Recently I was able to watch the new movie Joker by director Todd Phillips. After the movie, I was struck with the realization that the character Joker, also known as Arthur Fleck, possessed many similarities with the character of the monster from Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. This piqued my interest due to the significant time gap between the two pieces. How could a character from a novel from 200 years ago possibly possess so many similarities with a character in a movie today? As I explored their similarities I found that the answer was found quite easily in the concept of the human condition. The character’s similarities can be sorted into three main groups: the overall qualities of the characters, their actions, and the effect that they have on the audience.
The main similarity in the characters of Arthur Fleck, who later comes to be Joker, and the monster is their shared need for human connection. Under this big similarity, many small connections can be made. One such connection is the otherness that causes them to be cast out of society. In the movie, Arthur Fleck is portrayed to have a myriad of mental health problems including schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, PTSD, and an unnamed condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably especially when in a stressful situation. These illnesses that he possesses cause him to be isolated from society very similar to the way that the monster was isolated due to his appearance. In both of these cases, the thing that held them back from being a part of society was something out of their control. Both of these qualities of otherness they possessed were given to them by the person who made them. In Arthur’s case, it is his adoptive mother who allowed him to be physically and mentally abused by her boyfriends and in the case of the monster, he can only blame Frankenstein who created him and designed what he would look like. In both cases, this inability to receive human connection causes them to act out violently.
Due to the treatment, he receives from others Arthur Fleck is led to violent actions and ultimately the murder of many people to get what he wants, human connection. When compared to the story of Frankenstein’s monster one can see the definite similarities with how the characters deal with a lack of human connection. Both characters end up seeking revenge towards the person who made them. Arthur kills his mother in the hospital after he finds out about the abuse that she put him through and the monster kills everyone that Frankenstein holds dear. Another variation on seeking revenge from Arthur Fleck’s creator is how he seeks revenge against society, the society that pushed him around and cast him out for his otherness. The monster decided to kill people who were important to Frankenstein to hurt him such as his fiance Elizabeth in comparison Joker kills Murray Franklin, a host for a live televised show, because he hurt him and because he was very important to society. In both cases, these many murders could have been avoided if Joker and the monster were treated with love and were given access to human connection.
The effect of telling the story of someone who is led to morally wrong action is that it causes the audience to sympathize with someone they never thought they would. After watching Joker and hearing others talk about their experience with the movie many related the unsettling feeling that at times you wanted him to win even though you knew what he was doing was not morally right. This is also very similar to the experiences of the readers when it comes to the monster from Frankenstein. Both are characters who have experienced immense pain especially with the isolation they experienced and both begin with only the need for love. As humans, we wish to help those we see in pain so in both cases all I wanted to do was help these characters even though I knew they were technically “the bad guys”. By inspiring empathy in the hearts of the audience the creators cause them to experience life through another’s eyes but it can also cause people to act similarly to the characters. This fear is present in the fact that at many of the first big viewings of Joker security was increased due to the fear that someone would be inspired by the character to act out violently. While I don’t believe that anyone should follow in the footsteps of Joker and the monster I do feel it is important to experience these stories to see how an individual can be led to these kinds of actions.
Both of these pieces are immensely important in how they affect and will affect society. Their similarities show how the human condition is common throughout time and place. This idea of inspiring sympathy for bad characters will most likely continue to happen even in the next 200 years in all forms of media. No matter how much time passes telling the other side of a story will always be important. Through the characters, Arthur Fleck and the monster it is shown how even though these stories are in different mediums, times, and places the human condition is still the human condition no matter what.