When I heard that an origin story movie was in the works for the Joker, I didn’t know how to feel.
On one hand, I was interested to see what direction the film would take, but on the other hand, I knew from the moment that I heard about the movie that I was not ready to sympathize with a character like the Joker.
Given everything that I know from comics and movies, the Joker is a deplorable and irredeemable character. With all of that in mind, I was intrigued more than anything and knew I had to see “Joker” when it came out in theaters.
The plot of “Joker” follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a struggling stand-up comedian and clown-for-hire during the 1970s in the fictional city of Gotham.
Fleck struggles with depression and other mental illnesses that consume his life in a time when mental illnesses and those who experienced them were cast to the outskirts of society to fend for themselves.
When three businessmen beat Fleck on the subway in response to his uncontrollable laughter, he retaliates by shooting all three men.
This starts a chain of events that plunge the city of Gotham into an uprising the likes of which the city has never seen, with Fleck at the center of it all. “Joker” puts forth a compelling character study into Fleck’s inner turmoil and fight to be accepted that has struck a chord with audiences across the country.
There has been a good amount of controversy surrounding the release of “Joker” and after seeing the film, I can absolutely understand why. When you look at a movie like “Joker,” it is really easy to see the message that the filmmakers were trying to convey about our treatment of those people in our society who have mental illnesses.
Throughout the movie, there are subtle and grandiose indications of Fleck’s descent into true madness.
Whether it is when his social worker pays very little attention to him, or when that same social worker tells Fleck in a very matter of fact way that her budget has been cut and he cannot meet with her anymore or receive his medications, the film goes to great lengths to get the audience to empathize with Fleck’s situation, and for many people in the theaters, it worked.
While I understand what they were trying to do here, you do have to look a little beneath the surface to see that message.
When you look at the movie from a very literal standpoint, it paints a very different picture. From a structural standpoint, Fleck is our protagonist. The term protagonist normally signifies the story’s “good guy” but this is not the case for “Joker.”
Nevertheless, we see the events of the film from his point of view and many of the heinous acts of murder and violence against innocent people that are depicted in the film are portayed as triumphant events.
When Fleck kills three businessmen, he unintentionally starts a citywide uprising of the lower class and finally gets the recognition and attention that he wanted all his life.
One of the last scenes of the film shows Fleck, now fully taking on the moniker of Joker, victoriously standing above a crowd of rioters wearing clown masks who see him as their leader. It’s a joyous scene. But, considering who the audience is feeling joy for, the movie left me with a strange feeling.
I spent much of the movie with a pit in my stomach, as there are several more scenes like this throughout the film. It just wasn’t an enjoyable experience for me. I don’t know how comfortable I am with a movie that casts a very understanding light onto serial killers, terrorists and the like.
I think “Joker” is an important movie for the genre of comic book movies. Just as “Deadpool” showed that an R rating can be used for comedy, “Joker” has definitively proved that R-rated dramas based on comic books is a viable endeavor.
This is a big leap for not only the genre, but also the movie industry as a whole, as more and more R-rated films are making their way into the mainstream.
This gives directors much more creative control in telling the story they want to tell and takes more decision making out of the hands of the studios, which is always a good thing.
Given all that I have said about this movie, I still think that people should go see it. “Joker” is an incredibly well put-together film.
Phoenix does an amazing job embodying the titular character. He still can’t hold a candle to Heath Ledger’s famous performance, but that is just my opinion and beside the point.
It is an interesting conversation piece, and everyone whom I’ve talked to about it has had completely different takes on what the meat and potatoes of the movie’s message really is.
“Joker” isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea — it certainly wasn’t mine — but if you had any inclination to go see it you should, if not solely to understand what everyone is talking about online.