Spoiler alert; I’m writing about the newly released Joker and, as much as I’ll try to avoid specific plot details, I’m sure to give crucial tidbits away. So, if you’re yet to see this masterpiece, read on carefully or not at all. I’d hate for anything I scribble to detract you from experiencing the full power of this film. And there is more power in the experiencing of this film than you can possibly imagine. Go watch!
First things first, Joker is not a comic book, action genre movie. This is psychological thriller perfection. It could very well have been shot 50years ago, free of the CGI crutches poor filmmakers build careers on and lesser audiences lap up. No, Joker is clean, timeless, reliant wholly on story, not at all on props. The world of Gotham is grit and grime. The colour schemes and texture hold a New York 1950’s Mad Men beauty replete with an undertone of simmering despair and violence. There’s barely a scene where cigarette smoke isn’t polluting the air, or a (super) rat isn’t scurrying the concrete jungle floor.
At the heart of it all is Arthur Fleck - Joaquin Phoenix - a deeply disturbed, mentally ill man grinding out some semblance of a living as a performing clown while dealing with the affliction of uncontrolled, hysterical laughter brought on by bouts of extreme stress, and doing his utmost to care for his ailing mother in a beaten down apartment where an assumption of maternal love is truly the only thing holding our main man together, giving him a purpose that can sustain. As promised, I’m not going to delve into the story’s plot any further…Hopefully! What I want to focus on is how director Todd Phillips showcases Arthur Fleck’s evolution into a crazed killer as a logical, natural, essentially unavoidable progression in a world gone cold, a society devoid of any inkling of kindness towards each other, least of all a man as hard to adore as Arthur.
Joker is the villain we deserve, in 2019 more than ever. And I pray this movie is the lightning bolt that may induce a few more people to care for their neighbour, regardless how “weird” they may appear, knowing that the main ingredient most potential lunatics need to prevent them from erupting is little more than a hug, a kind word, a sense of recognition they exist, they matter. That’s it, not too much is it? Arthur gets this from no one except a similarly downtrodden midget, a brother in arms in a world that cherishes superficial beauty while gleefully shitting all over the ugly, the weak, the weird, the little. Well, Arthur, pushed beyond breaking point by soul-crushing developments in his fragile ecosystem, decides it’s time to take control of his fate, it’s time to fight back, to execute total carnage.
This is precisely where we, the audience, humanity, where we really need to stand up and accept our responsibility in creating the Joker’s of the world. This is why Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix have been so viciously attacked by various pundits in the social media hellhole of outrage, the self-appointed righteous police who fail to understand the gravitas of their willingness to shit all over everything they don’t understand or can’t be bothered to properly research. This is precisely where we, the audience, need to fully appreciate the fact that, rare as it may be that a Joker may emerge, this is happening on far too regular a basis. The school and other shootings in the U.S. are literally out of control. Why? Guns? There’s more to it. Far more. As Carl Jung implores us to delve deeper into understanding man’s psyche, to try desperately to grasp why we are the way we are because, at the end of it all, only man has the capacity to wipe humanity from existence. We should dedicate our every resource toward understanding man’s psyche and yet, for the most part, we do bugger all, consumed with frivolous nonsense.
The outrage police decry this movie as dangerous, a film that will inspire killers, that cinemas will be shot up by young men intent on wreaking havoc and chaos. Is that what you think is likely? No, what this movie does, what Taxi Driver and Fight Club came nowhere near realising, what Joker achieves is a call to arms to treat your fellow man, whoever he may be, with dignity and respect, to take the time to make sure when you notice a bloke struggling for whatever reason, that you check he’s ok. Simple. This is why Todd Phillips, Joaquin Phoenix and everyone else involved in Joker’s creation deserve Oscars and praise. They’ve done Carl Jung proud. They’ve dived full throttle into an all-encompassing character study of how a monster is born and, news flash, the monster doesn’t lurk in some distant swamp and want to wipe out the world. No, he lives among us. His genesis lies in being shunned by the people he loves dearly who refuse to love him back, who don’t even entertain the notion of merely treating him with a minimum of respect. For Arthur Fleck, before his Joker is unleashed, when he finds himself in his most vulnerable, heartbreaking, stress-ravaged moments, he can’t help but laugh hysterically. For this he is brutally beaten to a pulp over and over and over by his fellow man. His fellow man who refuses to comprehend, to give him the slightest hint of a chance to explain himself. It is gut-wrenching viewing.
The tension in this film is overwhelming. The reality with which an Arthur Fleck might be in your midst at this very moment is impossible to deny. I would guess that 1 in 20 men are right now facing very similar circumstances, perhaps 1 in 10. They don’t fit in. They don’t have access to meaningful loving affection or some modicum of existential validation. Maybe they don’t merit it overly, but they are human beings, isn’t that enough? They’re told constantly they’re the problem, they need to “be better”, strive harder, aim higher. For what? That’s never well explained. They’re usually beset with some form of undiagnosed mental illness but armed with no financial capacity or inclination to seek diagnosis or be granted state-funded medication. Their mind’s no doubt awash with noise and bedlam most of us thankfully can’t fathom.
Lastly though, and most hazardous, when all’s said and done, violence has always been the nourishing tonic for precisely these sorts of men. And yes, they are most often men. White men. Straight men. The holy unwashed and despised of 2019. These men seem to hold the potential to kill with fury. Well, perhaps now you will at least search for reasons as to why. These are the monsters you hope to destroy…well, if you’re serious about that, as you should be, you can start by caring about your fellow man, wherever you see him. You can take the time to endure an awkward friendship with someone who’s clearly not the full quid but perfectly capable of unloading an automatic weapon into a mass of humanity. A couple of minutes of polite conversation each day is worth avoiding that potential destruction, yeah? You can pester the government to place more money in mental health funding because it is desperately needed and of incalculable benefit. And you can thank Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix for opening your eyes, waking you from your reverie, giving you the villain you deserve.
Go see Joker! Now!
*Liam Carroll is the author of Slippery, a story about capitalism on steroids in the oil trading world of Southeast Asia. His second novel, Sweet Dreams of Fanta, is a sentimental ride back to the Sydney of 1988, seen through the eyes of a freckly, moon-faced, 7year old Fanta addict. And his third book, Hooroo Love, is in the works now.