In my first watch of Joker, I found the film to be an irresponsible and immoral glorification of an incel-esque man. The shoddy sensationalist and shallow look into the class divide felt like a poor attempt at studying a character that had nothing to study. What it did, was anger me and disillusion me with the conception of the film. I questioned its need for existence. I questioned the tone-deafness of Warner Bros in green lighting this film. I questioned myself if I could let art become a placeholder for inciting violence. It provoked a lot of thought. Then one morning, it just clicked. It clicked like the graphical image of mind-blowing in the backdrop of fireworks. It dawned, that Joker was meant to make me think of all these, all along.
The onion has many layers. It’s a vegetable that rewards with each peeling of a layer. The onion is also loved by many and hated by many, for reasons very much valid and then for reasons that make no sense.
Joker is an onion
It is that film that shocks you and is akin to the first layer of the onion. But if you try to take the bite of a whole onion, it would be the most disgusting assault on your taste buds. Joker works on the same platform. You cannot expect it to do everything. And that’s where its biggest strength and greatest weakness lie. and the fun part is, that deduction is fully dependent on your world view.
Joker is neutral. It presents to us a story. a story of a madman being tipped over that not so thin line that keeps us grounded and human. What you are presented with, is a story that is free from the influence of the judgement meted out by the filmmaker. Joker leaves you to ponder whether you feel disgusted at this man or see him as a messiah. It’s the outset and concept of an indie art house film that is stuck inside the body of a mainstream commercial adult entertainer.
Now what that does is leaves a lot of room for criticism. One would not be wrong if they say that the filmmaker’s judgement is a necessity for a film being given to the mainstream audience, an audience that laughs hysterically when Ed Helms is raped by a trans prostitute in Hangover 2. But I also understand the counter-argument that it is not the filmmaker’s responsibility to spoon-feed the emotions that one is supposed to feel when watching a film like Joker.
In the end, I leave with the emotions my worldview makes me feel. Of disgust of the way mental illness is stigmatized and leads to manifestations like Arthur, Of repulsion when Arthur uses violence as a coping mechanism, Of anger when the man beside me laughs like a diaper-wearing baby when Arthur forcefully kisses Dr Sally on the Murray Franklin Show.
But this begs another question. Should this chaotic agent of evil, a raping torturing mass murderer like Joker deserve this kind of a sympathetic story? Should people be praising and sympathizing with a man who would later go on to brutalize Harley Quinn and Barbara Gordon? I would say no. And that is the ultimate and only fault I see of this film.
Could Todd Phillips have done this movie with an entirely new envisioned character instead of Joker?
most certainly. But then we wouldn’t be having this discussion today and the hypothetical film would languish in obscurity until it gains one or two academy award nominations.
If you had the patience to read on until now, I will continue further. so grab some popcorn.
From a technical viewpoint, the film is a damn near-masterpiece. The uncomfortable framing by its cinematographer Lawrence Sher to the skin deep personal framework of the film by Todd Phillips are real assets, an asset that makes you feel like a helpless bystander who can do nothing but sit through.
But for all its worth, It’s Joaquin Phoenix and Hildur Guðnadóttir who helps the ascension beyond the realm of good.
A physical performance, Phoenix radiates negative vibes throughout every single frame of the film, that ultimately makes you question whether any other actor could pull this off. Hildur’s droning and percussion-heavy soundtrack is equal parts grim and malevolent. A simple soundtrack that works on levels that are anything but simple.
Joker cannot be taken at face value. Neither by us, the woke viewers, or the mainstream audience, who now stand to make inspirational quote pictures of this vile demon. To take it at face value is extracting a very wrong message, that seems to glorify the violence of its protagonist, that looks like a failed and shallow social critique, that builds upon the stigmatized image of mental illness in cinema. It does provide a more realistic and less idealized image of a golden spoon man like Thomas Wayne, and could seriously help form a more updated version akin to real billionaires of today. It provides a deafening critique of mainstream media that feeds off the insecurities of many. But all it does is touch upon these issues. Because it is not a critique of society. Do I wish it were? I do.
But It’s not any of those. It is just a deeply personal yet unrelatable story of a broken man, whose personal anger was turned into a movement and accentuated into a riot to fit the personal agendas of others. and it hit deep where it needed to. But it also walks a thin line between validation of incel culture and a critique of it and all it takes is your view on the subject to decide where the puzzle fits
It’s scary when you take into account the kind of reaction the film evoke amongst the masses. The masses who are now praising the character Joker, idolizing him and worshipping him as a messiah, claiming to identify with the struggles of this man. A disturbing fact emerges as to why our audience is behaving the way they are. Why are we forgetting the canon stories of Joker, his brutal rape of Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke, or his constant abuse of Harley Quinn throughout his run? The Yang of Batman’s Ying, Joker is a despicable character, but somehow we are forgetting that at one indication of the character in a sympathetic light.
Where I am trying to reach with this context is that Joker brings forth another question later on, as to the responsibility of the audience in deciphering the stories being given to them. The power of cinema cannot be undermined, but we have given far too much leverage on the responsibility of audiences to behave and interpret better.
As comic book cinema enters a newer realm post the timeline of Avengers Endgame, scale took a backseat with DC’s newfound sense of adventure. And Joker presents an optimistic outlook of DC being a winner when they run in the race different from where the MCU is (not Marvel, MCU. Marvel has dished out Logan before Joker), where they have soared ahead far too much. I look forward to the new divergent path that DC takes, as much as I look forward to the interconnected grand entertainers that marvel builds. The Golden age of comic book cinema has just entered its second lap.
It continues the vein of darker grittier versions of comic book cinema that Logan started, and I hope that this isn’t the last we see of it. But hopefully, the last one where the protagonist is a canon rapist and murderer later on in his life.