Gather ‘Round, Padawans: Harley, the Joker, and Terror (With Spoilers)

Reading Time: 6 minutes
c. DC Entertainment
c. DC Entertainment

Also: if you have abuse triggers, you may want to avoid this Padawans. Herein is a frank discussion of emotional/psychological abuse with accompanying images of Harley and the Joker. Some of them are disturbing. Some of them are graphic. If you would prefer a text only version, please contact me and I will send it along. If you need to skip this one… there are days I would as well. Kudos for knowing what you need to do to keep yourself, and your mind, safe. Parents, if you allow your kids to read Padawans, you may want to pre-screen this one, especially if your children are sensitive to violence or violent images.

There’s been a lot of talk about scenes (allegedly) deleted from Suicide Squad and the ways in which they would have changed the film (no way to know for sure until the extended-directors-ultra cut Ayers claims isn’t happening comes out). Jared Leto has expressed displeasure at the proportion of the Joker’s scenes which failed to make the theatrical version, including, according to comicbook.com “a scene showing the Joker being abusive to Harley Quinn” (lack of link is deliberate and I think, by the end of this piece, you’ll see why).

The headline, and the article itself, mention there are a few times Leto’s Joker is “mean” to Harley but draws a clear line between what we see in the film and what was removed. The article proposes what we saw is cruelty and what was removed is abuse.

c. DC Entertainment
c. DC Entertainment

That is 100% incorrect.

There is abuse in Suicide Squad and it is terrifying.

The divide established by the article indicates a persistent and fundamental misunderstanding of abuse. It assigns, for example, a “light tone” to Harley and Joker’s pairing in the film because he doesn’t, at any point that we see, hit her.

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Their relationship did not have a “light tone” in Suicide Squad. We do not see him hit her, but that makes the interactions between Harley and Joker neither less disturbing nor less abusive. This is, in fact, one of the most abusive relationships I have ever seen on screen. If you think Leto isn’t a terrifying Joker, if his every expression and word doesn’t twist your guts in knots, see me. I have some stories to tell you.

You also need to reexamine your definition of abuse.

Physical abuse is a possible manifestation of abuse but it’s only one such manifestation and only the most obvious to outsiders.

There are so many others.

Making a person feel less than human. Treating a person as an object rather than a subject. Demeaning her. Telling her she’s stupid “stupid” or “useless.” Cutting her off from friends and family. Manipulation, guilt, and cruelty.

To name only a few.

Harleen Quinzel is a smart woman. She is a doctor, a psychiatrist. She is voluntarily working with the mentally ill, those labeled as hopeless cases which, having worked at a state psychiatric facility myself, I can tell you very few people want, or are willing, to do. I submit Leto’s Joker knows this because, whatever he may have been in past portrayals, this Joker is a consummate master of the psyche. I submit that, unlike Ledger’s immortal Joker who is frightening because he is completely divorced from reality, Leto’s Joker is terrifying because he is grounded in it; he knows exactly what he’s doing at all times. He is in complete control. His focus, rather than causing chaos, is to tear other human beings to sherds and make certain it hurts as much as possible, then reassemble them in his own image. Leto’s Joker recognizes Harley’s intelligence and her compassion and he decides he wants to own them and own her, to use those things to turn her into his living doll. He isolates her from her career, her friends, even her glasses. He changes the way she looks by manipulating her into wanting to prove she’s tough, suggesting that he’ll stop loving her if she doesn’t jump into a vat of acid to bleach her skin and hair. He literally reshapes her body to suit his desires without a thought as to how it might affect her.

The Joker does not love Harley. Their relationship is not cute. It is not sweet. It is not quirky.

It is horrifically abusive.

HarleyJoker4

He wants to own her. He wants her to come when he calls and do his bidding like a dog or a robot. He wants her to scratch his itch, and the rest of the time, he couldn’t care less about what she wants or needs. He throws her back into the toy box until he gets bored or needs a prop, and then he pulls her out again, dresses her up, and dances her around for his own edification.

That is what abusers do.

He offers her to other men. He shows interest only when he sees a fault line forming between them. He decides when it’s time for them to die rather than allow Batman to catch them and then he runs, leaving her either to drown or face punishment alone. He comes for her when she’s on her Squad mission not because it’s the first opportunity he’s had but because he sees her starting to find herself again, to find allies of her own and a purpose separate from him. He comes for her at the end not because he cares about Harley but because someone else has dared take possession of his goods, his doll, and he can’t stand it.

Even when that person is Harley herself.

The excuse “but he’s a bad guy?!” That’s not an excuse.

So few see it, though. So few acknowledge this behavior for what it is.

Abuse.

Why are we so reluctant to widen our definition of abuse? Why does the author of the article, and the majority of the general population, need to see physical manifestations to acknowledge abuse is occurring?

harleyjoker5
c. DC Comics

Because if we widen our definition, we have to admit it’s vastly more prevalent in our society than we do now (which, frankly, isn’t nearly as much, as loudly, or as frequently as needs to happen). We have to admit we stand by and watch it happen in all of its forms to all of those who encounter it on a daily basis without raising hell to stop it. Women are abused, children are abused, men are abused, and we, as a society, have been willfully blind not only to the thing itself but it its repercussions, to the damage it has wrought, to all of those in desperate need of our help.

On another level, we might have to make the difficult admission to ourselves, and perhaps to a therapist and loved ones, that we have been abused. I have never been bruised by a significant other (though there were a few times it was a close thing) but I have been scarred. Many of the men and women you know have. Perhaps you have. You may not be ready to face that yet and the survivor in me acknowledges and supports and loves the survivor in you. I’ll be here when you are. Perhaps you didn’t even realize it was abuse before this moment. If I have brought you this revelation and it has caused you pain, I am so, so sorry, and please know that was not my intention. Please seek help, seek guidance. Don’t wait until you’re eaten up inside. I’ve made that mistake. I wish I had known then what I know now.

Others will have to make the admission that they are, in fact, abusers when, before, they felt they were exempt because they didn’t raise a hand or because they were female or for any other myriad excuses an individual can make to him or herself. I have neither sympathy nor empathy for them. I hope it hurts. I hope you can, against statistics and odds, change.

At the end of Suicide Squad, we see a Harley on the verge of an awakening, her self-actualization cut short when the Joker comes to reclaim her. And that’s what it is: not a rescue, but the staking of a claim.

In the comics, Harley Quinn has made her own justice:

c. DC Comics
c. DC Comics

I can only hope Suicide Squad Harley has the same opportunity. And while I don’t usually advocate violence as a solution, I’ll make an exception here because 1) comic universe 2) catharsis and 3) Harley has reclaimed her power and she has reclaimed herself. She has done what she must do to survive and, for that, I thank and honor her.

If she can do it, so can we.

If you or someone you care about is being abused, there is help available. The first step is to contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline . If there’s any chance your internet usage may be monitored or someone is tracking your browser history, their advice is to ensure your safety by calling 1-800-799-7233 (TTD 1-800-787-3224).