything, this movie argues about a large social challenge that has a big element of urbanity in its core.
Today, more than ever before, we are building our international communities within cities, inviting them from many different parts of the world. With different cultural backgrounds and personal traits that are complementary to each other. We can see more often, different languages being spoken while we go into the streets and we can see how as on a global scale, we are facing similar challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic or the climate change.
The big question here is that if enough attention is being paid to not only bringing people closer to each other, physically and intellectually for commercial, political and cultural agendas into large metropolitan areas.
But how much can we really see people being closer to one another on social, emotional and personal levels? Does our cities have functionalities, spaces, colors and paradigms that can allow us to be the social beings that we intend to be? Do we have replacements for all the support structures that we have no longer access to such as being living in small communities, close to one’s family, relatives and friends? How are the long term consequences of being in lock down for more than a year being mitigated once we can go back to “normal” at the end of large scale vaccination. Would people ever appreciate being in a large concert hall with hundreds of people around them with the same sense of appreciation? Would we be able to encourage them to go back to bars and arrange for in person meetings once more again? Aside from all the streets and parking lots and subway stations, do our cities have places that can encourage socializing? That can bring people more closer to be active and make efforts for some similar cause?
The truth is that the Joker, aside from his personal misfortunes, rooting back to when he was a kid, is the result of a city. He has been surrounded by people , cars, streets and buildings just to feel more trapped in his own skin and as an urbanist, these are important aspects that we need to acknowledge. As a clear sense of responsibility to advocate for more livability, not by just means of making more efficient train systems and waste management. But also to bring people to the center of our design, planning and urban management. We need to realize the very important fact that today, the inner circles of an average citizen is not as it used to be 20 years ago when internet became widely spread, and in the next 20 years, there will be much more in-depth digitization. But this would no more guarantee, a more social urban scene where people are having the opportunity to be engaged more often and show empathy to one another and even though these issues are often very complicated to be managed and implemented even on an urban scale. But we need to create frameworks for citizen engagement and invite experts from all realms of science and practice to share their views and then publicize these decisions to see the public reaction and adopt the most generally welcomed schemes.
The future of much other aspects of our human societies depend largely on these actions.


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