Warning: Suicide Squad Spoilers ahead! Read at your own risk.
The relationship between Harley Quinn and The Joker, DC Comics's infamously murderous clowns, has been the subject of heated debate since the Suicide Squad film was announced. The couple's comic book history is filled with physical violence, mental abuse and misogyny, painting Harley as a battered, unstable woman who keeps coming back for more.
So, the first question on the minds of DC fans was: how in the world would Suicide Squad accurately reflect Joker and Harley's tumultuous relationship without glorifying abuse and violence against women? The answer: It couldn't, so it changed the relationship to reflect a different dynamic.
Comic To Film: How Harley And The Joker Changed
Many things were adjusted in regards to the relationship between Harley and the Joker from the comics to the film. Just as in the DC comics, Harley is the Joker's doctor turned submissive partner in crime, relentlessly working to satisfy his every whim. However, a noticeable difference in the film is the Joker's dedication to her in return. Throughout Suicide Squad, the Joker spends every waking moment working to recover Harley from her imprisonment in Belle Reve at the hands of Amanda Waller.
This is worlds away from the comic book Joker, who time after time has either tried to kill Harley, left her for dead, insulted her intelligence or told her she was worth nothing to him. And that's putting all he's done nicely.
Instead of trying to end her life in Suicide Squad, Jared Leto's Joker went as far as trying to save Harley by pushing her from a doomed helicopter resulting in him going down with it instead. And he still showed he cared for Harley even when his unhealthy control over her was obvious, like when he saved her after forcing her to jump into a vat of acid. In turn, Harley Quinn appeared more as a heroine who ultimately overcame in the face of losing her soulmate to save the day instead of a girl who sacrifices her well-being for her abusive partner. The audience was taught to love Harley instead of cringe at her undying devotion to Mister J.
Why The Relationship Had To Be Toned Down
This stark difference between Harley Quinn and the Joker's comic relationship compared to Suicide Squad was not an accident. While the changes left some fans claiming the film erased their abusive and violent relationship and glorified their "romance," the reality is it actually didn't do either of those things. Even with the film's less than canon "Bonnie and Clyde" portrayal of the maniacal pair, we saw shades of the volatile Harley and Joker relationship comics fans know well, proving the pair's history was not completely abandoned.
Warner Brothers and writer/director David Ayer were essentially backed into a corner. Would they portray an extremely violent and controversial relationship and risk imminent backlash, or tone down the violence, sprinkle in red flags to the relationship, and have the female (anti)hero rise above it all? They went with the latter. Scenes like when the Joker leaves Harley to drown or be captured by Batman in order to save his own skin show his true feelings for her, no matter what lengths he goes to to get her back. Maybe it's just me, but there is nothing romantic about that.
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In fact, recently revealed deleted scenes shed some more light into just how much Warner Brothers battled with which direction to take Harley and Joker. Circling back to the helicopter scene, it was revealed in one cut the Joker actually tried to kill Harley, not save her. Jared Leto's role was reportedly cut down for the final film, signaling that there were perhaps even more troubling scenes removed from the movie.
In taming Harley and Joker's relationship, the studio and filmmakers have opened up many doors that would have otherwise been closed to both characters in the DCEU. Their comic book relationship has yet to result in much that can be used to accomplish something positive on screen. And it could have potentially stunted Harley Quinn's character evolution as a leading woman and likable antihero. But with its changes, Suicide Squad managed convey an unhealthy relationship without glorifying violence against women or sabotaging its female lead. This leaves more room for Harley Quinn to continue to develop in the DCEU and (hopefully) one day overcome her addiction to the Joker and blossom on her own.
Is This The Definitive Harley/Joker Pairing?
It's also important to note — and brace yourself for this one — many of the people who love comic book films haven't read a single page of Marvel or DC. Yes, not everyone enjoys the the comics, but it doesn't meant they can't enjoy the films. Thus, the canon version of Harley and Joker's twisted tale could have potentially turned away huge numbers. It also may have earned the film an R-rating, excluding the young Hot Topic crowd the that helped make it such a massive financial success. While fans continue to call for the truth behind the volatile relationship in opposition to its cinematic portrayal, Warner Brother definitely made the best decision in cutting it out.
As the pair were reunited at the end of the film, there's little doubt plans are already being drawn for their next move together. We might see them having a baby and very well get a Harley Quinn/Joker solo film. And of course, fans should expect to see them face-off with the Batman once again. Suicide Squad's record breaking opening weekend certainly opens the door for spin-offs galore!
As a DC Comics fan, I am accustomed to the desperate and destructive history behind Harley Quinn and the Joker, but it's totally unfamiliar to a majority of the film's non-comic reading audience. A truly disturbing depiction of a relationship with absolutely no redeeming qualities in a cheeky comic book movie would be hard to explain and even harder to defend, and in the end alienate both female and male audiences.
Do you think it was the right move for Harley and Joker's relationship to be changed in Suicide Squad? Let me know below!