We’ve been hearing a lot about the hot new movie “Joker,” and how some theaters are hiring police guards for showings in case some nutcase is inspired by the movie to shoot up the audience. Having just seen it, that strikes me as a bit of a reach.
What follows is a “gun guy’s” perspective on it. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want me to spoil it for you – stop reading now, go see the movie, and then come back and read this, knowing that you are always welcome to comment here.
Brain-damaged by a beating he received as an abused child, the guy who will later become Batman’s nemesis is a loner with strange habits who not only never receives the approval he craves, but instead is abused by all around him, including a government which abandons him via budget cuts and leaves him without counseling or psyche meds. He gets stomped, with his crotch and ribs kicked in by a bunch of street punks.
The storyline riffs on the Bernhard Goetz shooting in New York City in the 1980s. A young man who had been mugged and denied a carry permit illegally acquired a Smith & Wesson Chief Special .38 to carry, and when surrounded on a subway car by four young black muggers, put a bullet into each and fled at the next subway stop. None died, though one was paralyzed for life, and by the time Goetz turned himself in, he had become a hero among New Yorkers who were fed up with the street crime which was rampant in that city at that time.
“Joker” is set in Gotham City, plainly an analog for NYC, supposedly in 1981. The Joker is on a subway car when he is assaulted by a trio of drunken, entitled white Yuppies who beat him without mercy. He draws his Smith & Wesson Chief Special and proceeds to shoot all three in self-defense, killing two and hitting the third in the leg. At that subway car’s next stop, the wounded one flees and the Joker pursues, shooting him in the back and then standing over him to deliver a coup de grace, turning self-defense to murder. He escapes, and the incident triggers a supportive “kill the rich” response in the city. I suspect Millennial-age viewers won’t get the contorted parallel to the Goetz case.
Unlike Goetz, however, the Joker then goes on a murder spree. The guy who gave him the gun and lied about it is stabbed to death (throat and eye) by the Joker. Learning that his elderly, beloved mother had lied to him about many things, he smothers her in her hospital bed, and then shoots to death on camera a local TV comedian who has mocked him. Before he is captured and sent to the asylum, the Joker has become a hero to rioting “have-nots.”
The movie is very well acted and filmed, and I’m sure those who predict Oscars for it are correct. To me, the message is that when the media glorifies someone who kills, it sets the stage for more violence to happen.
Of course, we gun nerds always look at details. The Chief Special is a five-shot revolver. In the actual Goetz case, the gun was emptied with one bullet going into the ceiling of the subway car and one apiece into each of his attackers. Without being seen to reload, the Joker manages to get considerably more than five shots out of his Chief Special, but hey, we shooters get picky about that sort of thing.
The color scheme of the patrol cars is true to NYPD, but the cops’ uniform shirts are wrong for that department during that period, as are the duty belts. And one thing I can’t blame the movie for: Internet Movie Firearms Database, which is usually spot on for this sort of thing, mis-identified the Joker’s gun as a Colt Detective Special. That’s like mistaking Robert Mitchum’s ’57 Ford for a ’57 Chevy in the movie “Thunder Road”: just unacceptable to us nerds. http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Joker_(2019)