Since I was out every night this week, and both the weather and the telly were crap on Saturday, I went out to see Joker as I didn't want to have to wait at least another week before I could get to the cinema and also, to see if it lived up to the hype, which it does.
Joaquin Phoenix delivers a stunning performance as Arthur Fleck, a man clinging to the bottom rung of life, in desperate need of a break or maybe just a genuine act of human kindness. (Don’t we all Arthur, I feel your pain…)
This Joker is no comic book cartoon character, in the mould of a Jim Carrey or Jack Nicholson Joker, and while Heath Ledger brought a new dimension to the character in the Dark Knight Trilogy, this Joker has a much darker edge. This is not an action hero movie and Joker is not the nemesis for some do-gooding boy wonder to flex his virtue-signalling heroics. It is much more and he is more than that too; he is Joe Ordinary pushed over the edge of sanity, scraping together a miserable existence, in a miserable world, the demented product of a sick and demented society.
Considering the attention this movie is getting, there is more to this than just a brilliant acting performance, it is hitting nerves in all the wrong/right(?) places.
I can understand why the NLF's are nervously fiddling with their self-righteous indignation, worried that Joker might inspire copycat acts of violence, for if ever a movie encapsulated the disconnection between those at the top and those who are not, Joker depressingly does. He is the bogeyman who, by his actions, inspires a violent revolution against society and the rich, and (spoiler alert) who publicly executes smug talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro) when he is invited on to his show after Murray has used a tape of his comedy routine to mock and scoff him (shades of X Factor auditions?) but when it goes viral, sees it as an opportunity to be exploited.
There is also some controversy around the use of one of Gary Glitter’s song and one of the reviews I read, accused the director (Todd Philips) of trying to be ‘edgy’ by using the track. I have to say, I found the music appropriate and suited to the scene (and it is a good song regardless of what you may think of Glitter) and maybe the director was not being edgy but merely using the music of Glitter to highlight the hypocrisy of the elite who would condemn Gary Glitter but cover up and excuse the equally deplorable actions of the ‘right’ people (Epstein/Prince Andrew/Weinstein/Saville/Catholic Church).
One of Arthur Fleck’s grievances with the world is that no-one listens anymore, that people are nasty and cruel and have no compassion for their fellow human beings. He is the on screen manifestation of the injustice and inequality that has been eating into the heart of those on the bottom rung of society for years and who have been ignored and dismissed by those on the top. He is one of the ‘deplorables’ like those coal-miners who Hilary Clinton vowed to put out of work and, who kept her out of the White House, when they gave their vote to Trump.
When Arthur first hits back against the bankers, he feels powerful, the little guy has fought back against those who would look down their nose at him and I certainly felt a sense of satisfaction in his actions.
Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck has created a character that repels and appeals in equal measure but he is also a character that many will identify and sympathise with, and Joker is, in my opinion, the perfect movie for this time. It captures the zeitgeist and demonstrably highlights the disconnection between the top and bottom of society. De Niro perfectly encapsulates all those self-righteous media types who sneer and scoff at the outsiders (Trump supporters/Brexiteers) and those who don’t quite fit in with the ‘right’ people or have the ‘right’ opinion. And there was, again, a certain satisfaction when Arthur dispatched him to meet his maker. There are other violent scenes and there is one scene where the character attacks a former work colleague which is pretty gruesome and one that I couldn’t watch but which demonstrates the twisted morality of the world of Arthur.
I felt the film had a strong political message or maybe my own political outlook has led me to see more in it than the director was aiming for, but Joker hits a nerve, and I fully expect to see Joker masks on the front line of political protests.
Overall, I would highly recommend seeing the film, it is a fair construction of a character from the Batman series but this is not a film for children. This is a bleak and disturbing portrayal of what could happen to any one of us, if our lives got off to a bad start and turned the wrong way. I will, in all probability, go and see it again, it is definitely worth a second viewing.
The ending is ambiguous and I will leave you to make up your own mind about it but at the end Arthur is laughing and is asked what he is laughing at. He replies ‘you wouldn’t get it’ and with Trump up for re-election next year and Brexit looming on the horizon maybe that final message should give the Neo-liberal Fascists something to think about because I still don’t think they are…you have been warned!