(Part 5: Redness)
In “Part 4: Yellowness” I mentioned that there were two last things that needed to take place during the citrinitas stage in order for Arthur Fleck to complete the alchemical journey. One of them was the “death of his father” a hydra that met its demise with the death of Murray Franklin. Up until this point, Arthur as the alchemist has essentially gone through a separation and distillation process, but for the process to be complete, the “purified” self must be fully integrated with the immortal soul and thus be reborn as a “perfect” being. Or in other esoteric terms, it is the “realization of the Self.” This is why the final stage of the alchemical journey is termed rubedo (“redness”), and is alternatively known as coagulation (i.e., solve et coagula “dissolve and conjoin”). The most well-known symbols of rubedo are blood, the rising phoenix, the rose, the crown, and being clothed in red.
My point is, Arthur must “die” to complete his journey, and does this happen in the film? Yes, and this is how.
After murdering Murray Franklin, Arthur is arrested by the police and in the meantime, The Clowns (a clown-masked anarchist movement inadvertently inspired by Arthur) have initiated riots all over Gotham City. As Arthur rides to the police station in custody, he gleefully witnesses the city being burned and vandalized by The Clowns. In my opinion, the police car ride is the final integration that must take place before Arthur enters rubedo. Far from being the nobody that he was at the beginning of the film, Arthur is now observing and realizing the impact that he has made and the influence that he is able to wield. This is confirmed when the police officer tells him:
Police Officer: “Stop laughing you freak, this isn’t funny. Half the whole f****** city’s on fire ‘cause of what you did.”
Arthur/Joker: “ I know…isn’t it beautiful?”
Mere seconds after Arthur’s words are spoken the police car gets rammed by an ambulance commandeered by Clown members.
Arthur is knocked out cold, and symbolically dies.
He is carried, unconscious, out of the totaled police car by The Clowns, laid on top of the vehicle, and approached by the surrounding mob.
At the same time, in another area of the city, the classic scene of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s death takes place. Amidst the riots, an armed Clown member approaches Thomas, Martha, and Bruce as they are leaving a movie theater and just before he pulls the trigger on them, he states:
Clown: “Hey Wayne! You get what you f****** deserve!”
Thomas is shot dead shortly followed by the death of Martha, and young Bruce Wayne is left alone in the alleyway, setting up the story arc for the Dark Knight/Batman.
And right on cue, Arthur/Joker wakes up spitting blood, surrounded by The Clowns and the smoke from the burning city. As he slowly gets to his feet amid the cheers of the mob, he takes everything in and then begins to dance while dressed in his red suit. He takes the blood coming from his mouth and repaints the “clown smile” on his face and triumphantly holds his arms out before the crowd.
He has now successfully completed the alchemist’s journey. He has passed through the rubedo stage and achieved the Philosopher’s Stone, rising as a Phoenix from the ashes.
[To be continued]