I think the ‘Joker’ discourse has calmed down enough for me to write this, at least until awards season comes around and the up roar may start again, which it may or may not. Although from what I’ve seen, it will but from what I’ve read, it won’t. From the very first rumblings about the ‘Joker’ film being made there was excitement. With Todd ‘The Hangover’ Phillips at the helm I did lose interest ever so slightly as I really don’t like those damn hangover films, they’re terrible. But my love for Joaquin Phoenix trumps my dislike for him. As the story started to shape up with teasers and even more rumours, it all started up again. But once the film was show at Venice Film Festival, things go way out of hand. Not only did Film twitter explode but the media in general did too. And I thought ‘The Souvenir’ was going to be the film of discourse this year.
It’s clear that from the outset Warner Bros. knew they’d have to change things up as their DC Comics films weren’t going according to plan (except Wonder Woman). They decided to go down the ‘dark’ route and take an indie filmmaking approach to how they make their comic book films, so far, not a bad plan. The unpacking of the end result has been gone over multiple times by many people who love, hate, loathe, obsess over it and all have valid and interesting takes. Maybe it’s because I’m fed up with the discourse or maybe I really do like dark as hell films once in a while, not everything can be sunshine and roses, but I really loved this film. If you’re reading this is disgust at why I love this film, please save yourself the time and stop, but don’t finish reading this just to have a go at me. Please also do not take my love for this film as reason to think I think the people who didn’t like it missed a point or are wrong. I love this film BUT I can totally understand why others don’t. Some of my fellow writers who did/didn’t like the film have taken some abuse online for their opinion. It’s not respectful and downright inhumane, don’t be THAT person. At the end of the day, it’s a film and we all are allowed to have a difference of opinion. Discussion or debate are fine, that’s part of the fun of writing/talking about film but abuse will not be tolerated.
As an origin story, it fits quietly and comfortably within the DC world. With enough open references to Batman and its characters, the story is not burdened down with making sure that it ticks boxes and able to concentrate on the hideous and brilliantly executed transformation of Arthur Fleck into what we know as the Joker. This film is a character study of a poor wretch that never fit into ‘normal’ society and never will. There are some other films of this nature that focus on someone as they go through hell and continue to go through pain and suffering and everyone just watches those films without blinking. But as this film is technically within the comic book universe and therefore a comic book film it is elevated and given a higher platform for people to see it. But people don’t like depressing films, at least not at this high level. They don’t want to see a grown man dressed as a clown being kicked on the floor leaving him crying and bleeding, and definitely not in IMAX cinemas they don’t.
As we all know, ‘The Joker’ is a supervillain, so an origin story would either evoke sympathy and we’d understand the character better as well as his intentions and motives however, as ‘The Joker’ isn’t meant to have an origin story, which is the beauty of the character itself, this film offers just one possible iteration of the character’s origin. All the previous Jokers have either just appeared or been given an origin, whether it’s been on screen or in the comics, Arthur Fleck is not the ultimate Joker, but he is a fascinating character. As well as exploration into this clown for hire, it is also a mystery as we find out where Fleck came from, who is parents are and why he is the way he is. It’s actually feels quite easy to pity the poor man but at the same time you would cross the street to avoid him as there is something not quite right about him. He gives off these dangerous vibes because he’s unnerving. But you sympathise with him, even after the turning point scene on the subway, you get swept up in the anger bubbling at the surface that turns into full blown madness by the end. But the moment you start to question whether you should be rooting for this character is when his fragile mind is questioned, when he enters his neighbour Sophie’s apartment and it’s revealed all the previous scenes with her in are in his mind. Fleck is an unreliable protagonist which means the entire story and how it plays out can be questioned. But this is truly what makes him a perfect Joker. He’s dangerous, yes but the fact you don’t really know what’s going on just makes this story even better as the Joker’s way has always been, chaos.
There are several outstanding moments, a particular favourite of mine being Fleck dressed in a red suit, full make up, dancing on the stairs to THAT song, but the scene on the Murray Franklin show, which is what half the film was leading up to. With several nods to Scorsese films through Fleck and the fact that he loves talk show host Murray, we all knew what was coming even with the misleads and if we’re all honest, we wanted this scene to happen. When I tell people I liked the film, not only because I think Phoenix is true genius actor and even after the film will be underrated, I say I liked this film for the wrong reasons. The film goes to dark hideous places and plays out things I would never do and throughout Fleck’s personal discoveries you really want to go ‘full Joker’ that’s why you came to watch the film right? Or did you watch the film just so you could say it was terrible? If Fleck had just carried on with his miserable little life and did nothing and watched someone else become the Joker, would that have been better? No. We all know Fleck becomes Joker, but we get see HOW he evolves into this human manifestation of chaos and someone who just wants to watch the world burn. He also may have a reason to want that but as we only know him has the villain, this is where you can if its nature or nurture situation, or in Fleck’s case, both. We meet him as a victim but we leave him as the villain, but what I think he was always a villain, just waiting to come out.
If ‘Joker’ had been called something else or had barely hinted that it was part of the DC Comics/film universe, I wonder if the response would have been different. If the film hadn’t been given a Hollywood marketing budget, would people have gone to see it as much as they did? I believe that half the audience who went to see the film wanted to see a ‘comic book’ film and the other half heard about the discourse and wanted to see what the fuss was about. I was excited from the minute Phoenix’s name was attached to the film and loved the trailer. This was not going to be like other films, that much was guaranteed but since the film’s rise in controversy, the film has lost a bit of its soul. If you’re wondering how that is possible and what that even means, I see it that films are sometimes treated liked the animals of Animal Farm by George Orwell. All films are released equal (as in no one has seen them) but some films are more equal than others. Thin analogy, I know. Circumstances surrounding the release and the reaction have all been orchestrated and if things had gone slightly different, I wouldn’t be writing this long-winded post.