Joker 2019 review with spoilers
a guest Oct 18th, 2019 125 Never
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- Joker Review
- SPOILERS WITHIN
- Joker was an amazing film, I’ll get that off my chest first. However, don’t go into it like another “cinematic universe” film. Think of it divorced from those endeavors, much like how the Nolan trilogy holds itself in many ways separate from the going-ons of the current comics.
- “Joker” chronicles Arthur Fleck’s descent into becoming the Clown Prince of Crime himself. He’s an impoverished man suffering mental illness taking care of his mother by working a dead-end job as a party clown. He lives in an uncaring corrupt Gotham that has yet to receive its Batman which is basically the worst parts of 70s-80s NYC times 10. Everything slowly goes wrong, treachery abounds, and from the ashes rises one of the greatest supervillains in all pop fiction.
- Joaquin Phoenix is the man. You root for him when he gets a big break. You pity him when he’s bullied and harassed. When he laughs a real laugh, not an involuntary one from his “condition”, you laugh too. The levels of emotion and nuance Phoenix puts in is uncanny. Phoenix’s Joker is that awkward guy suffering from mental illness some suburban Ivy League college student would turn her nose up and say, “wow, what an incel”. Or that poor guy some wolf on Wall Street would knock over his change cup for kicks. You and I know Phoenix’s Arthur, we know him all too well as much as we hate to admit it. This affords a fresh take on the Joker that isn’t the Nicholson or Hamil Jokers that are dark showmen, or the force of chaos that is Ledger’s Joker. Phoenix does take inspiration from past Jokers, but his Mister J is one all his own, a very sad clown living a sad life until he gets a “superpower”.
- “Joker” is partly a dark reflection of the superhero flick we’ve all come to know (and love?). The protagonist gets a superpower, learns to control it, comes to grips with the responsibility of the superpower, overcomes a personal struggle, and then accepts a heroic destiny to wield it for good. Even the “Venom” film does this, but Joker rejects this premise wholesale. After a pivotal moment, Arthur realizes he has a power. He uses it sparingly, but he sees how his power has affected the world around him. However, Arthur needs to overcome himself to fully use “the superpower”. He has all these objectives on his list that if he just confronts this one person or just blames his ills in life on this one thing, he’ll have completed the basic superhero movie arc 101. The only problem is unlike the basic superhero film, Arthur’s “Superpower” and superhero movie arc are all twisted distortions fitting for a villain.
- Arthur Fleck’s “power” is being completely incongruent with his society, he is happiest and most fulfilled when he is not abiding by society’s rules, instead shaping them himself. When the audience laughs, Arthur does not. When nobody is laughing, Arthur is having a ball. When Arthur is in the thick of his delusions, he’s moving with purpose in his life. The best parallel is Albert Camus’ The Stranger. A novel where one hot summer afternoon a man shoots a stranger five times and when pressed for a reason why he did it or if he would abide by the laws of society and God, he rejects all of them. He did it because he felt like it. The Joker is a similar figure, he doesn’t fit in. But instead of the trite acceptance story of “be yourself” we see all the time, the Joker grappling with his incongruity with society learns “being yourself” won’t get you accepted by society and that really doesn’t matter. All those heroes and villains change, force, or persuade society into accepting them, which means societal acceptance still has a huge value to their heroic and villainous deeds. The Joker however will do things his way, acceptance or not, because the whole societal acceptance game is a comedy.
- Arthur spends the entire film trying to find a “reason”, thinking if I just do this my life will make sense. My life sucks because of these factors, I’m the victim, X is to blame. Every single time Arthur relies on one of these “reasons” he believes will be a silver bullet, he’s betrayed by it. He could play victim to his mental illness, but even then social services never listens to him anyway. He could blame the society in Gotham via Thomas Wayne, but he was not the father at all. He could fight for his mother, the only other person in his life, but he learns she too was delusional and abusive since his childhood. Murray, Arthur’s childhood hero, makes Arthur a laughingstock. Arthur cannot trust even his own convictions when he realizes he completely fabricated a dating relationship with his neighbor who we don’t even learn her name. Having a reason to fight has done nothing but betray Arthur and constrains him with spells of nihilism. He has to make excuses that conform him back to the society he’s alien to, “I have this condition”. Other times he lets himself be browbeaten by “reasons” with the cop out of nihilism. Give up and spend every day lamenting how alien you are because you still envy the society you don’t belong to. Once Arthur rejects society’s reasons and the suicidal nihilisms that accompany them when they inevitably betray him, he can wield the “superpower” of being the Joker and do his strange creepy happy dance.
- Devoid of those petty reasons we can now avoid the easy traps of this film and see everything in Joker-vision. Over the course of the film we walk two moons in the Joker’s clown shoes, and to do that we must see what Joker is not.
- Joker isn’t an aesop. In a way we’re trying to find meaning fruitlessly if we attempt to make it an Aesop or a pseudo-intellectual “movie with a message” like some Jordan Peele flick. It has strong hooks that speak to us “reason” people, but those are all red herrings. The Joker is not a lesson on our poor treatment of mental illness, compelling as it is. The services indifferently shoved drugs down his throat. The Joker is not a commentary on big city politics, corrupt as Gotham is. The Joker would sooner execute his activist-minded henchmen just for laughs.
- The Joker rejects the “edgy” philosophical junk-food faux-nihilism people seem to love these days because if he truly believed it, he would have remained Arthur the powerless excuse-making victim of unjust society instead of becoming the Clown Prince of Crime. Arthur’s suicide gag ultimately remains on the cutting room floor. Later he realizes he's transcended narcissistic nihilism because “guess I’ll die” requires the traitorous society to watch and affirm that open sadness. No Murray, you can die instead because it's my show, my society, and my reality, true or false. These failures of society imply a tragedy, but when you leave the society completely they really become comedy. You’re now on the outside.
- That’s where we as an audience come in. The funniest gags in this film are the ones where you’re not supposed to laugh. Initially we feel pity for Arthur’s pain, we gasp at his suffering. Then we see little funny things happen. Arthur, in the midst of a heavy scene, tells a witty joke with a wry face. It’s his release of exasperation with society and not an artificial made-for-trailers one-liner like the OTHER COMIC MOVIE GUYS. Sometimes the sheer circumstance of bad fate just gives us a comedic gem. Our pity is transformed into laughter, and now we’re laughing along with the Joker. All this society, revenge, self-victimization and quest for answers aren’t suffering, they’re hilarious gags in a cosmic comedy show!
- By the end of the day, chained to “reasons” and nihilism we would not get what’s so funny, but when we leave the theater, now we’re in on Arthur’s joke, and it’s a riot. If there was any slight I’d have against the movie is that sometimes it does get a bit heavy handed with its themes. However, this is a must-see movie for me, exceeded my expectations. Joaquin Phoenix’s metamorphosis from Sad Clown Arthur into Glad Clown Mister J is masterful. Give this man an Oscar!
- I give 2019’s Joker an “A”. Go see it!
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