Joker — a review
Amidst a sea of conflicting opinions, let me be the one to review the film, “Joker” for iPinion Syndicate. I’ve seen it twice within days of each other and it sits deep in my psyche. As a writer, I strive for no unnecessary scenes, no conversation which doesn’t move the story forward. Even in articles, I rely on my editor to pare down the extraneous but I am afforded pages for exposition. Film is different. Time is tight in the film world and isn’t afforded the luxury I have to create a believable story.
Looking at the structure of the movie, “Joker,” each scene is essential to the story, which is what has led to Joker’s insanity. This isn’t part of the Marvel Franchise and it shows. It has a sharp script which leads the viewer to empathise with the main character, even though he has a brain injury which has led to severe mental illness. His inept interpersonal relationships, due largely to his mother’s control and abuse, implore the viewer to pity Arthur, the persona before he becomes Joker. We see him as a man who wants to be taken seriously. One who needs to be heard and helped through his depression and who has all the ‘normal’ needs and desires we expect of a human being. This social outcast ends up fantasizing and entering a state of delusion about a romantic relationship with his neighbour. We feel for him. We want him to experience love and happiness after all, his initial raison d’être is to bring happiness and joy to the world. His ambition is not to remain a clown but to be a stand-up comedian. This search for happiness is one of the main themes which run through the film.
However, we are confronted with Gotham City at its most violent and dystopian. Through self defence, Arthur becomes unwittingly the face of social anarchy, attacks on ‘the system’ and the affluent. He takes no part in this political mania. His personal life is full of sadness, deceit and disappointment, as we witness his gradual decline into madness.
Both times I have watched the film, I have been in awe of the cinematography, sets, locations and action. Yes, Joker is violent in places. It is also tender and loving, a mix of what life in today’s society, let alone Gotham City, can offer the individual. I was captivated from the first second through to the last and rarely have I seen a film of such complete excellence in film craft as “Joker.”
Joaquin Phoenix is magnificent in what might be his most powerful performance to date. He actually takes a social misfit, one of the unloved of society and through impeccable timing, mind-blowing acting — both physical and psychological — and good direction, he draws the viewer in to empathise completely with the character, Arthur, and even as Joker. When he asks for good manners and respect in a lawless society, we are with him. I won’t offer a spoiler for the ending, but suffice it to say, it does not disappoint and with only brief references to the Batman stories, the film as a whole grabs you, challenges you to empathy and yet, conveys darkness and sorrow. Despite the love-hate relationship we seem to have with this film, some, ridiculously, accusing it of incitement to violence, Joaquin Phoenix deserves, undoubtedly, an Oscar for his magnetic skill and talent which is clearly on show in every scene.
For me, it does not incite violence but begs the question of how we view mental illness as a society and how, when some mental illness is left unchecked, it can lead to terrifying outcomes. It also shows how depression can affect and torture someone, never being able to find happiness or a sense of self as this is masked by medication. Arthur stops taking his medication and feels better, feels real and although ultimately becomes delusional and violent, develops a sense of self. To what end do we remove a sense of self in those we deem should be medicated to conform in behaviour with the majority? Joker’s proclivity to laugh at inappropriate moments stops being something ‘wrong’ with him as he stops his medication and he identifies the behaviour as being the real him. Not every person with mental illness will drop into insanity. It is clearly shown in the film that Arthur has endured a brain injury as a young boy. This contributes to his mental illness as does a history of abuse and neglect. Is Joker a reflection of some of the single white male perpetrators of aggression and even murder? Perhaps, but more than anything he is a reminder of the need to be accepted and loved, the need to be nurtured as a child and respected as an adult.
Go and see it. Make up your own mind but remember, it’s a short step for many into reacting to the frustrations of life. In a parallel universe, might you, with the same background, wreak havoc and spiral into madness? Think about it.