A couple of months ago I wrote an article about the astrological archetypes of the Joker and Batman in Christopher Nolan’s version of these iconic comic book characters (read article here). I have wanted to write it for a long time, but didn’t get around to doing it until mid-August, a few weeks before Todd Phillips presented his take on the green-haired clown you wouldn’t want to invite to your kid’s party. This new film has created a tremendous resonance and the cyberspace is now flooded with reviews and discussions as well as comparisons. These comparisons are divided into two types: either reviewing all Joker portrayals from the dawn of ages (and by the dawn of ages I mean the 60’s, when hippies were still roaming the world) OR it is just comparing the two most impressive ones (Heath Ledger’s and Joaquin Phoenix’s) in many cases taking sides and giving reasons why one or the other is the best Joker in the author’s opinion.
I am going to mention Ledger’s Joker today, too, but with no intention to hand out “The Best Joker” plaque at the end. I don’t have a fixed idea of what the Joker is or should be like. On the contrary, I love seeing the same thing being approached and interpreted from a different perspective, so as long as all the other components are well-executed, I am open-minded and willing to consider new ideas. These two Jokers are equally excellently written and played and they are also as different as they are amazing. Comparing them for the purpose of choosing an absolute leader is like comparing something soft with something yellow – they’re in different categories and you just can’t do that. Similarly, the psycho-astrological archetypes depicted are different. As different as two signs that come one after another. If you are familiar with elements, polarities and modalities, you know where I’m taking this. If not – don’t worry, I’ll try to put it in layman’s terms as I go. In any case, I’ll be referring to Ledger’s Joker as a means of contrast and comparison of the two Zodiac signs and planetary energies that these two embody.
I have defined the 2008 Joker as Aquarian/Uranian type. “The Dark Knight” was about the battle of two minds – an anarchist vs a capitalist, a radical and rebellious Aquarian against the authority and centralized power of Leo. The 2019 Joker has no ideology, doesn’t care about politics and doesn’t believe in revolution. In his own words, he doesn’t believe in anything. Both the character and the film are focused more on the emotional component. From the cerebral and intellectual level of existence of an Air sign we shift to the element of Water which is about feelings.
This particular change of element brings with it the change of polarity – from positive (masculine, extroverted and externally oriented) to negative (feminine, introverted and internally oriented). Dark Knight’s Joker is actively interacting with this world, he’s pushing his ideas and manipulating the crowd. Arthur Fleck lives in his inner world, submerged in his dreams and turmoil, making little to no attempt to take action. He wants to be noticed, accepted and loved, he aspires to become a stand-up comic but it doesn’t go beyond writing down jokes and observations on how to be funny in his journal. In fact, it’s not until the Joker starts to emerge after the killings on the subway, that he actually takes the first step and goes to perform in the club. Notably, even this event – the shooting – is a result of external pressure and someone else’s initiative.
Finally, there is a change in modality – Christopher Nolan’s Joker (and Batman) are both fixed signs, they’re firmly fixed in their beliefs and views, so “an unstoppable force meets an immovable object”. Todd Phillips is showing us a man who is constantly trying to adjust in order to fit in. This attitude is typical of the mutable signs – they’re flexible, they try to avoid conflict and go with the flow. They deal with problems by flowing around them or changing direction. All of this is Arthur, up to a certain point.
Thus, if we put these attributes together – polarity, element and modality – it gives us the Zodiac sign of Pisces. And, boy, does this movie scream Pisces! No, scratch that. Fish don’t scream. It’s more like this film is soaked and saturated with Piscean energy to the point where it seeps out of every pore, every frame, every message.
Pisces is ruled by Neptune, a cloud-laden ice giant associated with imagination, inspiration and dreams but also illusion, confusion, deception and delusion. The atmosphere of the planet makes for its mysterious appearance – Neptune is not easy to see as it is hiding behind its misty veil, invoking the above-mentioned associations. This is also true of Pisces – the confusion may happen both in their own head and in the minds of others as they struggle to understand them. So we see this confusion reflected in everything – from Arthur’s words (My whole life I wasn’t sure if I really exist) to his uncontrollable laughter that happens in the most tense, stressful, inappropriate moments, creating a strong cognitive dissonance from the beginning, less than 3 minutes into the movie. We are also taken in by a deception for a good portion of the story, which leaves us doubtful and suspicious towards anything that happens in the end – is the inscription on the back of the picture real? If it is real – was it really written by Thomas Wayne? Was any of it real in the first place, or is it all a fantasy of a sick mind and Arthur had never left the asylum?
The message is reinforced by visual means – Arthur’s constant smoking provides the veil, the Neptunian haze, that blurres the lines of his face , the smokescreen that separates him from the surrounding world. In many frames the use of long lenses results in only Joaquin’s face being in focus while not just the background, but even his shirt is out of focus, unclear, highlighting the idea that the character is staying only in his head and is disconnected from the reality.
Let’s leave Neptune for a while (we’ll come back to it later) and focus on the sign itself. Pisces is a dual-bodied sign. Its symbol is two fish swimming in the opposite direction which is a perfect demonstration of its tendencies and inner conflict. In esoteric tradition, one fish is alive and the other one is dead. And before you question how it is possible for a dead fish to swim, I need to add, that this is a sort of metaphorical shorthand. Both fish are alive, one is swimming towards death though and the other one didn’t sign up for this shit but, oh well, too bad, so sad.
The thing is that Pisces is the last sign in the Zodiac circle, which represents the cycle of life, with Aries being birth and beginning, the fiery life-giving impulse which acquires shape and form in earthy Taurus goes on to develop thoughts and feelings in Gemini and Cancer respectively and on through the social signs and transformation of Scorpio it enters the universal level of the last four signs of which Pisces is ultima thule (pardon my Latin). Pisces ends one cycle of life so that another one can begin. However, in order to incarnate, we need to join the source first and this is what this sign is about – merging with the collective, giving yourself up to the higher power, letting the subjective ego dissolve into the objective psyche. So one fish is swimming to its final destination while the other one is desperately clinging to life, overtaken by the depth of emotion at this level of existence, refusing to let go.
Descartes said “I think therefore I exist”. Good for him. He had zero planets in Water signs and a close Sun-Uranus conjunction, so I see how this statement would ring true for him. Anyone with water-dominated chart knows that they feel and therefore they exist, no arguing about it. Incidentally, that Uranus conjunction sends us back to the cerebral version of the Joker I wrote about 2 months ago. The three outer planets are sometimes connected to the personal planets by being called “a higher octave” or “a higher register” of their energies. Uranus is the higher octave of Mercury, the thinker. In that article I mentioned that unlike Batman, the Joker shows very little emotion. In addition, he’s very eloquent and witty, doesn’t miss a chance to crack a joke and these jokes are funny and come to him with ease.
Arthur, on the other hand, struggles with both understanding and producing relatable humor, as Mercury is at fall and detriment in Pisces; in non-astrological terms Mercury is not comfortable there. The dreamy and blurred Piscean world is a hostile environment for Mercury which is about analysis, clear thinking and mental, rather than emotional, processes. But Pisces is friendly to another planet – Venus, which is exalted here (and Neptune is the “higher register” of Venus). With its energy of love and compassion Venus expressed through Neptune gives Pisces altruism, devotion, desire to serve others. And Arthur does show these qualities – he’s tender and loving to his mom, he takes care of her and doesn’t see it as a burden. He says about the teenagers that beat him up that “they’re just kids, I shouldn’t have chased them” and even lets Gary, his former co-worker, go despite him being a witness to Randall’s murder.
And these feelings don’t happen only on Arthur’s part – watching his struggle evokes empathy and compassion in viewers, making us all get in touch with the Pisces energy in our chart. The theme of empathy appears in his monologue at Murray’s show as well, along with the desire to be heard and noticed. At this point I am starting to struggle with organizing and structuring everything that needs to be said, since the Joker’s final statement on the show is just as multilayered and full of deep meanings and undercurrents as the deep and endless ocean, which is another symbol connected with Pisces and Neptune. This was only to be expected, after what I have said above – the confusion, the elusiveness and the almost imperceptible level of existence the last Water sign offers us. I feel like I should start introducing numbers…
- Arthur himself struggles to “be heard and noticed” throughout the film. His difficulty is the lack of a clearly defined personality. He has no idea what he is, he yearns to find the “I”. He is the fish that is still trying to hold on to what is familiar, what has been done in the previous 11 stages of the development – expressing oneself through various archetypes. He keeps looking for that one thing all other signs have that they can define themselves by. The other fish is pulling towards merging with the collective and losing oneself in the deep waters of the universal chaos.
- The crowds in the streets of Gotham are representative of this collective energy. This connection between Arthur and the masses starts to form when the murders on the subway get public approval – the merging has begun. The sign someone holds up during the protest meeting – “We are all clowns” is a signal to that. On the subtle, intangible level Arthur attunes to this current, the need for change, the dissatisfaction of the people of Gotham with the injustice and the same desire to be heard and noticed. As this is happening, he is starting to lose his ego – the Joker is born. He doesn’t have a name now, he has nothing to lose or to fear, he has become the other fish… the dead one. Life is suffering, so Arthur suffered. He struggled to fit in and struggled to ascend to the light from the dark bottom he was living at day in and day out. The Joker has shed all that and has now let the collective in. He is the voice of the crowd and Murray’s murder is the first murder that is not personal for Arthur. As he’s yelling out about wanting to be heard to the host, the guests of the show and the TV viewers, it’s not Arthur anymore. Heath Ledger’s Joker was the one to initiate the crowd’s hysteria. Here the chain reaction goes the other way. Up until the last moment Arthur is contemplating suicide and it seems that the decision to kill Murray comes at the very last moment. However, in that moment Arthur is already dead (not physically, of course) and the Joker, who is expressing the collective wishes and desires, has taken the reins. He is now the dead fish that is riding the crest of a powerful wave, letting the flow take it wherever it may be. A symbol of the uprising but not the moving force behind it. He’s like the hood ornament of a car – recognized but not in charge.
So Arthur is dead and the Joker is born. There are plenty of mentions of the bathroom dancing scene, which is an obvious demonstration of the alter-ego surfacing for the first time. There is another scene, also notable but more strange and confusing – the scene with the fridge. On the surface it is another clear and expressive metaphor: after the confrontation with Wayne, when Arthur asks for some warmth and gets hurt again, he decides to “freeze” his feelings and buries himself in a cold box which is an allusion to a tomb or a grave. Not so simple if you consider the fact that to fit into this box he has to assume a fetal position, so now it’s a tomb and a womb 2-in-1. To be born anew you have to die first. The cycle has to end before the next one can begin. Astrological code for the last two sentences is yet again “Pisces”.
Since the film itself is quite dark and depressing, the balance of the sign in this particular article is tipped that way, too. After all, “All I have is negative thoughts” is the gist of Pisces’ phrases in like every other astrological meme. Sure, in part this is based on some true tendencies of the biggest worry-warts you could find (as a daughter, sister and a good friend of three different Pisces, I know this first-hand) . And they’re always listening to the Neptune-FM while never fully present in this brutal and way-too-real-for-their-liking world. But there is also plenty of beauty and enchantment in them.
Music is another one of Neptune’s domains – Neptune rules trance states and escape from reality, which music readily provides for those who want to experience this without the help of any substances. So, quite appropriately, music is, as Todd Phillips says, “another character in the movie”. It flows in Arthur, it wants to come out. His movements and plastique change as he transforms into the Joker, but it is present in Arthur from the very beginning. Who knows, perhaps if he had listened to his own needs and decided to become a dancer, instead of trying to fit in with his mother’s projections, he could have walked a less bloody road to recognition and acceptance…
Of course, then we wouldn’t have had this immersive, staggering and breathtaking experience some people went to see twice (for the first time since LOTR… yes, by “some people” I meant myself)… So let’s just be completely honest in our selfish position of not wanting to deprive ourselves of this experience and just thank Arthur Fleck for his self-sacrifice in service to our entertainment ♓