This stand alone origin movie was shrouded in great concern because authorities felt that the film had the potential to unleash copycat violence and anarchy, particularly with fans of the previous anti-social media depictions of the Joker. And sure, after seeing it I can understand how it could make people that feel marginalised identify with the villain's plight, but I am not sure that will be enough to insight anarchy in the streets. The Joker has always been a character that embraces nihilism as a means of escaping his perceived cruel and unjust world, but if Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Jared Leto didn't get the downtrodden lashing out, why should Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal be any different?
Well, I cannot deny that when I went to see Joker and a man stood up at the front of the theatre at the beginning of the movie and shouted out to the audience- "We all live in this society" that my heart didn't leap into my throat recalling the mass shooting that occured in America at an airing of Batman - The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. Yep, all that pre-talk controversy did get to me and for a moment I did perceive potential danger and frightening social disorder.
And I cannot argue that Joker is undeniably relentless with its portrayal of the beaten down underdog. There is literally no relief for poor Arthur Fleck (aka Joker) in this movie, he is the most insanely tragic character to grace our screens in a long while, and being a DC comic character, this film is going to reach a wide and greatly varied audience. And contrary to his title, he isn't very funny at all, he's actually extremely sad, socially inept and painfully awkward. He clearly has a range of anxieties, suffers from severe depression and evidently already has a mental disorder that is not being treated correctly. How can we not feel sorry for this invisible and pained character? This film is gut-wrenchingly upsetting and we eventually just accept his complete breakdown as an inevitable consequence of his conditions. There is nothing funny about that at all is there?
However, this whole 'pushed to the end of my limits' character arc is not new or original, it has been done before. Martin Scorsese did it with Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and Joel Schumacher did it with D-Fens in Falling Down and no-one took the streets and shot up the world to hell in support of those characters either. And maybe that's because all of these characters had lost their minds, they were not sane and they were not in control of themselves, and to assume that awake and intelligent audiences are going to become gun toting loons after seeing Joker is of course ridiculous, but we also cannot ignore that to some already abused and unstable viewers that the fantasy of becoming a hero to the powerless and abused, even if it means being feared, could be perceived as appealing.
However, if we are going to start inciting DC comics as a call to action for unstable sympathisers than we would also need to address all of the other forms of nihilism that exist in the media and the music industry today in order to really explore the influence of villains in our current society. Let's be real, Joker isn't funny, but the ugly side of life isn't and it never will be. Will it make people rage against the machine? I honestly doubt it, but stranger things have happened, who knows? Maybe a Disney movie will trigger someone one day.
Mostly, I think that what people are afraid of in regards to this movie is the fact that they will indeed identify with the dreadful oppression of the downtrodden and mentally unwell; and the lack of resources that are made available to them, which is really highlighted by this film. Rather than making people grab their weapons, I would hope that this empathy would instead make them feel called to address what is going on in our society today for us to identify with this high level of neglect and what can be done for the marginalised and neglected in the form of prevention. Like I said, woke audiences will see this movie and its message in a very different way, and perhaps a more proactive way overall than anyone could have ever expected.
Release Date: 2019
Rating: MA 15+
Running Time: 121 mins
A psychological thriller and a DC comics Joker origin story, this movie really divided audiences and critics alike with it's violent and often disturbing portrayal of mental illness. However, love it or hate it, this is one of the best performances of Joaquin Phoenix's already impressive repertoire and probably the best DC comic movie so far. Directed by Todd Phillips who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver, Joker premiered at the 76th Venice International Film Festival where it won the Golden Lion award.
Arthur Fleck, a clown for hire with a mental condition, lives with his aging mother in Gotham City. As the city collapses under crime, unemployment, and financial ruin, the Fleck family like so many others, fall onto hard and impoverish times. After a series of unfortunate and disempowering events occur, Arthur suffers a complete breakdown and begins a mental and physical transition, eventually transforming into the violent and deranged Joker of Gotham City.
This is a chilling and plausible origin story that offers real depth and insight into the Joker character, as well as providing some new information about the Wayne family enterprise that Batman belongs to.
Phoenix delivers an Oscar worthy and completely engrossing performance as the Joker, which not only compliments the great work that Heath Ledger layed down years earlier in The Dark Knight, but adds yet another layer to this intriguing and genuinely disturbing character's tale.
FINAL SAY: My mother always tells me to smile and put on a happy face. She told me I had a purpose: to bring laughter and joy to the world.
4 Chilli Peppers