Sold as a more grounded comic book film, an origin story. While does have scenes of stand-up and plenty of laughter, Joker (2019) is at its core a dark psychological crime drama. The first live-action theatrical film in the Batman film franchise to receive an R-rating. A lot has been written already and Joaquin Phoenix’s intense performance is the reason to watch. Has a realism that humanizes the joker, he is not just a bad person but you witness a troubled life which the audience can empathize with. We see his pained laughter, sort of a mask in a world where he is not liked but desperately wants to be. The disconnect and distrust of people is there on the screen, for example in the bus scene, a comment on our society. Disappointingly, the supporting characters, even Robert de Niro, aren’t given much screen time and are almost cameos. It’s Phoenix’s show.
Joker has been described as ambiguous in terms of the mental illness Arthur suffers from but the story is actually heavy-handed, about a man who isn’t loved and has never been happy, which in terms of psychopath characterization is a cliché. I can understand why Joker has been criticized as depicts someone with mental health problems as a danger to others. Most mentally ill people are not dangerous and the film unfortunately sells the negative stereotype. The film is also controversial for portraying a sympathetic homicidal loner, and how the unemployed could use violence and the media to enforce revolution and revenge, against the society that let them down. But obviously the joker is not a heroic figure, he is a villain we get to known beneath the exterior. I like that the story tries to understand Arthur Fleck’s frustrations which I think is important so we can offer help to these people. That said, I did also feel the story tries to evoke an emotional response from the audience at every opportunity, so you could easily accuse the character study of being manipulative in its attempt to win our empathy.
You could argue the substance of Joker (2019) is the sum of its influences yet the commentary about the availability of guns and health care is highly topical. Society and the system is also the villain here, causing Arthur to lose his way. The Gotham media is also at fault. As the Guardian wrote “the Gotham press eagerly spins (…) first killings into a city-wide “kill the rich” class war”
Joker was partly inspired by Alan Moore’s graphic novels V for Vendetta (1980s) and Batman: The Killing Joke (1988), the latter depicts the Joker as a failed stand-up comedian. Taxi Driver (1976) and King of Comedy (1982) are two other influences. To me, doesn’t reach those heights, the supporting cast is not as memorable as those films, and we’ve seen 100 times before the victim of a troubled past. Scorsese’s films did not deliver easy answers.
To sum up, Joaquin Phoenix manages to put a fresh spin on the joker with his mannerisms and laughing at inappropriate moments, and the script does have some arresting quotes, even if the victim aspect feels a bit clichéd and manipulative. Phoenix’s performance differs from Ledger and Nicholson with more innocence, pain, and humanity, and his work deserves a higher rating than the film itself.
Favorite quote: ”Those who have made something of our lives will always look at those who haven’t as nothing but clowns”.
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome