“Joker”, the new film from Director Todd Phillips based on the DC Comics villain, is far from just another comic book movie. It is a reflection of today’s selective outrage, social media obsessed world.
I’m going to offer a fair warning. I don’t want to intentionally spoil anything for you, but it may happen accidentally. So, if you think I’m getting into the details too much for you if you still haven’t fulfilled your plans to see the movie, stop reading.
Much background on the film is probably unnecessary, given the fact that film aficionados and even the nightly news have been discussing it for quite some time. It’s separate from every other “Batman” or any other DC Comics film, because while the Joker character is tied to those entities – even in the film – it could easily exist as an artistic masterpiece by having nothing to do with them.
Joaquin Phoenix, whom everyone has long known is a talented actor who goes to mental and physical extremes to play a character, is Arthur Fleck, the man who becomes the Joker. Phoenix was perfectly cast in this role because he is able to bring out fear of – and sympathy for – Fleck almost simultaneously. Other actors may have been able to pull it off, but it’s doubtful.
Fleck exists in a Gotham City where the sanitation crew is on strike. Everywhere he goes, he is surrounded by literal trash. Accompanying that is the filth of humanity, as adult film theaters are seen in the background of nearly every scene set on the streets; graffiti is out of control and rudeness is the prevailing emotion of everyone he encounters casually or intentionally.
To me, this Gotham City represents any social media platform out there today. Think about your average feed – how much useless garbage is there that can interfere with your daily pursuit of reading up on your friends’ lives or things you are truly interested in? Add in to that fact that we have all become “screen brave”, easily posting comments that are mean and/or uninformed in nature that can have an effect on either the original post writer or another reader. At one point I believe Fleck even says, “Everyone is awful.”
My theory that Phillips is creating a Facebook Gotham is enhanced in other ways. For instance, because of the garbage overtaking the city, rats have not only become a problem – there are reports of “super rats.” That could easily be your average virus, malware, spyware, etc.
Also existing in this world is Robert DeNiro’s Murray Franklin, a Johnny Carson-esque talk show host who is idolized in Fleck’s home by himself and his mother. Fleck dreams of someday being recognized by Franklin or being on his show.
This might be too much of a spoiler, so you’ve been warned. As seen in the trailer, Franklin decides to play a video clip of Fleck bombing as a comedian on stage. He then invites Fleck onto the show, for the purpose of mocking him further, in person. That’s not how it turns out, and that entire scene redeems the slower parts of the film that feature Phoenix dancing in his underpants.
The insensitivity shown Fleck by Franklin is also shown by Brett Cullen’s Thomas Wayne. If you’re looking for more commentary, I’m pretty sure this version of Batman’s father has elements of Donald Trump woven in.
Phillips is also not shy about taking on the mass media. I’ll admit, I have kind of a bias against the coastal media because their dishonesty and otherwise unethical behavior have disappointed me for years. But in the film, their role in feeding the unpleasantness of Gotham City, unrest among the masses and Fleck’s madness is incredibly obvious. Much like I believe today’s coastal media tries to do, they see their role as one to keep everyone on edge and feed the division of the haves and have-nots.
You may already be aware that Martin Scorsese was involved behind the scenes of this film, and his influence is seen. Gotham City is reminiscent of New York in his classics such as “Taxi Driver”, and there are subtle similarities between DeNiro’s Travis Bickle in that film and Phoenix’s Fleck. The whole movie just has that look of a 1970s Scorsese flick.
There are parts of this film that are hard to watch, I’m not going to lie. The treatment of the mentally ill and their struggles to get the help they need are still major concerns in today’s reality. It’s just odd that Phillips, a guy known for making great comedies like “Old School” and “The Hangover” is the one who puts all of these issues in the forefront of a serious cinematic masterpiece. In my opinion, “Old School” and “The Hangover” are cinematic masterpieces as well, but for very different reasons than I consider “Joker” to be.
This is a great film. Go in with an open mind, and be ready to dissect it nonstop for at least a day or two afterward. “Joker” is currently playing at the Grand Theater in Knoxville.
Take care of yourself and thank you for reading.