I’ve been thinking a lot about the recently released DC film, Suicide Squad. I’ve already seen it twice. And as me and my BFF, AC were sitting in the XD theater and the opening images appeared onscreen, I said, “When’s the last time we were turned out by a movie??” I can’t even remember the last film I went back to the movies to see.
We luurrrvvved Suicide Squad because it contained all our favorite summer film elements. Superhero stuff, or in this case super anti-hero, for the most part strong characters, great costumes and special effects. Fast paced action. And of course, it’s hard not to enjoy Will Smith in general. And OMG, Viola Davis in the role of Amanda Waller. Say no more, right?? And then there’s the Harley Quinn/Joker dynamic that we didn’t see coming. Before the film was released, I’d been reading the interviews about Margot Robbie’s process in preparing for the role and working with ol’ method-head, Jared Leto. She’s a smart actress. We loved her in Wolf of Wall Street, and she just did it for us in this film. Total scene-stealer. She really researched and threw herself into Harley’s character. She had some of the better lines, and yeah, the eye candy was fun even for us. And I love seeing when a woman can stand up to these blockbuster male actors and just take all their lunch money onscreen.
Now, you’re never going to make the geeks happy. There are waaaaaaaay too many articles and reviews about how the film ruined the Suicide Squad’s whole deal. Here’s the thing, I was a tween when Harley Quinn was first introduced in the animated Batman series and I kidna remember her clown costume and antics, but since I’m not a comic-book head, it was a pleasant surprise to see her character introduced into the superhero shuffle that’s taken over theaters for the past decade. In that sense, it was kind of nice to go see the film unbiased, y’know, go see it for what it was. And so we went into the film with few expectations about the film and her role in it. But by the end of our first time seeing SS when the Joker comes back from the presumed dead and saws through her cell bars, we were scream-laughing, “Is that PUDDIN’??”We left the theater buzzing and immediately started streaming, “Gangsta” the song by Kehlani that plays when Dr. Quinzel falls in slow motion into the vat of whatever that white stuff was only to have the Joker dive after her and they make out.
We both went home and started researching on the interwebs everything we could find out from past comics about Harley. Come to find out, what we saw in the film was not the whole story, surprise suprise. And in keeping with the troubling imagery of a woman willing to literally live or die according to her partner’s whims, that song probably reflects the vibe in the relationship between Harley and Joker much more accurately than the film demonstrates.
The lyrics to “Gangsta” are intriguing, compelling, perplexing, and kinda violent. Probably the most troubling line is, “I’m fucked up, I’m black and blue/I’m built for the abuse…” Kehlani’s own inclusion on this soundtrack is interesting, particularly considering this song. Wikipedia details her suicide attempt (fitting given the title, no?) after a public breakup with NBA point guard, Kyrie Irving). So AC and I have been left wondering…da hell happened to us when the Joker texted Harley as the squad flew out to confront their first battle as a unit, “I’m coming for you”??
Soon as we saw it, we both twittered and giggled like straight up Becky’s in line for their first grande pumpkin latte of the fall season at Starbucks. Moments before, we’d seen the Joker on the floor surrounded by knives and baby clothes yellin’ bout some, “Where is she?!” So we were feeling some kind of way like, now THAT is what my man should be saying if something extreme happens to me. Like getting locked up in a prison just for terrorists. Because that is like…y’know. A thing that happens. Now, Jared Leto is no Heath Ledger. But, for us, we really dug his crazy and his aesthetic.
But, why? Why did we dig this storyline so much? Also, why are thousands of girls around the country racing at break-neck point-click speeds to Amazon for satin red and blue booty shorts and jackets that say “Property of the Joker?”
The second time we saw the film, AC and I went back and really unpacked Harley’s story as well as the nuanced attraction between her and Deadshot. We went in this time understanding what parts of her narrative had been left out of the movie. In the film, we see next to nothing of Harley’s origin story as Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a psychiatrist who originally treats the Joker. We see her primarily as a feisty, sex-kittened up arm-piece who is allegedly “even crazier than him” to hear Amanda Waller tell it. The only other reference to her past life is when she assesses Deadshot as another “textbook sociopath.” So we don’t much about how this woman started out with a Ph.D. and became relegated to an arch-villain’s main squeeze. We don’t even really see why she’s attracted to him. I mean, sure, he comes off as alluring with his with the hair and the teeth and tats but from what I now know of Harley’s origins, she has dark places already in her she’s been trying to negotiate that respond to the allure of the Joker. So did he corrupt her or did she just rise to the occasion that was already within her? Also, we don’t see why he’s attracted to her. And we don’t see that that he keeps trying to kill her because he doesn’t understand why he loves her. And we don’t see her give it just as good back to him through violence, primarily. In the comics, this is the ultimate mutually abusive relationship. But in the film, even when the Joker is torturing her, the scenes are romanticized with low lighting, slow-mo, and a sexy song underneath.
So, even though my brain knows all this, why were we so captivated by their dynamic?
“I’m coming for you.”
And did he ever.
Oh. Okay. Yeah. That makes sense.
So, like, I’ve had more than my fair share of off-road love interests. I joke with girlfriends sometimes that the best thing getting married at 25 ever did for me was keep me off of the streets. Now, two years after splitting with my ex-husband, and halfway through my 30’s, my taste is more seasoned but not entirely back on-road. I don’t think it was ever on-road. (For instance, growing up, while all my girlfriends liked Jordan Knight from New Kids on the Block, I was alllll about some Donnie Wahlberg, lol.)
The thing is, okay, sure, I’ve grown up, right? I’m an intelligent, highly creative, highly independent and some might argue, successful woman who is very much into doing her own thing right now. The man that would be able to keep up with me at this point, heh…well, let’s just say, would have to not only be my intellectual equivalent (because I get bored…easily), but also aesthetically be someone I like to look at (I never said I wasn’t shallow), and also be very Alpha to the point where he doesn’t just own the room as soon as he walks in, he also owns any other Alphas present. That means I tend to attract, ummm…extroverts. Not all of whom have squeaky clean backgrounds. I just find that level of swagger incredibly mesmerizing. Someone that knows what and who he wants. And when I fall under that jurisdiction and he’s all, “I’m coming for you,” pshew. It’s very, very difficult for me not to say, here. Just take the draws. Just take ‘em.
But that particular love can have its repercussions as we only saw hinted at and sensationalized in SS. Because that kind of attraction can be destructive. To both parties. It doesn’t seem like “happily ever after” love so much as an addiction—the same kind of thrill you get from roller coaster rides. You can quite literally become addicted to the endorphins firing off in your brain that don’t go much farther than early love/lust stages and the subsequent deep pitfalls that are sure to come when there is an absence, so you have to create and recreate scenarios that are more and more dramatic to get you to that initial high. Oh, the agony and ecstasy of it all. The DRAMA! And the craziest part is even if this man ends up almost killing you, the claim here is that love is not an enduring slow burn, but it’s obsession/possession. But who cares, so long as you have your PERSON coming for you—to hell with the repercussions because what isn’t worth ALL. OF. THESE. FEELS?? (pant pant pant)
Hey, man. I never said I didn’t have relationship issues. I’m just more critical about where they come from.
So, let’s go back to the film. Harley sacrifices her job, reputation, and quite literally, her sanity, to become the Joker’s missus. When she’s locked up, AC noted she’s the only member of the squad that does not have privacy. She’s put on display in a cage like an animal. Towards the end of the movie, when Enchantress is showing everyone visions of their deepest desires, what they truly wish in their heart of hearts, we see Harley’s. She’s living a straight life with curlers in her hair, babies in her arms, and the Joker (now a normal), kissing her before leaving for work. “He married me,” she says with an ecstatic far-off gaze.
There we have it. The “he married me” thing. The finish line for so many women. (No judgment! It was mine too for a long, long time—on some level, maybe it still is somewhere in there.) So, ultimately, what Harley has settled for in her relationship with the Joker is the closest thing to her deepest desire of living a straight life with her puddin’ she can get. She’s shaped her life around the narrative all of us women are told—one lover to rule them all. The one. That ride or die one. And if he won’t wife you, adapt to what he is willing to give you. And if the square peg don’t fit in the round hole, shave down the edges until it does, dammit.
As someone who fought a long time, almost a decade, to force this narrative on her own marriage, despite the fact that the person sleeping next to me did not share many of my then more traditional values about marriage, small wonder it didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. Too, I’ve thought a lot about how I was trying with my own marriage to recreate, read, salvage my parents’ marriage.
So, yeah, issues. Sooooo many issues.
This narrative about women sacrificing everything to be with someone who wants to own them looks great onscreen, again set to a low-lit backdrop and a great song, but what are the real life ramifications of this forced and reinforced storyline that women are constantly absorbing? And women characters who don’t acquiesce to this narrative in films and TV? What of them? Well, they are constantly punished—either exiled or killed off.
Also, AC and I responded to this storyline because, y’know, we’ve both had love interests who maybe aren’t guys you necessarily wanna introduce to your parents, but hey. They came for us. And as strong, independent women, yadda yadda, it’s low-key a relief to have someone wanna come take care of you for a change, you know? To put their foot down. To say, I got you, no matter what. To come for you. And even if he’s a kinda psycho to everyone else, at least he has made himself available to you—which is a very heady sensation because the ego is a trip. Western women have historically been brought up to be trophies. But here’s the thing, in real life, women are abused, stalked, locked up, and sometimes slain when these shiny trappings the movies show us play out in real scenarios. So what are we really striving for? What do we want from our relationships when we look for someone to complete us? Why don’t we feel complete without our own version of the Joker? Or if we “settle” for the good guy, why do we constantly pine for El Crazo who got away? What parts of women in contemporary heteronormative Western relationships still on some level want to be possessed? Owned? I wish I knew the answer. But it sounds like whatever those parts are resonated enough with their target audiences and Hollywood to get Harley Quinn her own film.