An obscene amount of controversy has swelled around this film since its premiere in Venice and it’s understandable as to why. A character that has been told many times before, exploring divisive themes such as mental health and in a way that has been accused of inciting violence; this film sure has made its mark on the DC universe.
OK so let’s break this down. There are 2 entry points to watching Joker: either as a film fan or a superhero fan. From the sole perspective of a film fan this film is throughly enjoyable. Or maybe not enjoyable, but unsettling. Without doubt it is a powerful film. Todd Phillips has led us through a highly suspense filled Hitchcockian-esque thriller, one at times that can feel extremely slow. The beginning is one that takes its sweet old time forming. Then, just as your attention starts to fade, as your eyes are potentially drifting from the screen, Todd Phillips grasps you by the neck and yanks you back in. By launching the action after such a slow burning start he completely subverts your expectations of the film, making the upcoming action all the more surprising. My advice would not only be to watch this film, but to watch it in the cinema. It demands a high attention span and that is something I know that I lack. Had I seen this at home I would have become distracted, gone on my phone, and completely missed the crucial point of this slow start.
Joaquin Phoenix masterfully encompasses the character whilst also incorporating a fresh perspective to it. From the smallest of details, like his run, to more obvious elements of the laugh he has proven himself a distinctive Joker. By far the best interpretation since Heath Ledger in the Dark Night Rises Franchise and dare I say potentially even more complex than the character Ledger gave us. But having said that, Phoenix did get given a whole film, had Ledger had that luxury I’m sure I’d be saying otherwise.
Now from the other perspective, one as a superhero fan, this film has potentially fallen short. Speaking as someone who is not a die-hard fan of the franchise, who doesn’t have a rich knowledge of its history, I was able to overlook these potential pitfalls. However, I’m aware that they exist. As a film that was promised to be ‘groundbreaking’ what we’ve been given is more of a homage to gritty gangster films of the 80s, in a Joker mask. It’s therefore arguable that the film lacks the originality that it had promised to give. So from this perspective as a gritty Scorsese-esque drama it’s a good film but, as a Joker origin story, it’s not giving much that is new.
Overall, Joker is a gripping story with masterful acting and suspense and action that will have you gasping in your seat. But if you’re a die hard fan of the franchise I fear you may feel cheated by this interpretation. As for all the people saying that it’s going to incite violence, the slow burn start clearly shows us that violent societies only take hold when we ignore those less fortunate in our society. When we allow the divide between the rich and poor not only to grow, but to strengthen in it’s lines. We are very clearly shown that had Arthur Flack been treated with humility, given the help he desperately required, not just by throwing drugs at the problem but through real therapy, the violence would not have swelled at all. In essence, this is a film that clearly shows the consequences of a divided society. When we ignore, turn away, refuse to help our community, of course people will grow angry. We are shown that had Batman maybe poured his fortune into rebuilding gotham, on education and welfare, as opposed to all of his fancy toys, none of those nasty villains may have existed at all. Thank God we don’t live in a world where the rich only take while the rest of us suffer, right?
There’s a lesson in this film for all of us. In a world where our education and healthcare are being drained, house prices growing exponentially while the rich only get richer, Gotham’s dark fictitious city is fast becoming scarily familiar to the world around us. If that doesn’t terrify you, it should. I don’t have the answer, but showing us the consequences of these cuts, albeit in what might feel like an extreme way, may well be what we need to finally wake up.
Joker is currently in cinemas and available to watch at City Screen now: https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/city-screen-picturehouse