Major Spoilers, Warning!!
There has been much back and forth regarding the new film “Joker” Directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro, and how we as a society should be viewing this piece of work. The film follows a down on his luck preforming clown Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) and the events that lead to him killing three men on a subway train and his decent into murder and mayhem. Fleck throughout the film is subjected to low blow after low blow, from being mugged and beaten to losing his job and then finally finding out he had been lied to all his life about his upbringing. The film does highlight Fleck’s mental illnesses with his antisocial behavior and this constant laughing tic that presents itself at times of stress, or at least that’s what it seems in the beginning. The tic is interesting to note because the laughing becomes less prevalent throughout the course of Fleck’s journey, and I will come back to this point later. The common take from this film is that it glorifies violence, that the Joker is the hero in this story and that he is someone to look up too and admired for his actions. I will argue that that is not the case, and that this film actually, underneath the violence, is a piece that is supposed to make us feel what’s really meaningful in ourselves.
Honestly, I see where the main draw is to thinking that violence is the answer in this film. The surface message was actually very intoxicating with the freedom of taking action against those whom seem to be holding down society, as well as the individual. The main villains of the movie, at first glance, actually seem to be people like Fleck’s boss, his mother, his therapist, the police, the rich, and in turn Thomas Wayne. They all seemed to do nothing when faced with Fleck’s pain and suffering, and in fact made those hardships much worse. These people and their actions alone seem to justify Fleck’s descent into the bottomless void of despair and violence. There seemed to be no other choice but to strike back just as hard, if not harder against the beings whom seem to want to erase you from existence. Even Fleck’s laugh, like I mentioned before, seemed to become less of a problem for him the more he let loose. The more Fleck let go of societal restraints, the less the laugh seemed to bother him. This could seem like he was on the “right track”, that he was going about things in a way that was more healing than destruction. However this is all the surface level of the film, the mask of the piece itself; where what we as the audience is seeing is not actually what we are meant to take away from it.
I can not deny all the emotions that stir inside me when watching all the horrible things that happen to Fleck in the film, and that is the point. This film makes people see the dark so they can strive for the light. Confronted with all the horror and neglect that the character goes through throughout the film is enough to make any sane person crack, however most people are not in that boat. I believe that we as individuals and as well as a greater community strive to do what is best for ourselves and others. Being able to really look inside ourselves and see that evil is not the answer to any of these issues and actually just causes more pain in the end. Fleck’s journey is not to show us a path to follow but to show us the path to close off from ourselves. When watching the film I couldn’t help but feel a sense of needing to help and to be there for others. The film brought out a sense of justice and love for me, and not for Fleck and his journey, but for people. I felt that we as a society should be more inclined to help and be there for others, and I know that this is not a new statement, but I feel it is important to remind the views of this film that violence and retribution do not work.
In short “Joker” is a breathtaking film, not for is message, but for the feelings it instills upon the individual. Phoenix plays the part perfectly and defines the character of the Joker like Heath Ledger did back in the 2008 film “The Dark Knight.” He is cringe worthy but at the same time you cannot look away. Both actors fell into this character in a way that will stick with us for a long time to come. The character of the Joker is a man who has evolved throughout the decades as a silly jokester bank robber, to the antithesis of Batman, to finally being an entity of pure unaligned evil. Both Ledger and Phoenix portrayed the character along the same lines, that this person almost leaves the identity of humanity behind and embraces something other, something that can no longer even resemble human. This also emphasizes the irony of the funny clown being something other the funny.
Also regarding Todd Phillips, the director, mentioning that “woke culture” is killing comedy and too that I say he isn’t wrong but not in the way most people think. Yes, this new culture of bringing to light issues that normally would have been socially acceptable to laugh about in the past are now subjects that cause outrage; this mind set I believe is not one to be ridiculed but one to be modified. Right now, the online societies are quick to denounce and shame without any way of redemption or understanding. Phillips is saying that people become too sensitive and just react when someone says something they feel is wrong or makes them feel uncomfortable. However the answer should not be to make the accused party just as uncomfortable or make them an outcast, but should be to open up a dialog within ourselves to why this is making us feel uncomfortable and then bring that to the accused party in a way that breeds learning and understanding. “Joker” lends itself very well to this idea, where we as a society should look within ourselves and see why the message of this film really bothers us and bring that to everyone within our society. Having that open dialog gives people a chance to learn, a chance to see the mistakes within themselves, but also give the individuals a chance to see where their own prejudice lies.
I highly recommend seeing this film, not only for is brilliant acting and storytelling, but for the message that it gives and for the feelings that it will most likely stir within you. “Joker” makes you feel like you need to do better, that you need to stay on the right path or see destruction and decay of everything we as a society holds dear. See this film and then talk about it with others, gather the opinions for yourself and see if we can come together as a society to make sure something like this never truly happens.