It’s time to finally talk about Joker.
There’s really no point in having to introduce who the Joker is at this point. What is perhaps the most iconic comic book villain of all-time is resurfaced, re-polished and re-branded for the third time this century in this new dark, broody, dramatic film directed by Todd Phillips of… The Hangover franchise. Skepticism was high from the very first announcement. Sure, Joaquin Phoenix is one of the most prolific actors working right now, but with DC’s track-record at the time, it was hard not to flinch at the possibility of another sub par, under-baked, obnoxiously broody comic book film; Especially having come off Jared Leto’s atrocious adaptation of the character in 2016’s Suicide Squad.
The weeks leading up to the film’s release have done nothing but add more fuel to the already raging fire that is Joker‘s impending presence in movie discourse around the world. Now, with a Golden Lion win, a concern for an incel revolution, a couple awkward press appearances and interviews from director and actor, an influx of negative reviews from other outlets and the film’s release prompting theaters to elevate security measures; Joker is finally out to cause terror on the worldwide box office.
In short though, it’s good. Production-wise, it’s amazing; performance-wise, Joaquin Phoenix delivers my second favorite performance by a male actor this year; writing-wise, it’s lacking. It’s the only major flaw in the film, and admittedly it’s quite massive.
I’m a sucker for style. Give me great cinematography, tight editing a hypnotic score and I’m sold. Those are all fronts in which Joker does deliver. There is not a dull moment throughout Joker’s two-hour run time that doesn’t captivate its viewer and immerse them in the dark, grim Gotham City underworld. The film is filthy yet vibrant in the best way. Joaquin Phoenix, as I mentioned before, is brilliant as Arthur Fleck, our troubled, misunderstood protagonist whose quest for acceptance and understanding leads him down a dark, filthy path to crime and inadvertently spearheading a wave of civil unrest throughout Gotham City. Arthur’s descent isn’t gradual as we’re introduced to his troubled life from the very first scene and Phoenix delivers a psychotic, tragic portrayal of a man weathered and worn out by the very society he was born into.
The film has a consistent dreary, perilous tone which does more good than bad for it as a whole; I wouldn’t expect any less from a film about a man who feels hopelessly rejected by all facets of society. However, there’s an inherent emptiness in the film. Not in terms of making the audience feel empty or sad, but rather, there’s a lack of theme or statement. If we’re not meant to relate or identify with Arthur, then what’s the purpose? I get that it’s an origin story for Arthur– the Joker, and I get that his backstory is tragic, yes we see that; but, all we’re presented with is the idea that “society is corrupt” and “rich people are bad”, themes that have been worked through and through in better ways just this year alone.
The film also struggles with pacing towards the second of its three acts. At one point I checked my watch and was shocked to see that we were only halfway through the movie and still had another entire hour left. Luckily, the last hour is significantly better and more engaging so as to not make it feel that much more painful.
In terms of what is there thematically though, a lot of it makes you worry. Joaquin Phoenix himself said he didn’t want people to relate to Arthur, yet, I feel as though the film doesn’t exactly reflect that sentiment. It’s what’s caused the most uproar and concern among media publications and unrest in the public. Exactly what is this movie going to promote? What is it trying to say? To be honest, I’m not sure. The biggest fear here, is that some “loner”– a term most recently used to describe the real-life terrorists shooting up public spaces around America– will look at this film, take everything at face value, admire the Joker for bringing down those who troubled him and in turn, attempt to do the same on a crowd of innocents somewhere. It’s because of this that Joker feels as troublesome and as disturbing as it does.
Sure, the large majority of us understand that it’s simply a movie, it’s meant to entertain, not promote violence, but will everyone understand that?
In a time where we find our own nation in its own civil unrest, is Joker the movie we need? Probably not. It’s not the movie a traumatized nation deserves either. But where is the line between “just art” and reality. Life imitates art and vice versa, so what’s to say about Joker’s impact, if any, on our (oh God, don’t say it) society? I want to believe it’s just a movie, a very well-directed, well-acted movie. But with all the negative press surrounding it, the fear of another imminent tragedy, and the ever-expanding pit between two warring political parties, Joker feels bigger and more urgent than it ever tried to be.
Sidenote: changing the rating style.