Contentious. Divisive. Middling. Troubling. Explosive. Uncompromising.
Those and a tonne of other adjectives will likely roll-out of audience mouths come the release of Todd Phillips‘ JOKER.
Another descriptor which will be placed alongside this parade of words that will march upon us; Tumbling as people slowly digest the film into their cerebra.
I don’t know what to think of JOKER, and I think many will walk away feeling the same. But we can all end up on the same joke;
Art is subjective.
Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker.
It’s interesting to see your bias get torn apart in front of you.
“Expectation is the root of all heartache” as Shakespeare says, and I expect a lot from DC Comics. The majority of my love for comics is built around tales from their worlds, therefore so is my bias.
And while we have the likes of the Animated Series, the Arkham games and the late Heath Ledger‘s performance to build from (along with personal favourites like Romero and Nicholson), their cinematic universe has left me…wanting.
Yes, the likes of Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam! have gotten me back onside somewhat, but the hits with DC are lacking when compared to the misses.
And then the JOKER was serious.
Or at least that’s how it’s being marketed. I feel if you removed some beats which are centric to the character’s identity, you could call this film CLOWN and it would still work.
But it’s not about a CLOWN, it’s about the JOKER, and ultimately the unraveling of one Arthur Peck.
Sublimely played by Joaquin Phoenix, it’d be hard to say he won’t get an Oscar nod for his work as this feeble creature become monster. Almost in frame for the entirety of the film, it’s of note to see his shoulders so slender when he’s so heavily carrying the production.
Staged behind cinematography ripped from the 80’s, with grimy color-grading filtered over lens; The substantial use of yellow threatening to rot your insides like Flecks, as ‘palette de Joker’ creeps underneath.
Supporting characters exist merely to tell Arthur’s story, and you will see them under-utilised. Intentional? Yes. But when filled by a cast of incredible actors, it’s disheartening; Again, probably intentional. It also nods knowingly, with Robert De Niro filling the seat of a Late Night Host as the film screams “LOOK MARTIN (Scorsese)! WE’RE YOU!”.
Violence is unleashed as the thing that imprisons Fleck, and also frees him from his shackles; Burdensome and liberating. Visceral.
JOKER is uncompromising in its vision. It intends to make you squirm. While you may yearn to find empathy or justification, it won’t be found. All to be seen is a descent into the madness of a man who feels failed by the systemic folly of society. While brazenly playing with this failure, it also doesn’t do enough to speak out more around the very real world failings we have and growth in support we need.
I’m remiss to say this is a Joker film.
It’s similar to how I feel the Dark Knight Trilogy aren’t Batman films.
The Trilogy is a good Bruce Wayne story, yes. Therefore JOKER is a good Arthur Fleck story. While it may pin one of many to a character who normally lacks any, it does so with the provocation always intended by the Joker.
And maybe that’s the joke.
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I literally just hit random characters to get the rating. I feel this film leaves me falling, and it intends to catch me, but I'm unsure if the situation is threatening or hilarious.
It is madness imbued within film, lunged upon by Phoenix and bound tightly by Phillips.
It will be talked about. Argued about. Loved. Hated. Scrapped. Recovered. And placed back into boxes to be undone again in future.
Because that's the joke; Art is subjective.
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