There has been a TON of chatter about this film, it’s merits, the things it might incite, and what it could mean to a group of gross people in the United States. There was an eight-minute standing ovation for the movie at the Venice Film Festival when it premiered, a lot of it surrounding the adoration for the performance of Joaquin Phoenix. After everything I’d heard, all of the ire and adoration and confusion, I almost didn’t even care to see it because I just wanted it out of my life. Everyone had a take before they even saw the film and each one of them was really vocal about it. I hated that.
So I wound up seeing it for myself. I just had to develop my own opinion.
Joker is a new type of DC Comics film from director Todd Phillips, who previously made um…*checks list*…yeah, one film that I liked. He wrote and directed The Hangover, but he also did a lot of other obnoxious comedies (some of which have redeeming qualities, I will admit) but overall just wasn’t someone I cared for. The journey to this film was an absolute nightmare to watch after its announcement, with rumors flying around and people denying the film’s existence. Hell, Jaoquin Phoenix denied he’d ever been approached about it. I got full-on whiplash from the whole thing and just deciding I never cared if it came out at all. When the casting news and rumors about the plot started leaking I was baffled and further confused. Then the trailer came out and, well, it looked great. I began to wonder if I’d underestimated Todd Phillips.
What really sank home with this film really was Joaquin Phoenix. The man physically changed the shape of his body, becoming a skeletal wreck to portray this version of the Joker. His laugh is eerie and sounds like something is wrong with him. Turns out it is, because the man who will become the man who laughs has a disorder. Stress makes him laugh uncontrollably, and this draws the ire of people around him. After an incident on a subway that he comes out on top of, he begins to feel a sense of power. This begins his journey to become the Joker.
I really need to talk about how this film is being viewed because everyone has a take. Arthur Fleck, the character who becomes the Joker, is a narcissistic white man with a disorder. He’s angry at his psychiatrist for not listening in the way he wants, he’s attracted to the woman down the hall but too much of a trainwreck to talk to her, and he’s overly dedicated to his mother. All of these things are bits and pieces that push him further and further on the path of destruction. Many are calling this film empowering to in-cel groups and shows the glorification of the man who believes he deserves to lash out at people he doesn’t like. I want it on record that I don’t believe the film glorifies this type of thinking. Rather, it sets us up to look at these people as problems waiting to happen and do something about them earlier in life. Arthur Fleck is mocked instead of supported, he’s lied to, he’s beaten, and no one really tries to help him out so he takes matters into his own hands. There’s a figurehead status to his character that leads a movement, with people like him rising up to fight back but they are portrayed as villains. The good people are as well, from the egotistical Trump-esque Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) to Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro), a late-night talk show host that received a video of Arthur stress-laughing when he’s trying to do standup and mocking him for a segment on the show. These are bad people, but the way Arthur and others react to them is still portrayed as something that is a negative path. The issue others are taking is that, like Fight Club, a lot of people are going to take the wrong lesson from it and…I mean…I do agree there.
Okay, got that out of my system.
End of the day this is a pretty damn good film. Joaquin Phoenix is incredible, portraying a boiling rage and mental illness and joy all at the same time. Robert DeNiro is also a blast, dancing out onto the stage and having a ball with the role. This is more fun than he’s been in years and I’m kind of up for seconds if he’s still serving. Joker is absolutely worth your time and money, and once we’ve all seen it the bizarre cultural aggression with it can be done and over with so…let’s get to it people!