When Todd Phillip’s Joker was announced, it fit well with the time of origin stories and remakes. However, when the film was released to cinemas, it showed that it was to the comic book genre what Jordan Peele’s Get Out is to horror films – a revolutionary spin that could change the genre forever. As said by Martin Scorsese, the new wave of comic book films are different to the cinematic films we are used to seeing win Academy Award upon Academy Award.
However, Joker is an insight into more than just how the notorious clown villain became the man he was as his origin tale has often bene left ambiguous. Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight was actually motivation-less, meaning that he was terrifying as there was nothing driving him apart from his love of chaos. With Joaquin’s Joker – or Arthur Fleck – we can see that he was a vulnerable individual who had felt abandoned by the society that was supposed to protect him.
Many of the criticisms raised because of this film are as below:
- Copycat violence
- Demonising mental health sufferers
- The battle of rich vs poor
The idea that violence within film/TV creates violence within reality is a phenomenon that has been discussed time and time again. However, I do not believe that this film has that as the intention – I believe that they are trying to show that the events of what happen to Arthur are what create violent notions within a person. When we first come across him, he is someone who is polite, reserved and cares for his mother but is ultimately beaten down by those that don’t understand him.
He reveals early on that he has a condition which means that he has uncontrollable bursts of laughter caused by a brain injury or by a neurological condition. The Joker’s laugh is an iconic part of his character and it is something that he later choses to embrace when he becomes the Joker at Murray’s show. Alongside this, he has negative thoughts, delusions and suffers with poor mental health even if he never fully provides a diagnosis with what is wrong with him.
Mental health is a key topic within today’s society, as it should be. In the past ten years, there has been an increased awareness on mental health and all of its forms. However, awareness doesn’t necessarily beget action which is what this film shows. Despite Arthur’s obvious mental health issues, he is cast aside by the mental health services when he is showing signs that he could do something dangerous – being sacked by his workplace for having a gun, saying that all he has are negative thoughts.
As Arthur’s mental health deteriorates as well as his life when he is sacked from his job, he is riding home on the subway when he sees three young men harassing a young woman. Because this causes an emotional reaction within him, he begins to laugh uncontrollably and detracts the attention from the young woman to him. The men begin to humiliate him and beat him up – all before he pulls a gun on them. This shows the dramatic change in Arthur’s character as when he was being beaten up by the youths in the opening scene, he took it. Now, he has been so metaphorically beaten down by society that when it physically begins to happen, he fights back.
This act creates the political sub-plot of the rest of the story – Arthur’s actions were monumental in his own genesis but also began an uprising in Gotham. Many assume that the ‘clown’ who killed the men must have been from the slums of society and was fighting back against their entitlement. In truth, they aren’t wrong. Were the film spun from the woman’s point of view, Arthur would have been the hero – but as we had some backstory, we know that this is the moment that caused him to snap. The rich men were acting entitled as they believed that because they were ‘being nice’ to the young woman, they deserved something back from her. This is another topic that has been widely in discussion recently – no means no.
Even though Arthur didn’t intentionally distract them, he began an uprising of society who noted that people die every day but it’s only when rich, young, ambitious men die that it reaches the headlines. Despite the fact that Todd Phillips said he didn’t intend for the film to be a political statement, it can’t help but be anything else with how realistic it was and how it was a screenshot of society.
However, I do believe that this is a ‘sub-plot’ rather than the main intention for the film. All in all, the film is supposed to be able how the Joker became the Joker. Even though it is only a small minority of people with mental health problems that would turn to violent acts, it is something that happens – take Netflix’s Mindhunter as an example. This is basically Arthur Fleck’s profile of how he became a criminal mastermind.
Joaquin’s performance as the man behind the clown is fantastic, mesmerising and haunting. The fact that he can be so terrifying while playing such a vulnerable character really shows just how much he has honed his craft during his time in the industry. During the final scene with Murray, the tension that was created with dialogue alone was unlike anything that has been in cinema for a while – yes, there was the use of soundtrack to increase the tension but the focus was mainly on the conflict between Murray and Fleck before he finally snaps.
Overall, I would rate the film ★★★★★. It’s not often I give such a high rating but as every moment was unfolding before me, I began to see why it had resonated so deeply with the audience and why it was recognised by the Academy. Do I believe it deserves 11 nominations? No. There are so many other brilliant films that have been entirely ignored for Joker. But I do believe that Joaquin and Todd deserve the recognition that it has received.