I really don’t want to be writing this right now. Not just because I wanna go back to crocheting tiny Avengers while watching Anna and the Apocalypse which is FINALLY on region 1 DVD. And it’s not because I’ve had so many different conversations about this film from so many different angles that I know it’s gonna take me a while and I know I’m not even gonna remember everything to cover. It’s because I really don’t want to revisit the mindset I was in while watching the film, one of discomfort and terror. Because while this truly is an incredible film, I cannot say I enjoyed watching it at all.
This film is already becoming rather infamous so I’m sure you already know what it’s about, gentle reader. Still, the rules in my head state I gotta give a synopsis in paragraph two soooooo Joaquin Phoenix plays the man who would become the Joker. Yes that Joker, the chaotic villain who terrorizes Gotham. But this isn’t a comic book film. It’s a realistic look at the psychology of what can drive a man to that level of madness. The fact that he becomes such an iconic baddie just furthers the illustration, but the reality is the way he’s depicted, he could be anybody, and THAT’s why I was so terrified.
I love films that get into the minds of psycopaths. That is a subgenre of horror that I eat up as much as I can, which is what really intrigued me here. But it’s one thing to be getting into the head of Patrick Bateman or Norman Bates who are very clearly living in a fantasy world. Phoenix’s Joker was grounded in reality. He seemed like he could be any guy on the street who received more negative reinforcement than the mental health care that was desperately needed. That everyman quality is what terrified me.
People are clamoring to keep the politics out of this film, but to me it’s screaming out about the need for accessible health care. This man was abused by his parents, disowned by the system, and full of self destructive behavior. He needs the care that is stripped away from him. Sure, a real person in the same situation isn’t likely to turn into the Joker, but he could be equally dangerous.
Also worth noting that there was an ominous vibe around watching the film. I didn’t believe there was likely to be an attack during a screening, but it was still a possibility in my mind. Two days earlier, I was at the theater and there was an early screening of the Joker. There were cops posted in the lobby and bag searches going into the auditorium. Opening night of the movie, I saw no such presence. I was eyeing every person who got up for a bathroom break or walked in late.
What I think is more likely than a screening of this film being attacked is a person taking the message the wrong way. Now I absolutely understand what the filmmakers were trying to do. They’re trying to show the systemic issues that can break a person, and they’re not trying to glorify him or make his actions seem justified. That doesn’t mean that everyone will draw the same conclusions from the film. I absolutely do not believe in censorship and I do want this film to be out there. I think it does draw attention to important ideas, but without the proper context that attention could come at a price. And frankly it scares me how many people are cheering over this film without talking about the underlying message of it. Did we all see the same movie? Were you not affected by it?
Switching gears. The inevitable comparison to Heath Ledger’s Joker. Heath is the ultimate, no question. And I really do prefer him having a mysterious origin (although Phoenix’s was never meant to be an origin for a character interpretation that would persist in the franchise). While Phoenix is real world scary, Ledger’s unhinged chaotic take is a scarier villain. The difference is that he clearly lives in Gotham, so he’s not a threat to our world. I guess I didn’t switch gears as far as I thought.
Okay fine, the cast. More than fine. Joaquin Phoenix gave a mind blowing performance. He’s def gonna be hanging around come awards season. I think Robert DeNiro was just stunt casting, trying to hammer in the connection to Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, so he didn’t have that much to do. I did love the ladies, Frances Conroy and Zazie Beetz (and I just thirty seconds ago found out I was pronouncing her name wrong in my head). I had some concerns with Beetz’ storyline, but it mostly course corrected by the end.
I think I’ve gotten all my points across. I truly truly hope that this film uses its powers for good, because there is so much potential for this villain to ultimately be the hero in the real world. At the very least, it should be starting some important conversations
Oh wait, one more lighter point to end on. The one part of the film that I found entirely unbelievable was that a Wall Street bro would know all the words to “Send in the Clowns” I’m a theatre kid, and I don’t even know that song
Joker – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/