Suicide Squad, BDSM and Removing the Abusive Component of J+H

To cheer myself up after a horrible day, I decided to re-watch Suicide Squad. 

Disclaimer: This piece is not condoning abusive relationships. Nor does this piece deny the manipulative aspects of the the Harley and Joker relationship. This piece merely points out the BDSM elements that were added to the Suicide Squad film's Harley and Joker relationship.

It's entertainment--not the best movie, but entertaining nonetheless. It's one of those movies that you can watch over and over, every time it comes on. We can debate about the sloppiness of the script and whether or not you like the actor choices for the characters another time. This insomnia-driven article is about the removal of one of the main variables of the Joker-Harley Quinn romance--the abuse.

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Since Harley Quinn was introduced to Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn and Joker's abusive relationship has been unavoidable. And while liking the characters individually, I've always detested their relationship. The comics depict Harley as a bit of a stalker where Joker berates and abuses her for his amusement, places blame on her or just beats her due to sheer annoyance. Hell, in one episode, Harley actually caught Batman for Joker and he beat her because she basically stole his thunder. I was so glad when she left Joker.

One of the things many die hard Harley-Joker fans do is romanticize the abusive relationship as this beautifully imperfect--twisted relationship based on abuse and there was nothing beautiful about it. I've heard so many Harley fans say, "They're just two twisted people who love each other. They get each other." And all I can ever do is roll my eyes at their ridiculousness. And those same people don't like the Suicide Squad version of the Harley-Joker relationship because "it isn't true to the comics because Joker looks like a 'lovesick puppy." That was the most widely used reference I heard "lovesick puppy". 

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In the Suicide Squad version, their relationship is depicted more as a Dom/sub relationship and is, thus, actually quite beautiful. Harleen Quinzel is a collared baby girl--Daddy's Lil' Monster--Daddy being Joker. She lives to please him and in this version, Joker lives to protect Harley. He shot a man  in the head for calling her a bitch! Yeah, yeah, yeah, he's Joker--he doesn't need an excuse to shoot anyone in the head, but still. Work with me, here. 

In BDSM the Dominant/submissive power exchange is about trust. The submissive freely surrenders power to her/his Dominant. The general consensus is that the submissive, while surrendering her/his Dominant, is still the one in control because that power was given freely and can be taken away by leaving the relationship or setting boundaries not to be crossed. In the film, Joker tells Harley, "Submission is power."

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In that scene, while most movie goers probably thought he was being his manipulative Joker-self, he seemed to be asking Harley to be his submissive. 

Joker: Would you die for me?
Quinn: Yes
Joker: That's too easy. Would you live for me?
Quinn: Yes
Joker: Careful. Do not say this oath thoughtlessly. Desire becomes surrender. Surrender becomes power. You want this?
Quinn: I do.

In the SS, through flashbacks, they show Joker's sadism and Harley as a willing, masochist participant. Their power dynamic, in the film is pretty decent in that they worship each other And while the introduction of this type of dynamic pissed off a LOT of die hard fans as not being true to the comics and their actual, abusive relationship, I, for one, was very grateful that David Ayer gave us a newer, better version of the Joker-Harley relationship. I'd rather see Harley be wanted, protected and needed as a sub as opposed being a punching bag and punchline for comic fodder. Harley Quinn is such a complex character who deserved so much more than being a sidekick who suffers abuse from a douchy boyfriend.

Intentional or not, this is, of course, how it appeared in the film.