IT’LL cause murder. There’ll be copy-cat violence. It’s succour for the alt-right.

The new movie Joker is being dissected by some critics as if it were a piece of political propaganda. It seems the political climate in the western world has clouded the minds of reviewers, and they now see everything through the prism of Trump, Brexit, MeToo, and the far right.

Joker isn’t about those issues. The film is much more important – it’s about the pain of existing in an uncaring world. Ideas of black/white, male/female, left/right are all empty when measured alongside what it means to suffer as a solitary human being born without asking on a planet which doesn’t care whether you live or die.

Political issues come and go, but the pain of the human condition will always be with us. Trump and Brexit seem important today, but 100 years from now, they’ll be unread chapters in history books. The struggle to live a decent life, however, to be good to others and have good done to you in turn, that story is as old as humanity.

No film dissects the agony of being human with the same power as Joker. Comparisons have been made with Taxi Driver and Network, but to find drama of equivalent significance it’s better to look to the stage. Director Todd Phillips does with Joker what Shakespeare did with King Lear, and Samuel Beckett with Waiting for Godot. The film says ‘look at what we are’ and ‘look at what we’ve done’. The message is that the world is absurdly, almost comically, cruel.

An elemental, hypnotic Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, one of society’s forgotten, a failed children’s party clown. There’s a tangential germ of the Batman myth, but Joker is as far removed from the schtick of superhero movies as a film can be. Gotham is merely there as a lure to bring in a wider, younger audience to a subtly crafted arthouse film, destined to stand the test of time as one of the most necessary, honest dramas ever made.

READ MORE: Joker (15)**** review 

Abused as a child, now mentally ill as an adult – his condition exhibiting itself with cackling involuntary laughter – Arthur still has the capacity to hope and dream, to love, to be kind, even though the world has treated him like garbage since the day he was born. The film rings with Christ-like echoes.

Arthur passes through life, poor, beaten, an outsider, humiliated, and still keeps alive the ambition of becoming a stand-up comedian – to make people happy. He retains a spark of belief that the world can be a better place, which makes him both an admirable and a tragic figure.

But Arthur is ground down more and more, his dreams extinguished, until the only hope left is revenge. Society destroyed Arthur. Society created Joker. Now society will get what it deserves.

Arthur says repeatedly that he’s not political. When he turns to violence, he first does so in self-defence against a group of yuppie thugs. Arthur is no nazi lone gunman. He punches upward, not down. He’s not racist, he’s not misogynist. He’s a man who’s wanted his whole life to be kind to others but now that’s all been kicked out of him.

The world which Arthur inhabits is one where billionaires lord over us, while we work in their minimum-wage factories and offices, worrying about how to pay the rent and feed the kids – and out on the street there’s homeless people on every corner. It’s a world where social workers don’t have time to help those drifting to the edge of sanity. Where your workplace is a prison. Where it’s quite literally you against the world – and the world has no desire to let you win.

This is a not a film about violence, however. It is about empathy. One act of genuine kindness would have saved Arthur, but no-one would give it to him. Joker presents a world so cold and cruel that it’s almost stripped of any sense or meaning – the only response to such absurdity is laughter, so why not laugh, thinks Arthur. Why not play along? If the world is laughing at us, and we are all mocking each other, then why not be the biggest Joker of all?

The film is an autopsy of where humanity has gone wrong. We’ve failed, the film says. Come and see. This is the society we’ve created, and it’s rotten to the core. We’ve made a world where the good are destroyed, and the bad rise to the top. Maybe it should be ripped up, maybe we should start again.

That’s why the film is truly dangerous art.

Its message is so powerful – look at this bloody mess, it tells you, how can we allow it to go on? – that action seems the only justifiable response. You can’t watch Joker and not be changed. It leaves you raw and sensitive to every pointless cruelty in the world, every meaningless win for the rich and stupid, every unnecessary misery heaped on the poor and decent.

The film is not saying that violence is the answer. The violence in the film achieves nothing. It’s right to be angry at what we’ve done, at the society we’ve created, but violence? That’s the antithesis of the whole film. The movie tells us from the first second to the last that empathy is the only answer. If only someone had helped Arthur.

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There is hope in this film, although the solution on offer is hard: be kind. It sounds easy, but it’s not. We’ve been trying to be kind for millennia, and we’ve still not managed it. We just make it worse with everything we do.

The story of Arthur Fleck is timeless: the world is cruel and blind, the weak and good suffer, the bad prosper. It could have been told thousands of years ago, or tomorrow. It’s always been true.

All tragedy feeds off irony, and the irony here is that humanity created the society which has always been the instrument of our own torture. We made the rules, we decided to value wealth over decency. We accepted that the Arthurs of this world would be thrown on the scrapheap. The Joker isn’t the villain, we are.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year