Whatever you thought you knew about the Joker before, from the comics, cartoons, movies… whatever expectations you had for this movie based on the trailers, movie news and rumors, interviews, released pictures, whatever… best leave them all behind when you enter the screening room to see this movie. Seriously. This is not the movie you were expecting. Trust me on this one. I was ready to unload a barrage of hate on Joker. I thought that it was a gimmick, another empty shell of a movie to offer an excuse for an actor to go full method in front of the camera while the studios fill up their pockets on brand recognition. I was ready to declare it useless, top 10 worst of the year… and then I went and saw it. Most of what I saw, I did not like. There were many moments in this movie that I out right hated. But I have to admit it, this movie is powerful. This movie has a message. Many people will get the wrong message out of the story. Perhaps I did too. Non the less, Joker is a memorable watch and unlike other “masterpieces” it will not fade away after the end of the awards season. That being said, I still wish that this movie would not have been made…
*** possible spoilers ahead***
You could say that this is an origin story. We get to assist to the birth of the Joker. But that is irrelevant. The Joker character, Gotham city, every bit of link to the comic book universe is nothing more than a façade, a mask that allows for a powerful social critique, a satire even, to explode on the movie screen before as many eyeballs as possible with major studio backing. It’s the movie version of the trojan horse. But lets regroup… The movie begins with Arthur Fleck on the jobs, as a clown for hire, flipping a promo board for a store on the streets of Gotham. Some kids decide to have a good time on Arthurs expense. They steal his board and eventually Arthur gets beaten up badly. And things are only going to get worse for Arthur.
Arthur is a walking talking tragedy. He had a traumatic childhood, lives with his mother who is delusional, he has no money, no prospects. He also has a mental condition that manifests itself in the form of uncontrollable laughter. Most of the time, he talks and behaves as a 6 year old child. And he is trying to pursue his dream to succeed as a stand up comic, but he has zero talent for it. Basically, he is a loser. To makes things worse, he lives in Gotham, a big city situated somewhere in the 70s era, where everything is old and ruined down, nothing works, where the poor are only getting poorer and surviving is hard, and nobody cares about anything and anybody. Arthur Fleck is a snowflake in hell.
And here comes my big problem with the movie. In my interpretation, the movie is a clear critique of todays world, in every aspect of it, it takes all the social hot topics of the real world and rolls them into one. However, I cannot decide where exactly is the movie landing these issues. It could be viewed as a shrewd awareness piece about the injustice of the system, how it pushes the everyday person to breaking point. But one can also say that the movie is making fun of every social justice warrior by providing them an avatar in the for of the Joker, this movies version of it, at least. And while normally the Joker figure is a strong, powerful figure, here he is anything but. He is delusional, not particularly smart, he wants things but instead of working for them he just make-believes them and has no idea what to do when presented with the opportunity to actually realize his wishes. When he finally makes his voice heard, his outcry is about the lack of civility, kindness and compassion, all of which are good and noble things, yet he has killed many and instead of guilt and shame, he feels satisfied with his actions, which makes him a hypocrite. So indeed, having this version of the Joker as an avatar is of no favor to anybody. The border between the two possible interpretation is paper thin. Maybe its so by design. Maybe I have missed the movies point entirely. It is in the Jokers nature to be ambiguous, to leave you wondering if there is anything you have missed, that can bite you back later on. Or it can be looked at as playing it safe by not picking a side and leaving the viewer with the bill to pay for having a not so ambiguous opinion that most likely will clash with someone else’s.
From a technical point of view, this movie is up to par with what is expected by a tentpole title made by one of Hollywood’s big players, Warner Bros. Director/screenwriter Todd Philips has a clear vision of what this movie wants to be and translates it onto the screen flawlessly. It is somewhat interesting the turn he took in movie, from directing movies such as Old School, Starsky & Hutch and the Hangover trilogy, to end up delivering such a dark diamond in a rough. As for Joaquin Phoenix, you can hand out the Oscar for best lead actor right now. I might hate his played characters guts, but what he did on screen is nothing short of brilliant. Unfortunately, he seems to have a knack for twisted, fringe characters and he isn’t really interested in anything else. He did a similarly powerful performance in You Were Never Really Here, just a couple of years ago, thankfully here there is an actual story to back up the acting. The other big names in the movie, such as Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Brett Cullen are all great as expected, but any serviceable actor could have replaced them as they do not have much to do, this is a one man show, after all.
Like I said, this film is powerful. I don’t like it, but it most likely will be in my top 10 of the year, as it has earned its right to be there. I still wish that this movie would have not been made because I am genuinely concerned about how the Joker, the core character of it, is adored and worshipped. Thankfully, this version of Joker is not that.