'Joker' Is A Beautiful, Angry, Plea, To NOT Be Violent
The buzz from Todd Phillip's "Joker" has ranged from being called "pernicious garbage" to "a disgrace to DC Comics" yet also being hailed as masterful by others. One thing that can be said for sure is that "Joker" is creating a conversation with the likes of which a commercial property hasn't had in decades. The responses all from legitimate critics whom I respect have been mixed in a way I have not seen varied in years. Either they were head over heels for the film or physically sickened by it. Out of the failed desperation from copying what Marvel has done with "The Justice League," DC invested in an art film based on something popular. The auteur they found to be its daring helmer, the "Hangover" guy. The decision to hire Todd Phillips could have been a laughable disaster. Contrarily Phillips made a Scorsese homage that's not afraid to take the bold challenges many filmmakers cower away from these days.
Phillips doesn't play his own best publicist when claiming in a Vanity Fair article that his turn towards the dramatic stemmed from "woke culture." Overall he argues that anyone can be offended by comedy films, thus making whatever comedic picture you create irrelevant. As Heath Ledger's Joker would say, "very poor choice of words," but I understand the sentiment ever so much more clearly after witnessing Phillip's film. "Joker" isn't the least bit concerned with offending you, nor is it trying to. It's showing you a world that has stemmed from the hatred that has taken over our political landscape. While we hide behind the guides of political correctness, we place a fake smile on our faces. We pretend that we're living in a utopia with our false sense of politeness. Meanwhile, the Trumps of the world go out of their way to beat the everyman down. They claim they're trying to protect us from the bad guys while we all know for damn sure who the real bad guys are. Though mentally ill and wrongfully violent, Arthur Fleck knows how imperfect the world is yet is unable to maintain his inner rage.
Set in an era-less era between the 60s and the 80s, "Joker" reminds us where the world went wrong once Regan took office, corporatizing everything while we did nothing but consume to our heart's desire. The imagery of revolution is ripped straight from the newsreels of the 1960s protests. After the 70s, America was tired of protesting, so Regan told everyone to go shopping, have a good time, forget about your trouble, big brother will take care of you. As Travis Bickle once said, "all the king's the horses, and all the king's men couldn't put it back together again." Arthur is a reflection of the Bickle's out there, unable to point their rage in an appropriate direction they displace it through grotesque fits of temperament. Through my lens, "Joker" isn't a call to action but a precautionary tale about the revolution that may ignite in this country if we get another eight years of Trump. Class warfare will engulf the streets like fire; our faces will be painted white with contempt and red with blood.
Eerily "Joker" has very much in common with "The Dark Knight Rises" aside from Brett Cullen existing in both cinematic universes as different characters. In "The Dark Knight Rises," an impoverished populace follows behind a manipulative, unreliable leader, Bane. The citizens are unaware of the bomb that will imminently go off, leaving nothing but dead bodies behind. With Nolan's film, it was a literal ticking time bomb. With Phillips, it's Gotham becoming a place so infested with crime and murder they'll need a hero to restore civility. Gee, wonder who that's going to be. Where "The Dark Knight Rises" inadvertently precited the conservative vote leading to the election of Donald Trump, who unbeknownst to the man himself even quoted Bane in his inaugural address.
"Joker" is fearing a Trump reelection and the fallout that will erupt afterward. Ironic. Despite trying so hard not to have any comparables towards comic books or comic book related movies, Todd Phillip's draws a direct thematic line to Christopher Nolan's final Dark Knight film. In a world where art imitates life, "Joker" imitates life which imitates art. Consequently, there's also a blatantly obvious tip of the hat to Heath Ledger's Joker, which I want to but won't give away.
My initial reaction to the film's usage of pseudobulbar affects I thought was manipulative in order to give the Joker the famous cackle he inhabits. The more I think about how he obtained PBA, however, the more it made sense to me not only in terms of the story but how even after "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," we still fail to address the mental well being of our citizens. If you're wondering why I haven't told you what pseudobulbar affect is, then it's because I'd be giving away a major plot point, if I haven't already by mistake that is. The thing that is important to note is that people will talk more about mental illness relating to gun violence opposing to what the film is trying to say. Despite its hatred, the message of "Joker" is one of compassion. Treat each other well. When in despair, we project our anguish onto others then try to find figures to blame for our violence instead of truly looking at ourselves in the mirror-like Arther Fleck failed to do. In this country, you're either a winner or a loser but never a person. If you're not a big success, whether it be a successful comic or a politician, then you're just a serving tray for people to place their medicine on. Take your pills, shut up, and pretend to be happy. In the meantime, have fun calling each other derogatory terms on the internet while trying to create a new figure to unleash an online mob upon.
"Joker" is a daring film that will be argued over for years to come. Its meaning will be dissected in eighty different ways, its usage of violence criticized, and the political firestorm surrounding it will live in infamy. Cinematographer Lawrence Scher's images will haunt your nightmares, and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir's stomach-churning score will scratch against your brain far after the credits roll. Todd Phillip's "Joker" is the living embodiment of a post-Trump era. One filled with hatred. The hatred in "Joker" is so intense it will either sicken or haunt you for weeks. If Joaquin Phoenix, Lawrence Scher, or Hildur Guðnadóttir don't obtain an Oscar nomination, then I'll go crazy myself.
If there's an innate fear of "Joker" causing gun violence, I will assure you yet also might anger you with the following. "Joker" is an argument for us not to give into our resentment or else we will tear society down, leaving behind nothing but tears and bloodshed. The picture, however, may come off to many like a call to action. The Joker is celebrated by many for his actions. When he snaps, he feels free as do we, but that's because this is a character study seen through a character's eyes. The same argument could be made for Scorsese's mob pictures. Where violence is a catharsis for Arthur Fleck, it's just a job for a Scorsese gangster, yet in those films, it's viewed as fun. Why aren't people protesting "The Irishman" then? The reason is because "Joker" hits home in a place that's too close for comfort. But we've had enough years of support in the standard multiplex. Having masses of audiences return to the cinema to see something that won't give them a good laugh, or fun jump scare, but rather an introspective look into our own societal problems is something lovers of film have been arguing for, for years. After 9/11, we wanted nothing but escapism. Thus we got "Harry Potter" Spider-Man" "Star Wars," then a rehash of all three of those franchises today. Hopefully, "Joker" can ignite some sort of spark to return us to the day of the New Hollywood movement. If you're triggered, I sympathize. You have a right to feel how you want to feel with this film. At the same time, however, the joke's on you.