Just got out of Todd Phillips’ Joker…Guys, honestly, this is a tough review. I can’t recall the last time I’ve had to review something that was so parallel to real issues. As I write this I know I’m going to be marinating the idea of “art vs. zeitgeist”; does the former influence the latter or vice versa. THAT being said…Let’s get this over with.
Phoenix: Does Phoenix deliver as the Joker? Yes. For what little time we got to see him. I might have mentioned that something I detest about some comic book films, especially origins, is the tactic of reserving the reveal of the character (or final transformation) for the third act; sometimes even the very end of the third act.
This movie seems to do that with Joker. What Phoenix portrays for the majority of the movie is a mentally ill man who never really had a chance to make anything of his life. From the very opening of the movie we get a man being beat down (literally and figuratively), and the scenes that follow are really just more of the same.
His portrayal of Arthur, and the Joker once the makeup goes on, are different people. Yes, the anger is there, the brokenness, and the illness, but the key difference is once the makeup goes on and he takes on the false confidence we know. That’s the Joker isn’t it? He’s this demented man who ultimately has a pinch of awkward with his embraced extravagance. Heath Ledger had so many of those moments in his performance; the bomb trigger wouldn’t work as he left the hospital, the gun went off by accident as he was stumbling out of the flipped truck, the drink spills as he goes to take a sip before harassing Rachel…
Phoenix got some of those snippets as well which I think is the highlight to the character in any interpretation. Who was the better Joker? Have to give the diplomatic answer- they’re not really comparable. Why? For the simple fact that Ledger’s performance was under a PG-13 restriction. The two interpretations, though existed in similar Gothams, had different playing room. The violence in Joker has barely any limitations which I felt gave Todd Phillips and Phoenix more color(?) to use. Do I think this Joker is worthy of continuity? Well…
Standard of Origin: Despite my concerns about what this film means for culture today, it does an undeniable job of bringing a richer origin to not only the Joker, but to the darkness of Gotham that Batman would one day inherit to destroy.
Yes, the film paints a hopeless picture, and yes the film plays with the border of a very real mental health epidemic, but there’s no doubting, as a comic fan, that this thing makes bold creative choices that enrich the Batman mythos.
I LOVED that the night Arthur murders Murray on the talk show is the same night that Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered. Their death here is SPECIFICALLY because of the chaos that the Joker has caused in Gotham. WHAT a fantastic retcon to that plot. It directly ties the birth of the Joker to the birth of Batman. Even further, adding that plot twist of Arthur suspecting Thomas Wayne is his father, only to find out it was made up by his mentally ill mother, adds yet another layer to the yin and yang element of the clown and the bat; they’re opposite in experience, class, and concretely in access to love.
If I had to pick a favorite scene in the movie I would have to go with Arthur visiting Wayne manner. That interaction between he and Bruce, though voiceless, packs so much of a punch because of what the audience knows.
Score: The cello music throughout the film. superb. That’s all.
Thank You: I have to say I am also very grateful for the fact that despite some very gruesome death scenes in the film, they purposely leave the death of female characters off screen. They seem to confirm he killed Zazie Beetz’s character with the very end of the movie; he similarly walks out of the room where he was speaking with the female psychiatrist as he did when he left Sophie’s apartment. The difference being the bloody footprints. It’s as close of a confirmation that we get, and I think it was just enough. Brutal death of innocent women in film? Been there done that multiple times. I’m glad that Phillips did acknowledge that there was SOME kind of a line, and he did not cross it.
So Many Questions- Is the Riddler Around?: Despite mixed reviews, there’s no doubting the film has many questions for discussion. THAT is film at its strongest. Joker comments on the show that if it was him bleeding on the sidewalk no one would care, but because Wayne lamented the death of the cruel Wall Street men, we mourn. This is a real thing, and only one example from the film worth discussing.
He Never Had a Chance: As a COMIC FAN there is so much good stuff here. As a film fan, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Once it is revealed that Thomas Wayne indeed is not his father, and that not only was his mother mentally ill, but she allowed him to be abused throughout his childhood, we learned that this person, this soul, never had a chance to begin with. There was no system in place, there was no help, there was no love, there was no hope… This is an element of the whole thing where I linger on the idea of art vs. zeitgeist. Does the film seek to make the audience sympathize with the character thus asking one to sympathize with mass shooters? I want to keep it specifically to the film and not the culture the movie has been born into but it’s a tricky one!
Overall it’s a movie that I have seen once and it is more than enough. It’s a long one and it’s very heavy. It speaks to everyone; it DOES bring you to an awareness and a remembrance of your darkest hours. The moments you wanted to give up on yourself, the moments that life was unjustly cruel, and perhaps even the moments when you (and don’t lie) saw the horizon of the dark and strange thoughts you’re capable of when so much goes south.
For that reason, I accept the movie and I appreciate the richness it gives to Joker’s history, but I do NOT need to see this again.
Predictable: While knowing this was a psychotic human, it was easy to conclude that his moments with his neighbor Sophie were all pieces of his imagination. The giveaway is when she appears at the door and calls him “Arthur”; he had never given her his name when they were on the elevator. He never said a word.
She would appear in moments when things were difficult, and served ultimately as a reflection of the human desire and, more importantly, need to feel seen, heard, and loved. When those things are denied and we have no recollection of a reality where those things exist, then the mind will construct figments as to satisfy the need.
I want to make clear- I do not sympathize with the Joker. I do sympathize with the Arthur Fleck’s of the world though. I believe, in this story, there is a difference.
THE FUN FACTS
Enough of The Killing Joke: For any comic fans out there you will note that the film borrows heavily from Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. It seemed to take the books thesis statement, “We are all just one bad day away from insanity,” and ran with it. I think it took just enough from the iconic book to create something original while also satisfying fans who are familiar with the tale.
The Wayne’s Suck, and that MIGHT Be Best: Other than a few original/self contained comic stories, I appreciated that this movie made Thomas Wayne look like an asshole. I don’t just mean to Arthur, I mean in general! He seemed so out of touch with what was plaguing Gotham. Was he visibly corrupt? Not at all. Yet, there seemed to be clues? Even this Alfred seemed like a prick.
The Wayne family, everything they represented, and everything they belonged to was very much a part of the problem. I think this is much more effective than just presenting Thomas and Martha traditionally as the perfect rich parents that Bruce lost. How would this change effect the adult Bruce? How would it alter his actions and strategies as Batman? Would he actually address mental illness as a thing? Social class issues? Gentrification? lack of opportunity for the less fortunate as a means to create a better and more just future?
It’s a minor detail to alter, but one that could flip the Batman mythos on its head.
Alright, I think I will leave it there and maybe write some follow-up stuff on certain pieces of the film. For now, I want to give Joker a 2.5 out of 5 potatoes.