Before Todd Phillips sends in the clown and unveils The Joker on a silver screen this October 4th, let’s look through some of the some of the best books about absolutely losing your mind.
This movie is a tough cookie for us. Yes, it’s based partially on The Killing Joke, but what it’s taken from Alan Moore’s iconic graphic novel appears to just be a few bits and pieces (although I’m making a bet right now that the scene when the Joker goes on stage is the beginning to that horrific scene from The Dark Knight Returns), but besides that, the influences on Todd Phillips’ newest ‘comedy’ is mostly from old Scorcese films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mean Streets, and King of Comedy.
So how do we talk about this film? Well, we’re going to do exactly what the title of this article says and go through the top eight greatest books about descending into madness. You know the meme.
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Well, turns out that society has always been pretty terrible, a hotbed for madness. But how mad is that madness? Let’s find out. Viewer discretion is advised.
8-Life of Pi by Yann Martel
I believe that whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you… stranger. – The Dark Knight
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I know what you’re thinking: this is a book about a boy living on a boat with a tiger after a shipwreck, but is it?
Let’s start at the beginning: Pi was bullied by his peer relentlessly before writing out the square root of pi (well, as much as he could) in order to change his nickname from ‘Pissing Patel’ to ‘Pi.’ Thus, he faced society’s onslaught, and that’s only in the prologue.
Do things get better from there? Well, he was certainly one of the few survivors from a shipwreck but after that things get fuzzy.
He tells a writer he’s interviewing with that he survived on the lifeboat with a tiger, a spotted hyena, and a zebra with a broken leg. The hyena kills the zebra and the tiger kills the zebra, and Pi manages to befriend the tiger before returning to land. Pi is saved and the tiger escapes, wandering into the wilderness never to be found again.
But the official story is far worse. The survivors on the boat weren’t a zebra, a hyena, and a tiger, but rather Pi’s mother, a brutish cook, and Pi himself. The cook killed his mother and then Pi killed the cook, feasting on human remains and using other pieces as fish bait.
Which is the true story? Did Pi do the impossible and live on the water with a tiger, or did he go crazy and imagine a tiger to make himself feel better?
Maybe Pi did descend into madness and cannibalism, or maybe the tiger story is true, but either way he now lives in a world filled with those that doubt him.
7-Yellow wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman
They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out—like a leper. See, their “morals”, their “code”… it’s a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. – The Dark Knight
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An important early work of American feminist literature, due to its illustration of the attitudes towards mental and physical health of women in the 19th century.
Narrated in the first person, the story is a collection of journal entries written by a woman going through postpartum depression whose physician husband (John) decides to treat her by not treating her. He forces her to live inside a boarded up room where she is told to simply eat well and get plenty of air.
The only stimulus in this room, the only thing she can be interested in, is the room’s yellow wallpaper.
From there, her mind slowly unravels. She starts believing there are things behind or inside the wallpaper and, as she grows into madness, she starts chasing the wallpaper and creeping like a spider beside the wallpaper. Her life becomes this wallpaper.
This treatment was common during the early 19th century and, since the book was published in 1892, it shows a woman’s steady descent into madness thanks to society’s indifferent ignorance.
6-Catcher in the Rye by Holden Caulfield
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The mob has plans. The cops have plans. Gordon’s got plans. Y’know they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are. – The Dark Knight
In case you haven’t read this book, Holden Caulfield is an outsider living on the brink of society. Everyone thinks he’s crazy, a drifter, but he rightly criticizes and critiques adults for their superficiality. ‘Phony’ is what Caulfield calls them, as he dreams to be a child again when times were simpler.
After spending a novel-length amount of time floating through the town, going largely unnoticed except when he’s mugged by a pimp, he ends up in an asylum. Yes, he pledges to get his life on track, but can we really believe him?
5-High-Rise by J B Ballard
When the chips are down, these…these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. – The Dark Knight
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Following his divorce and the death of his sister, Dr. Robert Laing moves into the twenty-fifth floor of an apartment complex. From there, he’s continually bombarded with negative events, including a costume party he’s invited to where everyone mocks and degrades him. Eventually, he goes over the edge, not to spoil the plot, but it ends with cannibalism as the once-peaceful residents of the apartment complex descend into madness.
The similarities to the film should be obvious. Laing and Arthur Fleck are both beaten down by society and eventually crack, proving that the worst monsters don’t have sharp teeth and bear-like claws, but a human face and simple words and judgmental glares.
4-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. – The Dark Knight
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Rodion Raskolnikov is a law student who dreams of enforcing the law, but those morals go out the window because of poverty. Society has cast him out, and poverty forces this ex-student to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her money.
After the murder, Raskolnikov is morally racked by his deed, tormented with confusion, paranoia, and disgust, forcing him deeper into poverty.
Poverty pushes him to kill, and once he’s killed his misery drives him deeper into poverty. This vicious cycle is one society forces on him, and with each passing moment he falls deeper and deeper into madness.
3-Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
Why so serious? – The Dark Knight
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For some reason, there is a man who lives with an older man who has a ‘vulture’ eye. Why does he have a vulture eye? Does the vulture eye represent something? Is the man his father, his landlord, his master? Is the narrator a servant?
The exact circumstances are left unclear, but the narrator’s decent into madness isn’t.
After a carefully calculated murder, a ‘perfect crime,’ the narrator dismembers and disposes the body under the floorboards. Then the police came and they talk to the man about this unidentified old man. During the conversation, the narrator hears a a beating heart and grows concerned, then realizes that the police are openly mocking him, ignoring the heartbeat and watching him suffer.
The twist? It’s subtle, you might miss it, but the heartbeat the narrator hears isn’t the old man’s, but his own. Talk about madness.
2-Rats in the Walls by Lovecraft
It’s a funny world we live in. – The Dark Knight
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After Delapore, an American, moves into an English estate, he and his cat start hearing the sounds of rats scurrying behind the walls. Finding himself in a society that doesn’t accept him because he’s a ‘foreigner,’ Delapore tries to find the truth about the rats behind the wall, but his psyche starts to unravel.
After a series of dreams, Delapore learns that his family maintained an underground city for centuries, where they raised generations of ‘human cattle’—some regressed to a quadrupedal state—to supply their taste for human flesh. Is this true, or is he simply mad?
Well, after, Delapore attacks and cannibalizes one of his few friends, he is locked in a mental asylum. This ends his reign of madness but he continues losing his mind, proclaiming that it was “the rats, the rats in the walls,” that ate the man.
The society that rejected him continues to do so given that the investigators of the case tear down the estate, covering it up and excluding one of their own officers after he goes insane as well. It truly is a funny world.
1-American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
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Does it depress you, commissioner? To know just how alone you really are? – The Dark Knight
A stockbroker in midtown Manhattan, Patrick Bateman lives in a world where people don’t talk to each other, don’t listen to each other, and don’t really know each other. People know him, but they don’t know the “real” him. He exists as a part of the crowd. He’s not rejected by society because that means they’d have to notice him.
This world of superficiality gets to him, and he turns full killer, or does he?
It’s the main question of the novel that no one, not even the author, can answer. At the end of the novel, he goes to the apartment where he’s killed numerous people to find it perfectly clean. Is this because he’s been hallucinating all these murders, or was the apartment cleaned because the owners doesn’t want a negative reputation to affect its resale value?
He killed a man, but then he’s told the man is on vacation. What’s happening here?
The answer is we don’t know because we don’t know the real Patrick Bateman, and we don’t know the real Bateman because he doesn’t know himself. It’s not a look into insanity, it’s us drowning in a world brought to us by a man who is utterly alone.
In this novel, we live and breath madness, and that’s about as close as the Joker’s world as we’re going to get…
…until the film comes out. Will you see it opening day, or will you be too busy cleaning up a murder scene that might not even exist?
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