Thursday, May 21, 2020

Macbeth and Joker - Making Connections

So I watched Joker this weekend, finally, and my English teacher nerd brain immediately thought of Macbeth. 

****Spoiler Alert if you are planning on watching the Joker movie anytime soon***


Joker is an excellent movie to watch - once.  I can't say I would want to watch it again.  I'm sure you have heard that is addresses the issue of mental illness in a way not many movies can encapsulate.

That's an issue for another post (and probably a different blog).  I want to bring in comparisons to Macbeth.  Both are delusional - Joker seeing the woman next to him in his time of need, Macbeth seeing the dagger, the ghost of Banquo, and quite possibly the witches at the end (I always let me students argue if he really does see them in the big apparition scene especially since Lennox comes on stage right where they leave and states that he did not see them - my struggling readers get a kick out of figuring out what is real with Macbeth and not and love to float conspiracy theories).

We can also see how both characters are victims of their own making, even though there were outside forces at work.  Joker certainly has mental illness, a failing government health system, a history of being abused as a child, and just rotten people all around him to push him into action, but when it comes down to it, HE is the one who actually acts.  Same with Macbeth.  Certainly we can lay some blame at the feet of the witches, Lady Macbeth, and even some at Duncan for being such a poor judge of character, but in the end, it is MACBETH that chooses to kill.




But I think the biggest parallel is the type of people they both kill - and the order in which it is done.  let's look at Joker's murders compared to Macbeth's:

Joker:

  • The two guys on the train - self defense - perfectly justifiable
  • The third train guy who was trying to get away - a little less justifiable since the guy no longer posed a threat, but we can see and excuse Arthur (Joker) at this point.
  • His  mother - certainly past excusing, but we can see where he is a victim of his illness here.
  • Randall - now we see Joker going down a road toward senseless murder.  Randall did him wrong, but that seems to be an excuse to murder him at this point.  Arthur still has some sense of himself, though, when he lets Gary leave.
  • Maury - similar to above, but less so since the guy is now giving Joker a chance to succeed at being a comedian, Arthur's goal.  Unfortunately, from this point on, I think we can safely say that Arthur is no longer a character.  Only Joker.
  • The health care worker at the end - here there is no reason to kill her.  She is only trying to help and this murder is irredeemable.  
Macbeth:
  • Macdonwald - brutal killing, but an act done in war and in defense of his king and country.  Perfectly acceptable and even lauded as an act of a hero
  • Duncan - inexcusable, but there is a reason for this murder - Macbeth wants something  and this is the way to get it in his mind.
  • The Guards - logical under the circumstances.  If Macbeth is going to get away with his former act, this is what needs to be done to prevent them from telling others that Lady Macbeth was the one who got them drunk.
  • Banquo - Macbeth has a reason, but we are getting further away from it being a logical reason.  Here we see Macbeth is beginning to become obsessed with killing.
  • Lady Macduff and Little Boy Macduff - here Macbeth crosses the Rubicon.  Up to this point, he at least had a reason to kill, albeit often a flimsy one, but a reason nonetheless.  This killing, though, is not only useless, but only gives Macduff MORE reason to come after him.  
Both go through a progression where the murders get further and further away until we can no longer hope for the protagonist's redemption.  Both of these stories puts the audience in the camp of the villain.  We want to root for Arthur and Macbeth.  It's the nature of the protagonist to have the reader/viewer on his side.  But both stories takes us down a path with the lead character until we feel in a traitorous situation by no longer agreeing with his actions and wanting him stopped.



If you have any good book to pop culture pairings, list them in the comments.

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