Spoilers will go off with a smile.
Here’s a word of advice. The best way to see this movie is to stop reading now and go see it yourself. This is one of those movies that will stick with you. It does have influences from other movies, but so does every other movie you’ve seen. Now, it is a violent film about a very troubled man who takes highly questionable decisions. The movie does not shy away from assigning real trauma and it rarely tries to paint itself as a comic book movie. This is not going to be a comfortable movie to watch.
And yet, it was impossible to stop watching. I know that sounds like I contradicted myself there, let me explain. Joker was directed by Todd Phillips based upon his screenplay co-written with Scott Silver. It is often described as a character study which expands on the character known as Joker from DC’s Batman comics. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) lives a crappy life as a part-time clown taking every miserable gig in a city where people are at each other’s throats and seemingly gentle souls like him are easy pickings. Make no mistake, there’s more to Arthur that the poor chum we first meet.
Initially, the movie seems to paint a rather humble portrait of a man trying to make ends meet while he cares for his ailing mother, Penny (Frances Conroy) and seems to cultivate a budding friendship with neighbour Sophie Dumont (Zazie Beets). But the world seems rather cruel to Arthur, and as he gets pushed more near his limit we start to see frightening layers beneath the calm surface of what seems to be an everyday man. Add to that a rich man by the name of Thomas Wayne, who’s also a candidate for mayor. Wayne was Penny’s former employer… and possibly something else.
Luck is not in the cards for Arthur. He’s going from being down on his luck to left behind by the system. He often fantasizes of coming onto the late night show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). However, we barely get to see him started as a stand up comedian. Besides his health issues, he also has a condition by which he laughs when he’s nervous or scared, which is something people cannot seem to emphatize but would rather ridicule. In his descent toward madness, the city that surrounds him seems to intentionally close every other door for him.
Is it socially irresponsible to depict a city on the verge of civil breakdown? Let me be clear here, Arthur has issues. He’s not entitled to catching a break. He often sets himself up for failure and when it comes, his resentment and anger at society is not justified. He often pursues the dream, without a plan, without a compromise. He could be looking for other jobs, looking to re-educate himself or moving out of the city altogether. Of course, it wouldn’t be a movie if he did, but what I’m saying is that once he ends up being attacked by three well-to-do wall street types and kills them all, there’s a transition here. The movie plays it like the only alternative from being a victim is becoming a killer.
Yes, it’s a movie with a highly problematic protagonist and not-really-airtight justification. It’s beautifully shot. We see Arthur’s face in differently coloured hues, as the several faces of what will be revealed to be his real face. The cinematography is rather amazing to watch. The acting is top notch, specially Phoenix. De Niro is ok, he’s almost playing himself for the most part. Then again, he’s supposed to be in camera most of the time, so he’s mostly his late show persona. The influence of Martin Scorsese is obvious, specially Taxi Driver, which has been mentioned by most reviewers. I’d also have to add King of Comedy which should also be obvious with De Niro now playing the role of the host instead of the comedian.
It has small things that don’t impact the overall satisfaction. Obviously, it has violence but reserved to a few scenes. The ending does add one or two additional finales that seem unnecessary and could have stayed in the cutting room floor. It doesn’t need to be canon, so adding that scene with… Ok, massive spoiler here… The Waynes getting murdered didn’t really add anything to Arthur’s story. That one didn’t need to be there. I understand why it is there, but it’s not relevant.
Highly recommended specially for moviemaking fans and movie buffs. That’s not to say it’s not problematic, but cinematically speaking it’s really well done and handles it’s material rather well. It doesn’t shy away from pointing the camera at violence, which it frames in a rather brutally artistic way. It does seem to paint class warfare as the only possible outcome of strife. Whether that is a socially responsible thing to do or inadvertently fuelling the flames, I leave for other people to decide. It is definitely a film worth your time and will give a lot to talk about, but I understand that it is not for everyone.
That will do for now.