It so happens that as I write these lines, I have a terrible headache. So I can't gather my thoughts enough for the third installment of my discussion of motivations and ideologies and actions, but I think I'm good to write what I'd promised- my review of Joker! Still, if any sentence seems incoherent, accept my apologies in advance.
By now I'm probably one of the last ones to do such a thing, but why not. There will probably be spoilers in this text, so be warned.
Another warning I should give is that I am not a superhero fan in the typical sense. There are some stories and characters I like and enjoy, but I am not enthusiastically within the fandom, so to speak. So be advised that if you are, you might have different insights to my own.
So, Joker is through and through an origin story. It is given to us through the point of view of the man himself, Arthur Fleck, who (spoilers?) becomes Joker in the end. It is, of course, the POV of an unreliable narrator since it's clear from the get-go that Arthur Fleck is mentally ill with clear bouts of hallucinations to say the least. It is a fitting approach for the character of Joker for sure, and it allows for everyone to pick and choose what to believe- in many ways, as many have said, it remains a ‘multiple choice’ of a past.
Let's get the basics out of the way:
Joaquin Phoenix's performance in this movie is excellent.
The movie itself is beautifully shot and each frame is a study in composition and symbolism.
The other performances are good enough but this is Phoenix's movie to carry. Everyone else is a satellite to react to him or cause him to react.
Is the movie worth a watch? Absolutely.
Is the movie a thinly (or thickly) veiled call to arms for all white supremacists to rally? No.
Now that's out of the way, here are some thoughts: I do believe that if not for the histrionics in social and actual media surrounding this movie, and the dreadfully misplaced identity politics, Joker might not have had the clout and profit it does now. It's not that it doesn't potentially deserve it- it's simply that the sheer attention brought the recognition, rather than the quality. I have seen quite a few movies recently that share Joker's level but they lounge in obscurity.
Why did it generate this level of anger? I believe it is because in this age of labeling and quick condemnation, this movie underlined issues that haven't yet got the ‘green light’ of being in the front and center of social discourse. It's not yet ‘cool’ to talk about mental illness and social inequality with a view to change the situation. The narratives about self-worth and the capacity of the capitalist/liberal system to reward merit that existed since the Industrial Revolution still remain prevalent today.
What is this movie about, beyond the origin of a comic book villain?
From my point of view, it is about criminal negligence. Any person working in the mental health sector will tell you that one of the biggest categories of abuse is also the one most swept under the rug: NEGLIGENCE.
Not only within families, where children are abused by negligent behaviors (which often are coupled by actively abusive ones) but within the system itself.
Many have lauded the movie for showcasing how budget cuts to healthcare and especially mental health care is detrimental (Arhtur's spin into madness and hallucinations happens after he abruptly stops his medication and sessions), and I agree. However people don't seem to notice a very appalling fact as it is revealed within the movie: Despite the fact that Arthur was found so abused by his mother's boyfriend that it is likely some of his mental issues are due to the beatings, with his mother aware and passively standing by, he is still made to stay with this very mother that allowed the abuse to occur.
Arthur's mother is also quite verbally abusive in a poignant, if indirect manner. If in her waning, weak years she can drive derogatory barbs into her son with ease, one can only image what she could do when she was younger and more able.
There has also been some decry on the portrayal of the Waynes, that they seem cold or even callus and uncaring as opposed to their usual portrayal in the Batman lore. However, this is a movie through the POV of Joker. He is a member of Gotham City's underclass, or working class at best. We see what he sees when the Waynes or anyone from social classes above him interact with him. And if that is an ugly picture, it's because often that's how it is in reality: just listen to any politician talk about the people when forced to justify going against the popular mandate or popular demand. That's when you'll see glimpses of how people in the ruling classes think about all the others.
And I was impressed that this movie would show us that, without actually making Arthur Fleck seem a martyr. And he doesn't, because it's only normal, for example, to rush a creepy guy that randomly sticks his fingers into your child's mouth. You won't be gentle with him, he's a threat. And yet, one can't help but wonder if the threat would be dealt with in more gentle manners had Arthur been a little more well off, and looked a little more socially equal.
In my opinion, the wave of anger against this movie is because it holds up a mirror to our society from an angle it's not ready for yet: that we are negligent of very real problems that give rise to very real social issues, and prefer to sweep them under the rug or write them off as the fault of those suffering- because if they suffer then surely they must “all be clowns”.
Some say that the Taxi Driver said it first, thirty years ago or so. The sad thing is that what Joker is saying is still a thing.
What is still sadder, is that society's rationalization for its existence hasn't changed since the time Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol.
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Nov. 23, 2019
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