Warning: Spoilers for Joker below.
The version of Thomas Wayne seen in Joker brings with him influences from both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The film has arrived in theaters amid significant controversy over its perceived negative impact on society, which director Todd Phillips has partly attributed to political correctness. Despite this, Joker has also received equal amounts of praise, with the film winning the Golden Lion at the recent Venice Film Festival. Additionally, Joaquin Phoenix's performance as the unhinged Arthur Fleck has been very well-received, with early Oscar buzz also surrounding the movie.
For all the controversy around Joker, the depiction the movie gives to Thomas Wayne is surprisingly subversive. American politics are more polarized than ever, and popular media has tended to pick a side on most topics, not the least of which being President Donald Trump. What may be the most unexpected element of Joker is the fact that its version of Thomas Wayne has shades of not only Trump, but his opponent in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton.
The Trump influence is readily visible in Wayne as a businessman seeking to enter Gotham City's upcoming mayoral race, promising to restore Gotham it to its former glory. Wayne himself, played by Brett Cullen, has other clear Trump influences in his personality and mannerisms, and these are especially noticeable in the subplot of the movie, in which Arthur comes to believe that Wayne is his father.
The confrontation between Fleck and Wayne sees the latter coldly reject the man claiming to be his son, with Wayne even punching Fleck in the face, an act Trump expressed a desire to inflict upon campaign protesters during the 2016 election. However, the film also works in very clear elements of Hillary Clinton into its depiction of Wayne. This is specifically seen in his dismissing of protesters of the class divide in Gotham City as "clowns", a direct parallel to Clinton's own condemnation of Trump supporters as "deplorables" during the election.
Thomas Wayne had previously been rumored to be something of a Trump caricature in the film, with Alec Baldwin's name briefly attached to the role early on. To be sure, Baldwin's ongoing portrayal of Trump himself on Saturday Night Live would have made the film much more surreal. However, Joker incorporating elements of both Trump and Clinton is one of the most surprising aspects of the film, and like the movie as a whole, can be viewed in numerous different ways.
On the one hand, it could be seen as a subtle commentary on the 2016 election, with the film effectively offering something of a "they're both bad" condemnation of the two candidates. Additionally, it also adds another layer to the mental state of Arthur Fleck, who perceives reality in such a way as to be able to view Wayne from clearly conflicting perspectives. Indeed, the reality of much of Fleck's experiences in the film is decidedly ambiguous, and his perspective on Thomas Wayne could be akin to the Joker's conflicting scar stories in The Dark Knight, with Wayne's depiction in the film being subject to Fleck's being an unrealiable narrator due to his mental illness. Ultimately, however one chooses to read the influence brought to the movie's take on Thomas Wayne from both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, it only solidifies how open to interpretation Joker really is.
Next: Joker's Ending Explained
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