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Tyler Cowen says Joker is an anti-egalitarian film

I read so many scathing — forgive me long and thorough and scathing — reviews of this one that I figured something had to be up. And indeed there is. However unpleasant and disturbing this movie may be, it is excellent along all major dimensions of cinematic quality, including drama, script, characterization, performances, cinematography, color, music, and more, not to mention embedded cinematic references. But here is the catch: it is the most anti-Leftist movie I have seen, ever. It quite explicitly portrays the egalitarian instinct as a kind of barbaric violent atavism, and it is pointedly critical of Antifa and related movements, showing them as representing a literal end of civilization. Only the wealthy are genteel and urbane and proper. On crime and law and order, it is right-wing in a 1970s “Death Wish” sort of way, though anti-gun too.

I really respect Tyler Cowen’s views, so I might give this a look. I suspect I am going to see this on my own because my wife probably will hate it. It’t not a date night film, if that does not sound patronising (although the missus loves thrillers).

If people want to comment, please no spoilers, merci!

24 comments to Tyler Cowen says Joker is an anti-egalitarian film

  • It’s not a date night film, if that does not sound patronising (although the missus loves thrillers).

    If you want a comic book movie suitable for dates, go with Deadpool. It’s a love story!

  • I think there’s a kickback starting. There are younger people leaning towards conservatism and rebelling against the progressive policies of their parents’ generation. This probably taps into that. Twas ever thus.

  • Rob Fisher

    I saw it last night. I think you can look at it two ways:

    1. It’s about what happens when bad rich people are mean to nice poor people.
    2. It’s about how you can rile everyone up by convincing them that all their problems are caused by bad rich people.

    If you assume the protagonist is the hero it’s a terrible movie, but I don’t think there’s any reason to assume that at all. There aren’t any goodies in this movie. There is a cartoon-like rich bad guy, but I can sort of forgive that in a comic book movie: cartoon villains are the point. And later we get Batman who is a rich good guy.

    It’s quite a gloomy film, but it’s very beautifully filmed squalor and degradation. I liked it in the way I like looking at pictures of long-abandoned buildings taken by urban explorers. A guilty pleasure: I’m totally all in for Randian celebration of the glorious achievements of Man most of the time, honest!

    Joaquin Phoenix does play unhinged evil very well. His Commodus was similarly entertaining.

  • neonsnake

    And later we get Batman who is a rich good guy.

    Worth noting: Bruce Wayne takes matters into his own hands, uses his wealth and connections to train himself into the ultimate expression of humanity, and takes the fight personally to the criminals.

    He never used his money to lobby politicians – instead he sets up various private charities, the most well known being the Wayne Foundation, but he has several anonymous ones as well.

    Sure, he’s famously anti-gun, which many people use to paint him as a (US-definition) liberal, but come on, he saw his parents killed by a gun-wielding mugger at age 8. Is not exactly surprising that he’s not fond of guns.

  • JohnK

    he saw his parents killed by a gun-wielding mugger at age 8. Is not exactly surprising that he’s not fond of guns.

    I can see that would make one disapprove quite strongly of mugging. The only thing wrong with guns was that his parents clearly didn’t have any.

  • neonsnake

    The only thing wrong with guns was that his parents clearly didn’t have any.


    Which Thomas would not have been able to draw before the mugger (Joe Chill, random nobody, Jack Napier, whatever – random nobody being the clear better narrative choice) pulled the trigger on the already drawn and pointed gun.

    Had Thomas had a gun, it would have made no difference in the eyes of the 8 year old boy seeing his parents gunned down in front of him. Bruce still would have hated guns. It’s not an excuse to claim that he’s a (US-definition) liberal.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Johnathan, thanks for the review. First reaction: Sounds hopeful. If your wife doesn’t want to be your date, you can swing by here and pick me up. :))

    [Despite the fact that personally, I wasn’t a fan of Batman (comic books) even in my kiddiehood, much preferring Superboy and Superman, though of course, like everything else, I’d read it whenever, wherever I found it. (Hated Spiderman to the point that I read about 3 whole stories within the comic books.) I did see the first Batman movie, yawn, though of course Nicholson — whom for some reason I can’t stand — was perfect as the Joker.]


    Very interesting string of comments after Mr. Cowen’s review. Greatly varying views on whether the movie is properly seen as pro-right-wing or pro-left-wing, with some arguing that either segment of the audience can plausibly (I take it) seeing as illustrating its POV.

    Discussion of various “Rotten Tomato” ratings.

    One commenter recommends, as do I, the piece in The Federalist, at

    https://thefederalist.com/2019/10/05/why-liberal-media-hates-the-joker/ ,

    though commenter “mulp” replies:

    “A strawman.

    If anything, liberal media loves Joke, produced on the cheap at $55 million, but with an ad and promotion budget of $120 million and counting.”


    And in particular: SNOPES. Completely O/T, and I may post this in an earlier discussion, but one commenter — “The Lunatic” on October 7, 2019 at 9:50 pm — brings up a “total fabrication” about President G.H.W. Bush that the NYT published in 1992 and (per the commenter anyway) never retracted.

    “The Lunatic’s” whole comment is worth reading (not very long); scroll past the next few shorties for his or her further comment.

    Commenters have more to say about the Grey Rag, e.g. that it’s almost in Vox’s and the Daily Beast’s territory of prevarication, but what I thought was really interesting was the link to Snopes’ 2001 examination and finding on the claim that the then-President was “Amazed by a Grocery Scanner.” The headline was followed by this:

    What it all came down to was that President Bush became the scapegoat for an economic recession.

    The discussion was lengthy and interesting, and Snopes called the story: FALSE.


    . . .

    ETA: I think neon has a good point there. I don’t think all 8-year-olds would become gunshy because of it, and certainly not those who’ve been around responsible gun-toters all their lives (like most country people when I was a kid), especially if they themselves were learning to shoot.

    But I do believe that some, and perhaps many, would.

  • bobby b

    I’m still a bit confused by the common interpretation that Joker is going to rile up violence from the “incel” movement – mostly because I have no idea what that movement entails besides lots of guys being caught up in a transitory period of strained relations between the sexes that causes them to be involuntarily celibate. (How many people are ever voluntarily celibate? All else being equal, I think most people would rather be . . . you know.)

    Is “incel” supposed to be a right-wing movement? A left-wing one? Ecumenical? I see many polls conclusively proving that each side is characterized by a better sex life than the other side, so I have no idea what an incel is. I’ve seen two incidents of shooters claiming some membership (or at least being ascribed some membership by others), but I cannot imagine that any of the other people doing mass shootings can claim healthy emotional/physical relationships – are they ALL incels? Or is that just one symptom of a disintegrating personality?

    I’m assuming that the Joker character isn’t getting any, but how many people falling off of the edge of mental illness are?

  • neonsnake

    I don’t think all 8-year-olds would become gunshy because of it,

    Indeed. Rob Fisher notes that Batman is a “rich good guy” – I’ve seen people try to claim Batman as a left-liberal, when literally the only thing that is liberal about him is his dislike of guns. He’s very much a conservative in all other ways – and the given, in-universe reason for his hatred of guns is that a gun caused him the trauma that turned him into Batman.

    Is “incel” supposed to be a right-wing movement?

    Typically, alt-right (as I’ve used the term). As well as insane levels of misogyny, there’s a huge cross-over with racial purity (mixed race dating being verboten, and blamed for why these guys aren’t getting any).

  • Boomer

    The whole ‘anti-gun’ thing is somewhat tacked on. Early Batman was frequently portrayed using guns and even killing villains. I don’t know when the character was rewritten to be anti-gun. Perhaps in the post-war, white hat cowboy, comics code era.

  • I’m still a bit confused by the common interpretation that Joker is going to rile up violence from the “incel” movement

    I wouldn’t say there is no such thing as an “Incel” (Involuntarily Celibate), since the 2014 Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger was a well documented example of the type. He was nothing more than a random loner whose off-putting personality meant that he couldn’t get laid despite being from a wealthy family and reasonably good looks. The Christchurch mosque shooter has similarly been described as an Incel.

    Is there some vast army of Incel’s attempting to bring down society and watch the world burn? Not really. It’s little more than a left-wing boogeyman to support legally mandated censorship and gun confiscation.

    The biggest crime that most NEET’s (Not in Employment, Education or Training) commit is video game piracy (since poor hygiene and bad diet are not yet criminal offences). Sure, they can’t get laid because they are (as a general rule) asocial, unattractive and have poor prospects. Who needs that?

    These types have not just suddenly appeared, they have always been there, societies drunks, alcoholics, jobless low-lifes. The fact that they now prefer to live in their parents basement and shitpost on 4Chan instead of behaving as their predecessors in earlier generations doesn’t change the fact that they are not a new phenomena.

  • JohnK


    I imagine if the young Joker to be had seen his father defend himself against muggers he might have grown up into a decent well rounded individual, and we’d have had no film.

    It doesn’t matter to me. I can’t stand comic books and superheroes, so my money is staying firmly in my pocket. Sorry Hollywood liberals.

  • I expect this is yet another film that can be portrayed as either right-wing or left-wing depending on how you want to interpret it.

  • I expect this is yet another film that can be portrayed as either right-wing or left-wing depending on how you want to interpret it.

    Certainly there are aspects of this, such as the scene where instead of having his medication increased he is told that the whole program is being cut and he won’t be getting his medication at all. This could be portrayed as a left-wing attack on right-wing the closure of mental health services in the US (or even just poor crazy people not having access to medical services).

    Equally, the Antifa-style antics of the anarchists of which Joker is an emblem (but not a member) can be seen as a right-wing attack on the left.

    The truth is though that it is a pretty realistic portrayal of things that have happened in the recent past (e.g. Charlottesville, Portland, Berkeley, etc.)

    If you view “Joker” through your own political lens, you will see what you want to see and interpret it however you want to interpret it.

    “Is It Just Me Or Is It Getting Crazier Out There?”

    Good question.

  • Roué le Jour

    The good news is that there in no evidence at all that reviewers can make a bad film bust blocks or a good film bomb, so enjoy.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I expect this is yet another film that can be portrayed as either right-wing or left-wing depending on how you want to interpret it.

    That is the mark of great fiction: you need to think about it, learn to argue for your interpretation, and look at it also from other points of view.

    Is “incel” supposed to be a right-wing movement? A left-wing one? Ecumenical?

    This is a bit like asking when you stopped beating your wife. The first question to ask is, is there an incel “movement” in the real world, or only in the morbid imagination of SJWs?

    —- As for why Batman does not use guns, the reason seems obvious to me: if he did, he’d be a vigilante like the Punisher, not a superhero; and back then, parents would have been reluctant to let their children read Batman stories.

    —- Julie, weren’t you supposed to read Wonder Woman, or at least Supergirl, instead of Superman??

  • Julie, weren’t you supposed to read Wonder Woman, or at least Supergirl, instead of Superman??

    @Snorri Godhi – Bit sexist isn’t it? 😉

  • Snorri Godhi

    On the contrary, JG: the sexist attitude is that girls should read stories of heroes that they can never be (banning sex change), instead of stories of heroines that they can be (with a lot of imagination).

  • neonsnake

    and back then, parents would have been reluctant to let their children read Batman stories.

    Yep. Comics Code Authority, 1954, wouldn’t let you use their stamp if you showed excessive violence including guns.

    That’s the real-life reason, with the secondary reason being that they want to bring back characters like Joker, which ye cannae do if he’s dead. Early Batman indeed used guns, and actually killed Joker in the first issue he appeared in. When they decided he wasn’t to use guns, they needed a narrative reason, and childhood trauma was plausible enough to go with.

  • CaptDMO

    I did see the first Batman movie, yawn, though of course Nicholson —
    The First Batman movie…Nicholson? Um, NO!(But the point is not lost.)
    There’s even a few B&W “shorts” predating Adam West. (Can’t find em)

  • Michael Jennings

    The one with Nicholson lacked the Bat Shark-Repellent. It wasn’t the same. I think Nicholson was pretty good as the Joker, though.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Captain: always glad to get new input! Thanks.

    Snorri: How could I forget Wonder Woman! I hang my head in shame. 😥

    Supergirl, way past my time. And besides, it looked kinda dumb to me. Now the original Lana Lang was, whatever else, not dumb, at least not when I was still reading comic books. By the ’70s, I wasn’t up for anything but Archie (et cie) and Donald Duck, but they’d gotten away from the innovation and charm they had in the ’50s … and, mostly, the humour. Also the drawing and even the storylines seemed dumbed-down by then.

    (Compare the styling in Disney’s 1994 The Lion King with that in Pinocchio, Cinderella, the Donald Duck TV cartoons of the ’50s, so forth. But NOTE: First, this was hard to find on imdb, but it is there; and second, the commentariat is wild about it. There’s talk to the effect that it’s the best of the Disney cartoon movies, and the last of the hand-drawn ones. If it didn’t cost the Hope Diamond, I’d watch it again; maybe I’m remembering wrong, or was feeling dyspeptic at the time. ??? Any opinions here are surely welcome.

    (Still, the drawing at Imdb also lacks sophistication and the sense of vitality in the classics.)


    neon: Never heard of the CCA, yet in 1954 I was deep into the fantasyland of the comics. Actually, I think that by 1954 I was mostly out of the horror-comics (!) phase. The last one I remember had a story in it that really turned my stomach. I think I was 9. The deal was that the Evil One had the ability to wipe a person’s face off. To a 9-year-old, the effect was pretty realistic. It took me a while to work out why it didn’t make sense. (Never fear, 67 years later I understand perfectly. 😆 )


    Back to Guns:

    But, jeepers! When I was 6 or 7 I got a complete cowgirl outfit for my birthday present (I think it was). The dress, the cowboy hat with the drawstring so it could be cinched up under the chin, the “leather” vest, everything but the cowgirl boots — AND, of course, the toy pistol and holster. Wore it to school occasionally. Some of the other kids also had some of the “cowboy” accoutrements, and they also turned up at school. –This was still at one-room country school, remember. I can’t recall for sure, but I don’t think we wore the outfits to Town School, starting in 4th grade.

    [Aside: HEH! But I do remember that I once put on some of Mom’s lipstick and wore it to school. Mrs. Rambo, our 4th-grade teacher whom I’d known forever — she went to our church and was a friend of my folks’ — had a cow, told me NEVER AGAIN!, and reported me to Mother. Mom did not have a cow, but did tell me not to wear makeup to school, nor in public at all. In fact I was forbidden to wear my long hair loose until high school, and forbidden to dress up my low white heels with artificial geraniums on Easter (I suppose I was 15 or 16). Too dramatic for church, let alone Easter, I was told. *smile* At the time I had the usual “But Mom, this is the ’50s!” reaction, but in hindsight I can’t say that any of this was dreadfully restrictive, let alone abusive.]

    Almost all of us had cap guns and I think all of us had water pistols (squirt guns). With which we all played avidly pretty much throughout the grade-school years, though not at school. There, we made do with imitation pistols consisting of the hand. Of course by the time we were 9 or so, we’d become a bit too sophisticated for cap guns only, so if we had a source of cement nearby (my dad had laid a sidewalk), we exploded the caps with a hammer. This really did worry the parents, because once in awhile there would be enough of a kickback to send the hammer upward toward the kid’s face.

    Let me say also that we all played “cowboys & Indians” from first grade right on up until … whenever. Also cops’n’robbers.

    Pretend this is all caps: *I don’t know of a single instance where a kid thought it was okay to shoot a real person.* (In fact my folks and a lot of others made a point of teaching us never to point even our toy guns or cap-guns or squirt guns at real people). Nobody thought it was okay to shoot an Indian (which is just one variety of Real Person, after all.)

    End of reminiscence….

  • Paul Marks

    Spoiler alert – if you do not wish to know anything about the plot……


    For those of you still reading……..

    There are some nods to leftist doctrine in the film – for example the character who becomes the Joker is beaten up by three well off executives (sorry – they are not the sort of people who hassle women on public transport, and they are not the sort of people who beat up someone who tries to come to the rescue) – but mainly the film is truthful.

    The father of the person who becomes the Joker is NOT Mr Wayne – the mother of the lunatic is herself crazy and has made up a fantasy of an affair with Mr Wayne resulting in a child.

    Mr and Mrs Wayne do not have some guilt secret justifying their deaths – the mobs of scumbags inspired by the Joker (he does not personally kill Mr and Mrs Wayne) are just mobs of scumbags – Mr Wayne had done nothing to them to justify his murder or the murder of his wife.

    I think the above is why the left hates this film. They want “the rich” to be presented as people who DESERVE to be murdered – and they want the people who overturn society to be presented as wonderful hero types (like the absurd Matt Damon character in the science fiction film about how even rich people who have left-the-planet are still responsible for everything bad and must be destroyed). The Joker is not a hero – he smashes society (which, yes, was in decline already) because he is crazy and violent, he has no plan for a “Better World”.

    No better world will result from the actions of “The Joker” – just piles of rotting human corpses, which is why a “Batman” is needed to stop the Joker and people like the Joker.

    The trouble is that the modern rich contain too many people who think (because they have been taught to think – at school and university) that Batman is an evil reactionary and that people like the Joker are wonderful heroes.

    The man who becomes the Joker shown for what he is (a man going insane and murdering people) is not what the left wants social revolutionaries to be shown as.

    Yes we can pity the horrible life (starting in childhood) that helped make the Joker what he is – but, in the end, he is a rabid dog. And the correct way to deal with a rabid dog is not to hold him up as a hero. as the crowd of scumbags does at the end of the film.

    There can be no peace with the Joker – or with that crowd of his supporters at the end of the film. Everyone in that crowd knows the Joker is a murderer (they watched him murder a man on live television – not a nice man, but he did not deserve to be murdered) – so everyone in that celebrating crowd is an evil person, there can be no peace with them.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Hopefully i won’t forget to read Paul Marks’ comment after i watch the movie.

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