- Katie Bell
Joker - 2019
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
I have no idea how to incorporate jokes into a review about Joker. Which I guess is the definition of irony...and irony is funny, right?
Joker is certainly no laughing matter. Why so serious? (...Sorry, I had to). Well, it tackles some really serious issues. But I'm sure you knew that going in. How could an origin story, about one of DC's most prolific villains (albeit painted with the brush of a victim in this film), not address intense topics? I have to say, I liked this aspect of the film. Mental illness and how it is addressed (or rather, ignored) by society, is at the forefront of the plot. The focus on mental illness (and at times, disability) develops audience awareness for groups of people who are often marginalised, whilst simultaneously causing viewers to empathise with the film's protagonist. Another issue that is addressed includes the concept that a person's future, prospects and opportunities are heavily influenced by their financial standing. The divide between the rich and poor is clear in this film and is nicely juxtaposed by the characters of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) and Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson). Essentially, the film attempts to convince us that if you're poor, you'll wind up like poor old Joker, and if you're rich...well, we all know how the story goes. I really liked that the movie addresses these issues. Truly and genuinely. However, there were moments when I was concerned about the potential for sweeping generalisations. Not every rich guy is a jerk and not every person diagnosed with a mental illness is unsupported and murderous.
The one part of this film that I could watch repeatedly, is Joaquin Phoenix. He delivers a phenomenal performance and I don't say that lightly. Joker is shot with a lot of close-ups; there really is nowhere to hide. But Phoenix doesn't need to. His acting invokes empathy in viewers (for me, from start to finish), and even though I don't agree with Joker's actions, I understand them because of Phoenix's insightful portrayal of the character. In addition, this film contains some really beautiful technical moments; the camerawork adds depth and symbolism to the story. Arthur sits in the centre of frame at several points, to highlight his isolation. Angles are used across the film to make a staircase seem insurmountable or a non-issue, depending on Arthur's head-space at the time. "Sunlight" is used repeatedly to exemplify moments of relief and almost-happiness...but not quite. Furthermore, the camera is used to highlight the aforementioned themes. At one point in the film, Arthur stands outside the Wayne mansion, filmed through the fence. The symbolism is clear: he is trapped in a prison, built by poverty, and littered with rejection and societal judgement.
(SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH - BEWARE)
As I'm sure you are picking up by now, this film is good. It's very good. It's taxing at times, but good nonetheless. However, I do have to mention something that kind of put me off. There are a few moments of Joker that require suspended disbelief to believe. The first being that there are budget cuts in the city of Gotham, and therefore Arthur loses access to his social worker and also his seven different types of medication. Budget cuts, I believe. Loss of access to a social worker, I believe. Loss of access to seven different types of medication that assist (possibly) in treating his mental illness after leaving a hospital. Nope, sorry. I don't buy it. Look, I can let this one slide. Arthur is proved to suffer from delusions at other points in the film, so it could be argued that this is another delusion and that he simply takes himself off his medication. I tend to think that this is me trying to talk the screenwriters out of a sticky situation, but I'll let it slide. The second I can't. At one point, Arthur delivers stand-up at an amateur open mic night. This is seemingly video-taped, and the footage is sent to his favourite television program, and then put on the air. No. Sorry. I'm not sure when exactly this film is set. An educated guess is that it's late 70s/early 80s. I'm guessing camcorders weren't incredibly cost-effective or readily available at this time, particularly in a city rife with poverty. And if you did happen to possess one, why would you use it to videotape an amateur stand-up comedian who you didn't enjoy? Furthermore, why would you send your copy of that tape to that specific television program? Or did this person make multiple copies? Were they so intent on humiliating Arthur that they sent a copy to every station? In the age of YouTube and mobile phones, this is an easy sell, but in the era of Joker, it seems like someone went to a lot of effort to harm Arthur, and possibly with no guarantee of reward. I don't know. Maybe I'm being too critical. Maybe there was a talent scout in Arthur's audience. The fact that the tape is featured on television, is definitely not a delusion, but I find it a little implausible (sorry).
One final thought, before I wrap this one up and go to bed. If you're a How I Met Your Mother fan and you're intending on seeing this film, keep an eye out for the Barney Stinson storyline (right down to Frances Conroy herself). You'll know what I'm talking about when it happens. This is one plot-point that did manage to put a smile on my face, although I'm fairly certain that it probably wasn't meant to.
This film is definitely worth a watch. Phoenix's performance is excellent and is certainly worthy of praise. However, I imagine this is a tough film to dedicate two hours to, if you're not in the right mood. I found moments of Joker really hard to view. I again, think this is a good thing. The issues addressed are really important, and deserve to be heard, but I'm not sure this is one I could take home and watch repeatedly. I also feel it's important to say that I don't think I'd ever need to, as it's certainly not a film that I'm likely to forget.