I recently went to see Joker, a film which having seen the trailer many months ago, and in spite of all the good feedback it was getting in the press, film festivals and such, I was on the fence about. I didn’t like the first trailer, to be honest. I compared it to an arty-farty movie with grandiose pretentions, that had nothing whatsoever to do with the comic book character. Boy, how wrong I was.
Ok, first things first. The movie is not an easy watch. It’s not your run-of-the-mill Superhero movie. There’s no over-the-top CGI action set pieces, no outlandish Production and Costume Design, no grand orchestral score full of heroic themes…but a very bleak, dark and hopeless portrait of a man, whom Life, and pretty much everyone around him, has driven to the point of madness and violence. Now, is it an accurate depiction of Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime origin story?. That is not for me to say. At this moment in time the character has been interpreted in so many ways, and with so many actors; each of them giving it their personal spin that, as far as I’m concerned, what we see here is fine by me.
The selling point of this new version is Joaquin Phoenix’s masterful performance as the titular character and the movie’s gritty and grounded portrait of a fictional city that has more to do with Scorsese’s Taxi Driver than with Anton Furst’s fantastic sets created for the fictional city in Tim Burton’s Batman. In fact, the movie borrows many elements from Scorsese’s filmography like the aforementioned Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.
Now, let’s get into the nitty- gritty of it all. The story is set many years before the coming of The Dark Knight. Gotham is going through one of the worst economic and social periods of its history. Unemployment is high, social and public services are at an all time low, and the social divide between rich and poor is bigger than ever. Any of this ring any bells?. The city is a boiling pot about to go off. People have had just about enough with injustice and social and economic inequality. Here is where the protagonist of our story, Arthur Fleck, comes in. He’s a product of this corrupt and careless system who, after having spent several years locked up in a mental institution, suffering from psychological and physical abuse, is released onto the streets, basically because the city has run out of money to sustain its public institutions. He gets by performing as a clown for hire, and takes care of his old, ailing mother in a miserable flat in the worst side of town and has to attend mandatory psychiatric evaluations once a week. He also has a long-life dream of one day becoming a stand up comedian.
And so, this mentally unstable individual, who should have never been let out of the Asylum in the first place, finds himself in the hands, and at the mercy of a society, which is long past caring about the fellow man, and it’s all about individualism and survival of the fittest. Needles to say, Arthur finds out that his dreams of bettering himself in life will swiftly come crushing down around him.
We, the audience, bear witness to the slow mental deterioration of the main protagonist, to the point where he can no longer differentiate between fantasy and reality, and thus, quickly comes to realize that, violence is the only possible outlet for his frustrations. We, the audience, run the risk of sympathizing with Arthur; something quite understandable, since we’re told his story strictly from his point of view, and see the abuse which he has been and still is, subjected to, throughout the entire movie. Now, does this justify Arthur’s reprehensible attitude towards those who surround him. No, it does not. But you do get where he is coming from.
Masterfully directed, with a very solid scrip, solid performances, and a bleak and claustrophobic atmosphere to which Hildur Guđnadóttir’s score lends a helping hand, we are before one of the best films of the year and, quite possibly, of the decade.
Go see without delay. Wont regret it.
Thanks for reading.