Aristotle’s Poetics is thought to be the first to claim that art imitates life. If today’s art is an indication, I believe we’re in trouble.
If you watch TV or movies to any degree, you have to admit the themes, settings, and morals of virtually all available shows are turning increasingly darker in tone. In fights against good and evil, the bad guys of yesteryear yearned for money, power, or the abandoned love. When they lost their final battles, they were either apprehended or done away with without too much fuss. Once the story was over, we shut off the TV or walked out of the theater knowing the good guy won, and all seemed right with the world. In the last decade, however, not so much. Example: The movie Suicide Squad, which I saw last night.
Side note: When a movie trailer comes out, often the musical score is not available so producers will use scores or songs from other movies or sources that closely match the movie’s intended meaning and feeling. But I have a question: What marketing research revealed that trailers for western movies needed rap music to bring in more viewers? The Magnificent Seven remake that comes out next month features a song by a deceased Tupac Shakur and a still-breathing Eminem. Safe to say they want the youth demographic, and believe this is the way to attract them, but the dissonance of rap music and westerns (or rap with all other unrelated genres) sets my teeth on edge.
The characters in SS hail from the DC Comics Universe (versus Marvel’s Avengers), but these particular “meta humans” as they’re called form the downtrodden and dangerous, trailer-park version of superheroes. Among these are Will Smith’s Deadshot (paid assassin who never misses), Jay Hernandez’s Diablo (can burn anything), and Margo Robbie’s Harley Quinn, the whacked-out lover to Jared Leto’s Joker. The Joker is what caught my attention.
In the backstory to how the Joker and Harley Quinn fell in love, we learn that Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel was the Arkham Asylum psychiatrist treating the Joker when she goes Florence Nightingale on him, and falls in love. A jailbreak turns the tables on her so we see her strapped to a table with the Joker brandishing shock cables and saying, “Oh I’m not going to kill you. I’m just going to hurt you really, really bad.”
I won’t spoil any of the story (I thought it earned 2.5 out of 5 stars, by the way), but I’m wondering how far evil in art goes. Don’t get me wrong, like so many of you I’m really into movies, and watch them often. Taking a step back, however, you can watch the moral darkness pour into the sets between the whimsical Cesar Romero’s Joker to Heath Ledger’s “some men just want to watch the world burn.” Leto’s eyebrow-less gaze, metallic smile, and happy-crazy expression make it clear he’s sunsetting happiness like a goofy Dementor from Harry Potter.
Worse, it appears actors are going to great lengths to invite more darkness onto the set. What Leto did not just to get the part but the method acting he employed during production is a bit disturbing.
According to The Atlantic:
Of all the stories surfacing about the new DC Comics film Suicide Squad—from the dismal reviews to the box-office reports—the most disconcerting are the ones that detail how Jared Leto got into his role as the Joker. Leto was reportedly so committed to the part that he gifted the cast and crew with a litany of horrible items: used condoms, a dead pig, a live rat. To get into the character’s twisted mindset, he also watched footage of brutal crimes online. “The Joker is incredibly comfortable with acts of violence,” he told Rolling Stone. “I was watching real violence, consuming that. There’s a lot you can learn from seeing it.”
Whether art imitates life, vice versa, or a little of both, it is what it is. I don’t want to be a curmudgeon and spoil all the good, evil fun, but I wonder if we wouldn’t benefit from taking this all a little less seriously.
Image: Taken from promotional poster: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Suicide_Squad_(film)_Poster.png