Just recently, Martin Scorsese has come out against superhero movies, calling them more theme parks than cinematic cinema. On one hand, I do agree with him. But I don’t exactly see what is wrong with that. However there are those exceptions like Logan or The Dark Knight that dares to reach beyond the pigeonhole the genre of “superhero movie” has placed it in. And now you can include Joker into the mix as Joker is so much more than just a comic book movie.
And it’s especially ironic that Martin Scorsese to come out now of all days to make his position clear, since Joker borrows heavily from not one but two of his films Taxi Driver, some might argue Scorsese’s best film (at least I would) and The King of Comedy. A film I just saw for the first time not long ago sometime last year.
It was maybe one of about two of his films I haven’t seen. It wasn’t his best work, but it was still really good.
Joker however, this absolutely is the director’s best work as before this the thing he was best known for were a bunch of Hangover sequels.
When you hear the name Todd Phillips, you don’t think he’d be capable of something like Joker, not in a million years. Mainly because over about 19 of those years he has been saddled with idiotic comedies like Road Trip, Starsky & Hutch and School for Scoundrels. Christ, he even did Due Date. Does anyone remember Due Date, that Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis film?
Hey, the man paid his dues. Hell, even Logan was directed by the same guy who did The Wolverine.
We all have to start somewhere I guess and for Todd Phillips, that meant shitty comedy. Now don’t get me wrong, I do think The Hangover has its place and should be given credit for elevating R rated comedy and giving the world Zach Galifianakis, but I don’t know if it is something you can fully be proud of.
Joker just feels different, like this guy’s whole career has been building up to something like this, something fantastic.
Speaking of fantastic, Joaquin Phoenix is a revelation, shrinking down to skin and bones, losing himself in this character that is madness incarnate.
His performance would make Heath Ledger proud and shame Jared Leto for doing such a shitty job.
I honestly have to give mad props to WB and DC for making this film, especially after watching the trailer for Birds of Prey and how goddamn shitty that movie looks.
That’s the issue Marvel is now in and I think DC has finally realized it. I hate to use this word once again but Marvel is pigeonholed into this cinematic universe shit, where all their films have to take place within one another. Sure, they’re fun and all, but there are limitations to that format.
There are the exceptions like Logan, but I’m mostly referring to the Disney owned properties. The only time Marvel can branch out from the universe is by other rights holders like Sony or Fox. How ironic is that? Sony, the studio so inept with the rights to Spider-Man, they had to make a deal with another studio to use the character they own to finally get a good movie.
And then there is Deadpool, a film not bogged down by any kind of continuous continuity.
I don’t think DC has that issue. And yes, there might be some confusion now as to where this Joker falls in relation to previous films featuring Joker, it is worth it as it shows DC is willing to break form and try something new.
Of course that excludes Birds of Prey, again I must say, looks like total garbage. So maybe Joker is just a fluke. And I’m fine with that.
I’m not fully educated about the history of Joker, I know a bit. Referring mostly to his Red Hood days, who was a small time criminal and comedian with a family. The robbery goes awry and he ends up falling in a vat of acid, becoming the Joker as we all love to hate.
The Tim Burton film I guess is the closest to his origin story than any other incarnation we’ve seen on film. Unless you count the Joker on the now cancelled Gotham series on Fox.
Until this film, I always preferred Joker as we see him in The Dark Knight, which is a complete mystery. We don’t know who he is or where he came from, all we know is he is here to cause chaos.
The Joker was perfect for that movie, where he faces off against a man who dresses like a bat to fight crime. Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker on the other hand, I don’t think would pair well getting tossed into a world of superheroes like Batman. It’s just way too grounded for that silliness to be introduced.
The thing I found fascinating about Joker, or Arthur Fleck as he’s called here, he isn’t some criminal mastermind. He’s not even that smart of a guy. Hell, he can barely function in society as a human being.
He’s basically like Batman, this rallying cry for the disenfranchised. Think V for Vendetta.
Batman is a symbol of hope, Joker is the symbol of anarchy. What is God without the devil, right?
The year is 1980 something and Gotham is being plagued by massive rats, budget cuts and a garbage strike. Tensions are high in the city, all it needs is the right spark to set everything ablaze.
Enter Arthur Fleck, a man suffering from a whole host of mental issues and is a pathological laugher, someone who suffers from uncontrollable fits of laughter. When I heard Joaquin Phoenix researched people with this affliction, I did some searching myself and found that this is a problem that exists.
I thought, wow, that’s a fantastic take on this character. Laughing is his curse, it pains him to laugh, showing agony at not being able to control it.
But like I mentioned, this is just one of many issues Arthur seems to have.
There must have been an incident previously as Arthur must see a social worker, who must assess his current mental state and give him prescriptions for his mandatory medication.
He lives with his elderly mother, because of course he does. He works at a clown for hire job, where much like the Taxi service Travis Bickle worked at in Taxi Driver.
Arthur has a desire to be a comedian, to make people laugh. I think this impulsion he has stems not only from his inability from stopping himself from laughing, but also I’m not sure he fully understands why people laugh.
We see him at a comedy club watching a comedian perform, Arthur writing down in his journal joke ideas but also not laughing in the right places as everyone else in the club, looking around, trying to understand why they’re laughing. It’s a great window into this troubled man’s head. Think about that though. A man who can’t stop laughing, doesn’t understand why people laugh.
It’s brief, but we also get to see the darker lingering thoughts circling around his mind when we see other passages in his journal. The ones that aren’t jokes but his disturbing feelings and sick fantasies.
While working a job holding a sign out front of a store going out of business, Arthur has his sign stolen by a bunch of teens. As Arthur chases after them, they attack him, destroying the sign in the process.
Not believing his story, Arthur now has to take the damaged sign out of his what I’m sure is already a small paycheck.
The hits keep coming for Arthur as he learns that funding has been cut from the treatment center he gets his meds from. So now he can’t afford to take the one thing that is possibly holding back the floodgates.
Arthur’s mother on the other hand, isn’t exactly the picture of mental health either, as she is obsessed with Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father. He is contemplating running for mayor to help save Gotham from its woes.
Arthur’s mother Penny, once worked for the Wayne’s and claimed to have a close relationship with Thomas Wayne. She’s been writing him letters, hoping he’d reply to her, tasking Arthur with checking the mailbox every day for a reply that will never come.
After Arthur’s attack, his co-worker Randall gives him a gun just in case anyone tries anything ever again. Like an idiot, Arthur takes the gun with him to perform for a bunch of sick kids at the hospital, where the gun drops out in front of everyone.
Clearly grounds for getting fired, Arthur clears out his locker and leaves to take the train back home. To piss on his terrible day even more, he grabs the attention of three Wall Street types as they stop harassing a woman and start harassing him.
With Arthur’s uncontrollable laughter, the yuppies deliver him a beat down, but this time Arthur came prepared, killing all three with his borrowed gun.
Instead of freaking out, he finds a public bathroom where he dances. That’s another interesting thing he does, he gets into a ballerina pose at times and just dances.
There’s a late night talk show him and his mother watch every night together called Live! with Murray Franklin, Murray Franklin played by Robert De Niro. He’s basically playing a Johnny Carson type. His set looks an awful lot like the old Tonight Show set back in the day as well.
When Murray comes out on stage, he does a “move” to introduce the audience, I think maybe that’s what Arthur is imitating when he goes into these ballerina poses.
Arthur has these delusional fantasies about Murray, clearly representing this father figure he has lacked his whole life.
He dreams to one day come on his show, tell his jokes and be admired by Murray. The fact that Arthur has the ability to lose himself in fantasy should be a giant indicator that something is up when Sophie enters the picture.
We are first introduced to her shorty after Arthur learns he won’t be getting his meds anymore or seeing his social worker. He’s feeling low and then Sophie shows up with her daughter, taking the same elevator with Arthur.
So obviously spoilers.
They have a very awkward but brief meeting where they mime shooting themselves in the head. She does it as a response to her over talkative daughter, while Arthur imitates it back at her as they are walking their separate ways.
Later, we see him following her drop her kid off at school and I guess following her to work. And later that night she confronts him about it but seems pretty cool with the whole stalking thing. DEAD GIVEAWAY that their meetings afterwards are all in his head.
Arthur is clearly unstable, people at work saw it and stayed away from him. There’s no way a single mother living in the city would show any interest in this guy. Especially after acknowledging he was following her and her daughter.
I wasn’t even sure if we were meant to think she was real at first, it was just so obvious. But I’ve heard people were really surprised by this so I don’t know what to believe.
Much later in the film we get the big reveal that their whole relationship was just in his head, giving us Fight Club style flashbacks. And I think it was a misstep to go back and show us that she wasn’t there at key moments. All we really needed was him walking into her apartment and her being frightened that he’s in there and not knowing who he is.
So back to Arthur killing three people.
Turns out, the three on the subway train were Wayne Enterprise employees. Their deaths has shocked some but also inspired others, mainly the disenfranchised.
To stoke the flames of discord, Thomas Wayne gets on TV to chastise the killer, who wore clown makeup. Now Arthur has become an icon for both good and bad.
Arthur decides now is the best time to finally take the plunge and do some standup. But his jokes are terrible, and added with the fact he can’t stop himself from laughing compulsively to even get to the punchline, it was a disaster. But in his head, things went pretty damn well.
Soon the police come knocking around, looking to ask Arthur some questions about the subway shooting. They know Arthur was fired as a clown for carrying a gun. They’d like to look into that, talking to Penny first, Arthur’s mother.
Penny has a stroke, putting her in a coma.
Before this, Arthur finally looked at one of the many letters she keeps sending Thomas Wayne, revealing she thinks he is Arthur’s father. Overjoyed, yet angry, Arthur sets out to confront Thomas Wayne, but sees he already has a son. Bruce.
While staking out Wayne manor, he spots young Bruce and the two share a moment of Arthur trying to make Bruce laugh with his clown shtick.
Alfred interrupts them, shooing Arthur off.
Arthur does eventually confront Thomas Wayne at a play when he leaves for a bathroom break. Thomas reveals that Penny was batshit crazy and his isn’t Arthur’s father. Hell, he even lets it slip that Arthur was adopted. Or did Alfred mention that… I can’t remember.
The point is, Arthur isn’t the half-brother to Bruce and Arthur’s mom is just as crazy as he is.
Wanting to learn more about his mom, he visits Arkham Asylum where he steals her medical records showing Arthur’s past abuse.
No longer disillusioned by the image he has of his ailing mother, he decides to kill her in her sleep. While watching TV, he sees that Murray has been showing a clip of his stand up on his show. Of course mocking him.
Another parental figure that has abandoned him.
Arthur decides it’s time to fully embrace the madness, fully stepping foot into the role of the Joker. Something Murray called him while mocking his standup.
To his surprise however, a rep for the Murray show gives Arthur a call, wanting to book him on the show.
As Arthur is getting ready, Randall shows up to make sure the blowback of giving Arthur a gun doesn’t fall on him. So clearly Arthur murders him with a pair of scissors.
Now it’s off to the show where he plans on killing himself on live tv after he tells a knock knock joke.
The police follow Arthur, planning on arresting him, so he runs, taking shelter in a train cart filled with fellow clown faced anarchists, beating the cops half to death as Arthur joyfully slips away.
Murray has some hesitations introducing Arthur, who wishes to now be called Joker, since he is in full clown makeup. Which has kind of become the symbol of protest.
Arthur is in full Joker mode, he is the Joker at this moment, Arthur has gone bye-bye.
He sticks to the plan, tell a joke and kill himself, but Murray is relentless at mocking him that he decides to change that plan mid interview.
First he admits to being the one that murdered the three on the subway. Once that garners some outrage he moves for his last joke, pulling the gun on Murray, shooting him in the face and several times in the chest.
He’s later arrested and driven in police custody to lockup when an ambulance careens into the police car, freeing Arthur. The city has fallen into chaos, his acolytes rioting all across Gotham.
Arthur stands in front of his followers, puts on a blood soaked smile and dances for the crowd. Meanwhile, as all of this is happening, the Wayne’s are leaving a theater, trying to escape the riot, when a man follows them down an alleyway, only to murder Bruce’s family.
Later we do see that Arthur has been recaptured and placed into an institute, talking to another psychiatrist. As the credits roll, we see he most likely killed her and is trying to make an escape.
Of course there is the possibility that all that was just in his head and nothing we saw was real, but in any other movie that wasn’t about the Joker, I’d believe it was just another fantasy, but this is about the origin story of Joker, it wouldn’t make much sense to tell a story that was only in his head.
If I had to guess, he was imagining Bruce Wayne now being an orphan and how he inspired it to happen. Maybe. It’s unclear, but that’s mostly what I got from it.
I know feelings for this film have been mixed. I think some weren’t expecting this to be a slow character study but another dumb action film with shit blowing up. Case and point every DC movie ever. And what they got instead of shooty shooty, was a deep introspective look into a man finally embracing the madness.
I’m so glad we got this movie, instead of something David Ayer concocted (Suicide Squad).
Joker gets a big SEE IT!
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