I had so many thoughts I wanted to share after seeing the Joker. And being full of so much to say makes this one of the more difficult reviews I’ve written. But I feel passionate about what I have to say, and I feel like a lot of other critics are ignoring the larger conversation that this movie shines a spotlight on. The Joker isn’t an easy film to watch, but I will argue it’s the most important film of 2019. And here’s why…
You’re either going to enjoy this film or hate it. There will be few fans that fall in-between. Joker centers around the most notorious Batman villain -- before he became a villain. It takes us into the world of Arthur Fleck and paints the picture of why he is the way he is.
The Joker Review: A Larger Conversation
Full disclosure -- there are minor spoilers in the below review.
Taking a look at mentally unstable individuals and why they do what they do (or what they did) has clearly been something in the zeitgeist in recent years. We’ve seen so much of it. There’s a desire to know the unknown… to understand the incomprehensible. Understanding the brains of serial killers falls into this spectrum. There’s been no shortage of Ted Bundy or Charles Manson showing up on the big and small screen over the last 24 months -- even podcasts exploring unsolved serial killings. Netflix’s Mindhunter was binged by fans and critics alike. They were all curious. Why do people turn out the way they do? Is a person born “evil,” or do they become “evil”? Todd Phillip’s exploration of this with Arthur Fleck (played masterfully by Joaquin Phoenix) paints an uncomfortable picture for audiences across two rather difficult hours of cinematic perfection. However, the analogy of this origin story is so much larger and more important this film itself.
The character of the Joker fits seamlessly within the profile of what we sadly see on a fairly regular basis. A white boy gets bullied or abused, his father is usually absent, he has an unhealthy/nonsupportive relationship with his mom (and tends to live with her well into his 30’s or 40’s), and then he just snaps. The Joker, while an incredible film, paints the analogy in an exaggerated manner of a conversation that needs to be had. How can society shift to prevent individuals like this from hitting this breaking point? The importance of simply being kind to everyone you come into contact with couldn’t be a stronger message here. You don’t know the battles that someone else is facing, and society shouldn’t make it worse for them with bullying or teasing. Words matter. Actions matter.
A number of critics seeing this film are complaining that the Joker is boring (which I don’t understand if we were watching the same film? Boring? What?). And others are complaining that the film glorifies violence or has unnecessary violence in it -- thus making it a bad film. Let me first start by saying that I’m not a fan of violence in film. I’ll frequently turn away from the screen when it’s difficult to watch. But I don’t feel that it’s over the top or glorified in this film at all. I feel that as uncomfortable as it is to watch, it’s relevant to this story and the evolution of this character. He keeps getting pushed; he keeps getting treated horribly -- all of this on top of a brain injury that he suffered from pretty horrific causes. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to watch, but this story happens in real life. You can’t just sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. You need to understand it, and there needs to be a conversation about it -- so that our society as a whole can change, and we don’t have to be afraid of when the next mass shooting will happen.
That’s my rant. That’s my two cents here on why I feel this is an important film. A film that people should see -- and should have a conversation about. This is an important topic. It’s not one that should be swept under a rug because it makes you uncomfortable.
Joker Review: What I Liked and Didn’t Like
As much as Joaquin Phoenix deserves the Oscar for this film, I don’t think he’ll win. He’ll be nominated, but mental health isn’t a sexy conversation that Hollywood wants to have, which is a shame on multiple levels because this is arguably Phoenix’s most impressive performance of his career. From his physical transformation to just inhabiting this character so thoroughly… This is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen by an actor in any film. He’s painfully perfect -- and you lose him as an actor in this character in the same way he lost himself in this character. Joaquin Phoenix is Arthur Fleck in this film. I never thought I could see another actor bring justice to this role in the way that Heath Ledger did. And while I don’t think you can compare the two versions of this character, they’re both equally remarkable.
What didn’t I like? I don’t have a single thing to complain about here. The script, the acting, the cinematography, the score… everything came together seamlessly. All of this being said, Joker does take some liberties with the narrative of Thomas Wayne that some diehard fans may not appreciate. I can 100% see how the tweaks that are made may anger fans, but if you can separate this film from the comics -- as it should be -- there’s not much here to dislike. That being said, if you disagree with me -- please share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to better understand where people are coming from that don’t like the film -- as I simply don’t agree that it’s “boring” (by the way this is what multiple publications are calling it).
Joker Review: Overall Thoughts
I enjoyed this film, but I don’t know many other critics that feel the same. I fully understand it’s difficult to watch, but for the reason that it’s difficult to watch is what makes it important. Let’s have a conversation around it. How can society help with mental illness? Let’s teach our kids the importance of being kind and not bullying those that are different or have unfortunate situations. Let’s be more compassionate world that wants to help. Sure, that’s not always enough to stop horrible things from happening. But it 100% makes a difference, and this film does an incredible job of starting that conversation.