Joker

Image result for joker poster

Here comes yet another divisive comic book movie from DC.  There have been many cries of controversy with Todd Phillip’s rendition of Joker, with people saying that this is a “dangerous” movie and that this is a bad time in our nation’s history for a movie like this to be released.  There are people who are concerned about who maybe inspired by a Joker movie to do terrible travesties.

I do not subscribe to those ideas as I am not one to ever blame the art or the artist for what someone may interpret from it.  The biggest question, for me, is … Is the Joker a good movie?  I had heard a mixed bag from a many of the critics so I really had no idea where it would fall for me.  Then, before I was heading into the theater, I ran into a co-worker who told me that they hated the movie.  I took my seat without any idea about what I was going to see.

And I loved this movie.

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) was a sad and damaged individual who was trying to get by in life with his job as a rental clown, trips to his therapist while taking care of his mother Penny (Frances Conroy).  It is clear from scene one that this man has a struggle with mental illness and that he is only hanging on by a thread.

It seems that one of the things that he is inflicted with is a laugh that he cannot control and that can come at the most inopportune times, particularly times of high levels of stress.

Arthur’s great wish is to become a stand-up comedian and he does what he can to make that dream a reality.   Unfortunately,  it appears that he is simply not that funny.  So one day on a train moving through Gotham City, Arthur kills three men with a gun given to him by a co-worker and events begin to spiral out of control.

Joker is a violent movie, but it is not anywhere near as violent as I had thought it would be.  Honestly, with the uproar over the social media concerns, I imagined that Joker would be much more violent and graphic.  There have been plenty of other movies more violent than Joker but those movies did not receive the scrutiny that Joker has.

The film is an in-depth character study of a man who is declining into madness and the world around him that apparently does not care.  The mental illness theme in this film comes right out of the headlines today and is probably the main reason people are uneasy over Joker.  The film does show that Joker takes those final steps into madness when he loses the ability to go to his therapist because of budget cuts.  The idea of aid for the mentally ill is vital to the story of Arthur Fleck.

As every review states, Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant as Arthur Fleck.  He is able to show you the side of this character that deserves pity and relatability without divorcing you from the fact that this is a dangerous psychopath that should not be pitied.  And at times you feel uncomfortable and maybe even a little disgusted when you can understand and relate to him.

The movie is definitely a slow burn and difficult to watch because it makes you as an audience member uncomfortable with yourself.  It does not give you a typical protagonist to cheer for and it does not provide you with the happy ever after that most movies do.  That probably shocked some people, but what do you expect when you are going to an R rated Joker movie?  Unicorns and flowers?

Watching Phoenix descend into the darkness was fascinating and seeing him transform into the Joker was amazing.  There are plenty of perfect “Joker” moments in the movie so when audiences were being warned that this was not the Joker they were used to, I think that was over exaggerating.  This was the Joker that I knew.

There are certainly many moments or scenes that borrow from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver or King of Comedy and the feel is even more emphasized when we see Robert DeNiro playing late night TV host Murray Franklin, however, these moments felt more like an homage to those films rather than a theft of them.

Joker is disturbing, but in all the best ways.  One of the more disturbing aspects of Joker is the mother-son relationship with Arthur and Penny.  Frances Conroy is wonderfully off-kilter in this movie playing the mother of the eventual clown prince of crime.  There is an inclusion of Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullin) which I am not sure was needed.  I think this was used simply to keep the connection to Batman, despite the Caped Crusader not being in this movie.  There is a strange thing that happens at one point that makes you question the decision making process of Todd Phillips, but it pays off later in the film.  There are many moments like that so I suggest you do not get yourself into a Nerd Rage before the film ends.  Give it a chance before you hate on it.

Joker does feel like it goes maybe one scene too far at the end.  Otherwise, I feel that they conclusion of this movie is very powerful and speaks directly to the divide between the classes, as well as the fate of mentally ill people in today;s world.  The final bloody image with the Joker is perfect and puts an appropriate period on the end of the sentence.  The extra add on feels like something that could have been dropped.  It felt almost like a post credit scene that was not after the credits and tacked on at the end.

I was not sure how I was going to react to Joker.  I have always loved the character, but the negativity that I have heard made me doubt how I might react.  However, I was completely enthralled with this movie and, despite some of the smaller faults, is one of my favorite films of the year.

4.9 stars

 

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