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I Never Heard Him Cry

(Part 6: Afterword and Afterthoughts)

Initially, my take on the storyline of The Joker was only going to be limited to what now corresponds to Parts 1 and 2. I thought it was pretty cool that there might have been a connection between Arthur Fleck and the Green Lion, and I even thought that perhaps The Joker was only about him being in the nigredo stage, his descent into an unrecoverable madness. After all, this film was influenced by The Killing Joke, the most popular origin-story of the Joker, and in it, the Joker tells Batman that it only takes “one bad day” to drive an ordinary person into insanity.  

However, as I did more and more reading on alchemy and rewatched scenes from The Joker, I began to draw more and more connections, ultimately leading me to turn this analysis into a series covering Arthur Fleck’s journey through the entire alchemical process.

Without a doubt, I am sure that there is much more to glean from this film, even with regards to alchemy. There really is a lot to work with, but that kind of deep dive takes us out of the realm of the blogging world. Please join me for just a little longer as I go through a couple of lasting thoughts and conclusions.

Why the Entire Alchemical Process and Not Just Nigredo?

Each stage of the alchemical journey is characterized by particular colors. As mentioned in Part 1, I learned that green was associated with nigredo. As I learned more, I came to know that white corresponded to albedo, yellow to citrinitas, and red to rubedo.

Look at the Joker in the suit that he is wearing when he becomes the “Joker” and goes through the death-rebirth cycle.

Joker Backstage at Murray Franklin Show/ via Popsugar.com/ via Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Green hair and green shirt
  • Yellow waistcoat
  • White face paint and white socks
  • Red suit and pants, and red smile

Each alchemical color is present, and furthermore, the exposure that each color gets is indicative of the progress he has made.

  • The green shirt is the one that is most covered, and his hair is typically slicked back, so it doesn’t have as much of a presence.
  • His face paint is white, but apart from his socks (which we hardly see) it is the only white that we see, and even then, it shares a space with blue and red paint. It is more prominent than the green, but not as much as the other remaining colors.
  • The yellow waistcoat is just beneath the suit, and it covers the chest and abdomen area, the area of the body that one typically thinks of when they think of an “inner light.”
  • Lastly, the red suit and pants are the most prominent, and the red smile is the most iconic. The prominence of red signals that he does indeed reach the alchemical goal.

Significance of Names

In his interview on The Joe Rogan Experience, director Guy Ritchie discusses the legend of King Arthur and the gems that we can gather from that story. It is archetypal in nature and from his telling of the legend, I noticed certain parallels to The Joker.

  • Shared first names: Arthur Pendragon and Arthur Fleck
    • King Arthur is of royal blood (and the circumstances surrounding his conception are tied to illegitimacy) and was the first-born of the king, Uther Pendragon. However, he was sent away into hiding due to the turmoil of the time. Likewise, Arthur Fleck (in my opinion) is the first-born son of Thomas Wayne, the most influential man of Gotham City, and he is also forced to grow up in hiding. Both men grow up on the streets among common-folk and criminals.
    • Both men come to possess weapons which solidify their power. King Arthur has his Excalibur (the earliest legends and Guy Ritchie’s telling of the story name Excalibur as the “Sword in the Stone.” The “Sword in the Stone” is a coming-of-age event which legitimizes Arthur as the rightful king of Camelot). Arthur Fleck has his revolver, which integrates him with his shadow, and allows him to defeat his main antagonist, Murray Franklin. It is important to note that a symbol of the completion of rubedo is a crown. Fleck is never crowned, but by extension, his completion of the Magnum Opus links him with the symbol of royalty.  
    • It is also believed by some that the legends of King Arthur and the search for the Holy Grail are symbolic of the alchemical journey with the Grail actually being the Philosopher’s Stone.
  • The Phoenix
    • I find it interesting that the Joker, who comes to embody the phoenix at the end of the film, is played by the actor, Joaquin Phoenix.

The Golden Lion

The Joker was awarded the “Golden Lion” at the 76th Venice International Film Festival in 2019. The “Golden Lion” is the top prize of the film festival, and its name is short for the “Golden Lion of St. Mark.” The Golden Lion of St. Mark, the winged lion, is a part of the Tetramorph, the four animals associated with the four Christian evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). However, the animals associated with the Christian Tetramorph can be traced back to Babylonian astrology (namely the four fixed signs of the zodiac). Those four signs correspond, in western astrology, to the elements of earth, fire, water, and air, which play integral roles in the alchemical process (this is the level of detail that I opted out of discussing throughout the series). All of that to say that I believe that the subject of alchemy plays many roles in and around this film.  

Golden Lion/ via Wikipedia

Conclusion

I wrote this piece because I wanted to convey my belief that like other artforms, film has the ability to communicate messages to both the conscious and sub-conscious mind. Since films encompass both audio and visual stimulation, they can influence our thoughts, feelings, and by extension, to some degree our actions. I am not positing that there is necessarily a nefarious agenda with every film, but as viewers, we are subject to receiving the takeaways that the directors intend for us to be exposed to. The more that we are able to better understand what those messages or impressions are, the better suited we are to exercise control and conscious thought over how we process those messages and impressions. My argument concerning this film is that it is ultimately about alchemy and walking us viewers through the alchemical process by vicariously living through the story of Arthur Fleck.

 I also believe that by extension, we are offered some context for how the Joker came to be as formidable of a nemesis to Batman as legend has made him. To me, Heath Ledger portrayed the Joker at his most chilling and sinister iteration in the Dark Knight,begging the question of how a mere human being could reach such a state? He seems more like a demon than a man. Recall his final question to Batman at the end of the film:

Joker (Heath Ledger): “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?”

Arthur’s traversing of the alchemical path allows him to reach a more super-human state, and to me, lays the groundwork for Heath Ledger’s Joker.

All in all, I hope that you found this series interesting and thought-provoking, and I thank you for taking this journey with me.

Finis

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