Directed by Todd Phillips
Written by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro and Zazie Beetz
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images
Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
“What do you get when you cross a mentally ill person with a society that abandons them?” - Joker
So many damn Jokers.
Picture it! Halloween, in the year 2008. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was released that summer to rave reviews. Go on and guess what the number one costume was... Go on guesssss. Ding ding ding, that’s right, JOKER! Everyone and the cat was a Joker that year. That Halloween, I had gone out to a goth club on the border of New Jersey and New York for my friend Mike’s birthday and we counted not one, not three… but thirteen self-identifying Jokers! I give these people credit though, they weren’t just all clowns. Some of them put effort into their costume - as you do on Halloween. There were Joker varieties: the classic purple suited Jokey, night nurse Jokejawn, bank robber Jokester and law enforcement Jokey. So many damn Jokers.
With Todd Phillips’ latest flick, Joker we have yet another harlequin to throw on the stack. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker, the story, this time, dives into the creation and back story of what would become the infamous Batman adversary. The focus being the role society plays in this creation by turning a blind eye to those in need.
So, this movie won the Golden Lion at Venice. Butttt, who is this mystery man™ Todd Phillips? I seriously had no idea who the guy was, until I IMDbed him. Allegedly, he makes movies. A laundry list of flicks that I have most definitely heard of and never seen due to lack of interest in his genre of filmmaking: absolute steaming garbage. It is the style of cinema that I actively stay oblivious to. It does not exist to me. When I saw that there was not one, not two but THREE Hangover flicks, I remarked, “When the hell did this happen?”
Initially I thought Mr. Phillips was just some new clown (ha!) that Hollywood was courting. Someone the suits could prop up, control the pointing of his finger and allow him to have the thrill of barking the word “action” every once in a while. When it comes to these superhero flicks, I often wonder how much is actually controlled by the director. Do they really have a vision for these things? The director title just seems like a formality. I don’t see these movies as art, they are more of just a cog in the corporate machine. I do not feel I am completely wrong with this theory, but also not totally right. I did not find the Joker to be deplorable as I was surprised that it actually did have things to say. However, Joker is not a masterpiece. In fact, I would say it is far from it. It’s more of a regurgitated film thing. A molotov cocktail consisting of Taxi Driver and King of Comedy set in a superhero world. Some have gone so far as calling this picture outrageous or unsettling. My question for these folks is: Have you watched movies before?
“Imagine it - ME on the telly.” - Joker
To be clear, I did not hate this movie or find it vile, but it is nothing extraordinary. It is surprising to me how much time is being invested in a film, that by next year we won’t even recall coming out. People need to get their priorities straight. There is more to life than a clown movie.
Which brings me to the meaning of this film. The message in this two hour tale was clear to me: People don’t care about other people. Society, which is defined as: “the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community” (thanks google), is failing. Everyone is out for themselves, which is causing others to be left behind. Especially those that are battling mental illness.
Arthur Fleck is one of those people, someone that others don’t give a shit about - a statement confirmed by his social worker. It is also further affirmed by his neglectful mother and absence of a father figure. After the social worker informs Arthur that funding is being cut for his treatment and care, it causes him to spiral down into an even deeper insanity… or does it? Without having access, he goes off his meds and later remarks something along the lines of not ever remembering to think so clearly before. The numerous medications weren’t just keeping him tame, but comatose.
Despite Phillips’ questionable and unwatched filmography, I found myself onboard with his Joker flick. I felt it was making a comment on today’s America. The fact that we, not only actively ignore situations of others but, choose not to be concerned about them. We allow people to sleep on the streets, not have the medications they need or the healthcare they require. I don’t believe this movie is asking for sympathy for a violent character, instead I feel it is trying to disgust you. You are not supposed to be proud of the Joker’s actions. His behavior is the consequence of a society that has turned their back. This does not justify his rampage, instead it should serve as a warning. His descent into destructiveness is something that we all are culpable for. We have stopped holding those in power accountable, which has caused a situation that has hurt those that can’t help themselves.
“I used to think my life was a tragedy - now I think it is a f*cking comedy.” -Joker
Before I crawl in my coffin for the final rest, I am sure there will be twenty to thirty more jesters that come my way. So many damn Jokers. Joaquin’s Joker, although I don’t condone his actions, I understand how he got to this point. This was not a character asking for compassion, he was trying to get by and attempting to make it within a society that had no concern to help him.
The saddest part about this movie is that Joaquin will be known for his portrayal as a clown instead of being remembered for his incredible portrayal in Lynne Ramsay’s movie. If I learned anything from the Joker it is: people love a spectacle, especially the media.