Happy Christmas Eve everyone! For this special day, I’m going to review a special film that I’ve been wanting to do a review on for some time. Enjoy.
Joker’s shocking brutality and gritty allegory of mental disability, socio-economic disparity and class warfare places it as one of the most subversive comic-book movies of all time. But far more than that, it is a prescient reminder that our collective failures as a society to be kinder engenders great harm to those who we ostracize and discriminate; Joker’s origin is a painful metaphor for our inability to extend love and kindness that, over time, gives rise to the nihilism so infamously embodied by the Clown Prince of Gotham.
Heavily inspired by neo-noir elements from films like Taxi Driver, Joker is a powerfully magnetic and transporting film. Set within the concrete jungle of Gotham which is canonically inspired by New York City, Arthur Fleck’s daily struggles in every facet of his life is immediately apparent. I appreciated the slow-build-up because it builds the characterization of our protagonist. The film is so painstakingly sincere and earnest about depicting Arthur’s life that we become so intensely invested in him. Joaquin Phoenix’s unbelievable performance portrays the Arthur’s desperate grasp at fleeting happiness in the face of overwhelming depression. The beautifully improvised bathroom dance sequence right after one of the most traumatic experiences characterizes Arthur’s heart-breaking and momentary grasp of comfort. This liberation found in the point of no return is a sad rapture of a broken soul and hauntingly foreshadows the creation of his iconic persona.
“What’s so funny?”. – Psychiatrist
“Hmm, You wouldn’t get it.”- Arthur
And I appreciated the fact that the film chose to place his mental disability at the forefront of this film. It is a bold creative choice but one that sheds light on mental disability in a vital way. I would argue that it does not unfairly characterize or sensationalize mental illness. Rather, Arthur’s spiral into chaos is an indictment of society’s indifference and ostracism at large. The film’s depiction of a failing health system and the public demonization of people like Arthur are devastatingly accurate mirror images of our institutional condescension and elitism that continues to perpetuate health crises, irrational fears and misconceptions. It is a visceral portrayal of a man who so desperately wants to survive and be loved and is only met by the insidiously harsh forces of this world.
Perhaps the most devastating story-lines is Arthur’s confrontation with his past. The love that Arthur has for his mother is, like other aspects of his life, transfigured into a difficult coming-to-terms with his upbringing and childhood. In the climax of it all, we see the personal defilement and devastation in Arthur’s life so painfully portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix. Todd Phillip’s measured, emotional yet deliberate approach is at its most effective when dwelling on Joaquin’s uncontrolled laughing outbursts; It is both a rallying cry for help and also a self-deprecating surrender to nihilism.
With beautifully gritty cinematography, assured direction and an immensely moving soundtrack, Joker’s unadulterated portrait of a man on the fringe of personal trauma and public alienation is immensely disorienting and moving. The movie becomes an even greater clash between the personal and the public where Arthur’s non-existence slowly manifests itself in unforeseeable events that forever change the city of Gotham forever.
In the end, Joker humanizes the clown prince of Gotham while mythologizing his place in our society. It is both a tribute to society’s outcasts and a criticism of our collective failure to be kinder. While the Wayne Family is characterized as the chief perpetrator and symbol of capitalist elitism, the film calls all of us out on being complicit. I’d argue it is for this very reason that the film is so divisive. This comic book movie flips the script on deus ex machinas, cheesy cop-outs, ‘safe’ origin stories and scratch-the-surface implications. This one is uncomfortable, it is real and it will rock your soul. The film is essentially a mirror that reflects our own deficiencies and shatters the fabricated feel-good escapism that one hopes for in a comic-book movie. Joker is a subversive and revolutionary film that highlights, above all, how our collective indifference and ostracism of society’s socio-economically impoverished and the disabled can be so very damaging.