Recently, the latest in a string of superhero movies, Suicide Squad, came out. My little sister went to see it with her friends the weekend it was released and came back glowing and idolizing Harley Quinn.
For those who don’t know, Suicide Squad is a movie about a band of DC supervillains teaming up to save the world from an even worse supervillain. One of the main supervillains is the titular Harley Quinn, an unhinged ex-psychiatrist with carnival-colored pigtails and crazy eyes. Another thing about Harley Quinn––she is involved in an extremely abusive relationship with the Joker throughout the entire movie. During the 130 minute run time of the film, the Joker manipulates Harley Quinn to help him escape from jail, gives her electrical shocks, encourages her to jump into a vat of boiling bleach, and leaves her at the bottom of a harbor in a crashed car after she tells him she can’t swim. I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting as well. This is just a sampling.
At first, I wasn’t too worried about my sister’s infatuation. Harley Quinn was pretty cool, not going to lie. She didn’t care what anybody thought of her, it seemed, and she was some much needed comic relief in a pretty heavy movie, even if her jokes were somewhat twisted. When my sister started defending her relationship with the Joker, however, I got a little concerned.
Now, I understand that this movie is completely fictional––obviously, there is no real Harley Quinn/Joker relationship. But this relationship being fake doesn’t change the fact that there are countless relationships like it that aren’t fake. My little sister thinks Harley Quinn is cool and looks up to her, and one of the main facets of Harley Quinn’s identity throughout the movie is her relationship with the Joker. Her entire storyline revolves around him––she only becomes Harley Quinn after falling in love with him, changing herself drastically to better suit him. Her messed up romance with the Joker is so closely intertwined with all the parts of her personality that my sister admires, it is almost impossible to distinguish which parts of Harley Quinn are Harley Quinn and which parts of her the Joker controls. As a result, my sister and Harley Quinn-lovers everywhere can’t help but accept the abusive relationship as okay, just because Harley Quinn does and they admire Harley Quinn for it.
This is where Harley Quinn’s biggest flaw comes in. When I watched the movie, I admired her most for her aloof attitude and flippancy, for oozing “I couldn’t care less about your opinion of me” vibes. But this isn’t entirely true, because Harley Quinn does care about one person’s opinion of her––the Joker’s. And as a result, her main objectives are to reunite with the Joker and make him happy, compromising her own dreams of domesticity and comfort.
In many aspects, Suicide Squad wasn’t a completely terrible movie. Although it lacked cohesiveness, it had some good action scenes, and the characters, despite their flatness, had insanely awesome powers. And the score was the perfect amount of bizarre and crazy to match the tone of the movie. The thing that really doomed Suicide Squad was, for me, the insensitive portrayal of an abusive relationship. Despite all of his mistreatment, Harley Quinn never once expresses anything but love for the Joker, and the movie even ends with their joyful reunion. It’s not an okay way to show a horrible thing that happens to so many real people and ruins so many lives. Now, Suicide Squad is giving people like my sister a role model who accepts and loves a partner who abuses her, and the movie even glorifies the relationship with extravagant rescues mounted by the Joker to save his true love from a prison that he abandoned her in.
My fourteen-year-old sister should not be idolizing this. She should not assume that relationships like this are okay. She should not defend love rooted in manipulation and pain.
In my opinion, Suicide Squad is ultimately a bad movie. The worst. Not because of cinematography, editing, or cohesiveness (although none of those were stunning either). Suicide Squad is a bad movie because it tries to make a bad thing work, and it reduces its strongest female player to silly putty in the hands of an abusive maniac.
This is not what girls dressing up as Harley Quinn on Halloween should accept for themselves. And, this is certainly not what I want for my sister.