This Gotham is a place of fierce despair, extreme prosperity inequality, and simmering lawlessness teetering on the brink of collapse. While this realistic depiction makes a place that is typically fantastic appear familiar, it is not just the identifiable environment that gives Joker its hyperrealism. it's what the film is all about, what makes the film so credible, up-to-date, and worth talking about long after the credits. Joker is a historical piece, but it is undoubtedly our own troubled, inexorable time.
Joker's setting (circa 1981) not only allows the movie to be a comic version, but classic Martin Scorsese or Sidney Lumet films also remove the technology that nowadays helps such a madman sooner rather than later to catch. This is a time of smoking everywhere (including hospitals), surveillance cameras and metal detectors were not omnipresent, and nobody was strapped in during the ride. The times were bad, but they could get worse. Joker, the character, is the symbolic counterpart to this waiting dynamite.
The mentally ill Arthur Fleck, relentlessly played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a fighting, overlooked tow trapped on the margins of society. Arthur is a man who has never had a good break or a good day in his life. The less talked about how and why Arthur takes on the role of the Joker and finds his release and joyful ability, the better – this is a movie to be experienced openly and without spoilers – but it is enough to say that this joker the end result is a society that feels too comfortable with its occasional cruelty and lack of empathy. We create the monsters we deserve.
Joker is an indictment of the collective disregard for the well-being of the citizens of a society rather than necessarily criticizing a particular type of individual or class. As much as you sympathize with their plight, Gotham's dejection can be as stubborn and vicious as the rich and powerful. Arthur is hurt in one place or another emotionally or physically by people at all levels and the institutions that populate them. If taxi driver Travis Bickle calls himself "God's Lonely Man," Arthur Fleck is certainly Gotham's lonely man. Arthur eventually looks for human connection, something he tragically does not find, until he puts on a happy face and forcibly blurs the city's hypocrisy and inhumanity.
Do not ask us to forgive him for his increasingly evil decisions. How many real parallels and inspirations from Arthur's descent into violent madness are unpleasant, the film still knows that he is crazy and should not be romanticized – just understood.