(Part 2: Putrefaction)
Todd Phillips’ The Joker is a story about the alchemical Magnum Opus (the Great Work) undergone by the man known as Arthur Fleck.
Surprised? Let’s rewind a bit…
Because I have a curious mind and the internet at my fingertips, I was doing some research on sun symbolism a few weeks ago. My virtual perusing eventually brought me to some information on the Sol Niger (Black Sun) which is connected to the nigredo or putrefaction stage of alchemy. Many are familiar with the exoteric practice of alchemy which involves chemically combining certain elements and minerals to create the Philosopher’s Stone. Through the Stone, the alchemist would be able to turn base metals into noble metals (i.e., gold), as well as create an “elixir of life.” However, there also exists an esoteric approach towards alchemy which deals with the transmutation of the self. Each of the elements metaphysically represent qualities of the individual, and their “chemical” manipulation correspond to stages of the transformation of the self with the Philosopher’s Stone embodying the perfection of the soul.
It is this esoteric strain of alchemy that Arthur Fleck experiences as he transforms into the entity known as the Joker.
My exposure to the Sol Niger was accompanied by a picture of a green lion consuming the sun. Since The Joker was still very much on my mind, I thought to myself, “You know, the Joker does have long hair, almost like a mane, and it is green…” And just like that I paused. Wait…what if there is something to this? As I read about the Green Lion, I learned that it was symbolic of Vitriol, a chemical compound that is corrosive in nature. Alchemically, the Green Lion, or Vitriol, consumes the self or soul until it is made pure, which elementally corresponds to gold and is symbolically represented by the sun. The consumption of the self by Vitriol is the first stage of the alchemical process known as the nigredo (blackening).
The nigredo is likened to the experience known as the “dark night of the soul” which Carl Jung interpreted as the embracing of the archetypal shadow. To embrace the shadow, one must begin breaking down the existing notions which have formed one’s foundation for their behavioral patterns. One essentially begins to unlearn what they have learned. As Swiss psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz noted:
“Some people have a frustrated infant within them. [Such] people compensate by being very correct [and polite], knowing that if they admit their demands then the devouring lion will come up and the [other person] will naturally hit back, something which they have experienced often in life when, after hiding their feelings, they one day took the risk and as a result got banged on the head. So the hurt child returns once more, bitterly frustrated, and then comes the depression, the devouring lion. This is a part of primitive nature, of primitive archaic reactions which have all the conflicts of wanting to eat and not being able to do so, so that the depressive mania takes over (Fabricius 1976, p. 105-6).”
Arthur Fleck has already begun encroaching upon this phenomenon by the time the movie begins. The first few minutes of the film give the audience a glimpse of Fleck just prior to the arrival of the Green Lion and the nigredo stage. Take a look at his first session with the social worker. Pay attention to how weak and vulnerable he is. His whole life up until that point is encapsulated by his own words: “I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.”
Consider the correlation between the gun, the triple homicide that he perpetrated on the subway (and there is probably some metaphysical significance to the number of victims being three), and his subsequent change in demeanor during his final session with the social worker.
Fleck’s use of the gun is symbolic of the Jungian concept of merging with the shadow. Arthur uses the gun in the interest of his survival which corresponds to Jung’s notion that:
“…this integration [of the shadow]…leads to disobedience and disgust, but also to self-reliance, without which individuation is unthinkable” (Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion).
In addition, homeopath and psychotherapist, Edward C. Whitmont elaborated that:
“The shadow, when it is realized, is the source of renewal…When there is an impasse, and sterile time in our lives, despite an adequate ego development – we must look to the dark, hitherto unacceptable side which has been at our conscious disposal” (Edward Whitmont, Meeting the Shadow).
The gun is Arthur’s “Sword in the Stone” (I’ll come back to this later), and wielding it unlocks the door to his inner self which has been repressed for so long. He starts to become one with his self and it is at this point that the alchemical process is officially initiated.
Observe the second (and final) meeting with the social worker and note that he asserts:
“For my whole life I didn’t know if I even really existed, but I do…”
[To be continued…]