[Editor’s note: I am going to spoil every goddamn thing about this movie. Too bad]
Before we get started, my local theater had this sign out in front of it:
Life is too fucking weird. Paranoia reigns high. I guess considering the content of this movie and events of the past, this is just an easy thing to do to limit liability. But got damn man. I guess this is where we are.
Alright, on with the review.
But for reasons that I feel are completely different than what is already out there. But, i feel like a ton of my favorite reviewers are not doing a great job explaining the terribleness. I will make a humble attempt.
First, what works here. Obviously, Joaquin Phoenix‘s performance. Holy shit he’s a good actor??? Who would have thunk it? Even the reviewers that hate the movie talk about his performance. Its really the driving force here. Joaquin is Atlas holding up this world as best he can. And man he gives his all. Body and soul to this thing.
The only other thing that works here is Lawrence Sher‘s cinematography. The lens works in just about every seen, letting Joaquin’s performance eat the camera space to the point where most of the film is focusing on him. This works because the visual is so compelling.
Ok, now that that shit is out of the way. The bad shit.
Ill get the easy one out of the way. If you are watching this as a comic book fan, this film makes the stupidest decisions in the history of the character. Already from a comic book perspective, having a Joker backstory movie is a bad idea. Why take a character that part of the reason he is so menacing is that you have no idea where he comes from and give him pedestrian shitty reasons. This film posits that 1) He may be Thomas Wayne’s illegitimate son (thusly, Bruce Wayne’s half brother), 2) he laughs because of psychological trauma (physical damage?) he received from an abusive boyfriend of his mother that he doesn’t remember 3) he is called Joker because a late night talkshow host called him a “joker” because of his terrible standup act.
Doesn’t this just sound stupid. Imagine if they like tried to put these plot points in like Justice League or some shit. You would fucking hate it. But, this film isn’t trying to be part of the comic book mythos. This is much more like Logan. Its own story that just so happens to use comic book characters. So as a result, all of that is not really that important, cause that’s not the story here.
As far as I can tell based on where we go on this narrative journey, this film desperately wants to be A Clockwork Orange and completely fails at it. They are trying to make some meta commentary about all the mass shootings that we have been having lately. Several reviewers and defenders have described this movie as a mood piece about mental illness.
That is as wrongheaded as you can be. The movie begins and Arthur Fleck (Joker) is already insane. He has been institutionalized, is on medication, has a caseworker. No, this moie is a meditation on how you get from mental illness to mass murder, and it completely fails at that too.
Joker occupies a world where everyone is completely shitty. And I mean everyone. Everyone is shitty to the Joker. His mom, caseworker, coworkers, randoms on the street, his government. This movie bathes in nihilism and wears it as a coat.
Let me give an example based on the event that drives the rest of the movie. The Joker just got fired from his job for dropping a gun out of his pants in a Children’s hospital clown performance (The Joker gets jumped by a bunch of kids in the first 5 min of the movie, which is also a weird fucking scene in which these kids are screaming “YEAH BEAT HIM UP” in broad daylight. A coworker gives him a gun) . He is on the subway, with three wallstreet douchebags, and a woman minding her own business. The douchebags a drunk.
They do the sterotypical harass thing. One tries to hit on her. She ignores him. He starts throwing shit at her to get her to pay attention. At this point, Arthur’s condition flairs up and he starts laughing uncontrollably. The woman makes a hasty exit. The douchebags turn on him, start singing Send in the Clowns. They then beat him up. Arthur isn’t going to take it, and shoots one of them dead. Chases down the other two and kills them two.
Now, so far, this feels about right for the kind of event that starts the thing, but its what Todd Philips does with it that is completely stupid. Thomas Wayne is being interviewed as he is running for mayor, and he describes the type of people that would do this as clowns. Which, coincidentally, is the only identifying factor that they have in catching this murderer. That he was dressed as a clown.
This causes the PEOPLE in the city to dress as clowns and start protesting the rich and powerful.
Lets stop here for a second. What the good fuck. Really think about this for a second. Unless that girl came forward (you never see this character again and there is no mention of her again), all we know is three wallstreet guys who were drunk got shot down on the subway by a clown. That’s it. That’s all we know.
Why the fuck do people go all Fight Club behind this? It is completely unclear. The only context to make this make sense is the MODERN context. Not the 80s. Everyone hates the rich right now right? People are cheering anything to fuckover billionaires on twitter.
I thought this film took place in the Reagan 80s. We didn’t know how bad wallstreet was going to fuck the world. This makes no sense at all. It doesn’t even make sense in a modern context. If some dude decided to kill random rich people on the subway, would people really start rioting in the streets with signs like “Eat the Rich?”
This whole film is filled with these types of decisions. There is alot of “Why the fuck is this happening? Who are these people?” For a film that purports to be not-a-comic-book-movie and living in a realistic world, everyone is even too big of a douchebag for reality.
From that point (that train scene happens in the first 10 mintues), the movie is you stuck with the Joker while he has hallucinations, tries to figure out if he is Thomas Wayne’s son and prepares his next massacre. There is no hope. No light.
People talk a ton about glorifying violence in films. And I think that’s a lot of crap. Its going to be real hard to refute this one. Like even I Spit On Your Grave has a right over wrong. Like The Punisher is ostensibly killing criminals. This is Joker killing anyone who is rude to him for 2 hours as he goes deeper into the insane hole.
It is a completely unpleasent experience.
The end of the film is even fucking worse, where Joaquin has to give a speech on a talk show that is so cheap that it completely ruins the character. His Joker literally says “You want another joke? What do you get if you cross a guy who has mental problems and a society that shuns him? You get this” and he shoots De Niro in the face. I am paraphrasing cause the dialogue is even more cringe than that.
This Joker isn’t clever by any stretch. He is stupid as hell and clunky. This movie is stupid as hell and clunky.
A TON of reviewers describe this movie as having no plot. That’s not true at all. It has a plot. The plot is just fuck society, kill everybody, yay. Like even Alex de Large has some kind of commentary on society. Some kind of insight. Here the only insight is, everyone is shit so whatever fuck you. Start killing randoms.
Actually, lets talk about that right quick. Travis Bickle comes back from Vietnam, has PTSD, and is trying to keep his mind clear. Can’t do it. Tries to connect to the outside world, and can’t hack it. THATS a story about mental illness, and it demonstrates several times that Travis is not handling his shit the right way. Its very clever in the way shit doesn’t go right for him. Joker is like someone wants to make the last 15 min of Taxi Driver a whole movie. We skip ahead down the path and go straight to the killing fields.
Ok, I have thought long and hard about this. You know what this film actually is. This film is Downfall. And I hate Joker for the exact same reasons. You know Downfall. At least from this scene:
You know that scene. The film is the last month in Hitler’s bunker over three hours. Its just everything becoming unravelled while you hang out with Hilter. This movie sucks because I dont want to fucking hang out with Hitler. I dont get any insights from there. Its just boring, unpleasent. The acting is great. The cinematography is good. But got damn why make this movie.
I feel the same way about Joker. Like, I don’t want to hang out with this guy while the camera just bathes in his insanity. Downfall at least has a straight forward narrative while this thing meanders to its conclusion. It fucking sucks.
1/4 – This movie is trash. If you want a meditation on society’s abandonment of the mentally ill. There is a thousand movies about it. Go watch One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest. Skip this movie. Its poorly executed edgelord cringefest. It’s like 4chan was given a budget to write a film about how cool it is to just randomly kill people. #Sad.