Joker, the movie, a movie that has drawn controversy even before it was released. A movie that has attracted the sort of press that might make movie studios think twice before actually releasing it. A movie that was labelled as encouraging ‘incel based revenge fantasies’ and all sorts of other hyperbolic nonsense, was released on October 3rd worldwide.
So, just what was this movie like and was the criticism or hype or whatever other nonsense you want to call the press around this movie, worth it?
The Joker is a character that as any comic book reader will know is somewhat of a mad man, a clown who causes chaos and anarchy in Gotham for no apparent rime or reason, other than to get Batman to notice him and to fight. For the past decades, Batman and Joker have fought across comic book pages and there’s always been a sense of, you can’t have the Batman without the Joker. And this is something that the movie goes onto explore, but more of that later.
When we see the Joker at first glance in this movie, it is not as the makeup covered clown bent on destruction, but as an average man, named Arthur Fleck. Fleck struggles in the world, suffering from a variety of illnesses, with a shitty job, having to look after his mother, and deal with a shrink who doesn’t seem to give a shit. As the movie progresses, we are given subtle nods that everything isn’t quite right with Fleck, his laugh for one is seen as being part of a medical condition, but if one looks in his eyes during the movie, you can see a devil lurking beneath.
Fleck after being fired from his job is on the subway, when he sees three wankers bullying a young lady, due to his condition, he starts laughing uncontrollably, they come over to him and start harassing him. But unlike earlier where he curled up and took it, he kills all three. These killings inspire a movement of clown wearing protesters to take to streets, and inspire Thomas Wayne’s ‘clown’ speech.
Then there’s his relationship with his neighbour, in some scenes it appears as if they’ve become an item, it is only much later that you realise he imagined the entire thing, and that the paranoia and insanity of his ‘mother’ is with him as well. And so proceeds the laughter.
There is his comedy routine which fails, the piss taking that Robert de Nero’s comedy show host character inflicts on Fleck which backfires massively, when Fleck is so popular with viewers that the show is forced to invite him on. And it is here that we get a sense of the true nature lurking beneath the fragile man.
Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker goes on a rant about society, about how ‘people aren’t seeing one another anymore,’ about the out of touch elites, and the press and all sorts of other things, before eventually putting a bullet through de Niro’s head.
That monologue is perfectly pitched and seems to be holding a mirror up to our current society, and how it fliters through outrage culture and culture wars. As if to say: “Careful, if you keep doing this, look what will happen.” No wonder the mainstream press are terrified, their bread and butter is being exposed in this movie.
And then we have the finale of the movie, where one Bruce Wayne, walking home from the theatre with his parents is accosted by a man wearing a clown mask, his parents are killed, and the legend of the bat is perhaps born, thanks to Arthur Fleck.
The Joker is a movie that delivers on the promise of its trailers. Fleck is someone who is at turns sympathetic but also revolting. Joaquin Phoenix portrays the Joker in a way that someone as privileged and handsome as Jared Leto never could. There is raw pain in Phoenix’s Joker, and the movie is all the better for it.