I just got back from seeing Suicide Squad, and boy are my arms tired!
HERE BE SPOILERS. Also, for the sake of this exegesis, just take as a given that Jared Leto annoyed me greatly.
It’s canon in the DC universe that the Joker is exquisitely bad to Harley Quinn, and that she loves him obsessively, rarely even acknowledging his flaws. He is abusive towards her, and she takes it.
This movie is extremely interested in changing that narrative, while trying to maintain her baseline victimization as a get out of jail free card (ironically enough) for dealing with her willingness and enthusiasm for doing bad things. They want her and the Joker to be soulmates that lift each other up and inspire, while bringing them ever closer to perfect harmony with their own weird divine. She seems to be the exception to his nastiness. His obsession with her humanizes him. An obsession, by the way, that we all share from basically the minute we see her onscreen.
They are presented as a unit. Twinned, in a way, with the “bad guys” Enchantress and her giant gold maguffin of a brother. In this universe, Harley supposedly outstrips the Joker himself in terms of being reckless, opportunistic, showy, sociopathic, violent, and just plain uninterested in consequences. We SEE that. It’s glorious and kinky and consensually disturbing. (Scene in the strip club that will haunt my forevers.) We see, furthermore, the honest-to-god BATMAN so enthralled by her that instead of looking for his arch-nemesis to, I don’t know, make sure he’s dead or something, he drags her out of a river and gives her mouth-to-mouth. (During this process she tries to kill him twice and then snogs him when he tries to give her CPR.)
This positioning of Harley as the Joker’s redemption, as his soulmate, the one being he cares about more than himself, doesn’t quite work. Not completely. Because he created her.
We see him manipulating her in Arkham, then his minions tie her down and he electroshocks her, and then she jumps into a vat of chemicals after he’s basically taunted her into it, and THEN he jumps in after her. Her origin story is one of tremendous abuse and manipulation on his part. She is supposed to be a good woman turned bad, but also… unlocked, somehow. Comfortable being the ultimate gangster’s moll, wanting to be married and living in a beautiful house with two babies and the Joker, only he’s not Jokerfied. This part actually works, I think. She, like the rest of them, understands that what she wants is out of her reach. But in context of how we’re led to believe that he corrupted her utterly, it’s sinister. If they were willing to change her origin a little, they could have changed it a lot.
She really seems to like herself quite a bit. Everything she does and is functions as a performance for her own benefit. She spends a lot of the movie wearing a collar that says “Puddin” and a jacket that says “Property of Joker” across the back. When he dies, she’s heartbroken and throws the collar away in a moment of rain-soaked independence. But when he’s back, she’s elated. I question, by the way, whether that collar is usually worn by her or him. Their relationship in this movie contains a shadow relationship that relies on Harley’s fundamental right to her own psychopathy. No, I’m not kidding. There’s something actually subversive going on, but it never explodes into full, weird life.
In a movie about the bad guys, you really have to commit. And the people who wrote and directed and framed this movie do, they almost do. The film ends with a shot of Joker’s face, not Harley’s. He breaks in to one of the highest-security facilities in the US to get her, out from under Amanda Waller’s nose. You would, too. Don’t lie to me.
But in the end, left to her own devices, I think Harley’s just too scary for them.
Oh. And yeah, I liked the movie.