Todd Phillips film starring Joaquin Phoenix is racking up hundreds of millions of dollars in just a few days, despite being hardly criticised and accused to incite violence, and having a mixed answer from the critics. Nonetheless the movie is definitely destined to be a classic within the universe of cine-comics (and not). Here’s why. (SPOILERS AHEAD)
Have you ever wondered how does a comic villain feels? Have you ever tried to think that maybe, somewhere deep inside, there is more than what meets the eye? I suppose the answer to these questions is yes. There’s a catch, though: sometimes you don’t realise how much human, vulnerable and in need of help a bad guy like the Joker is, and the film Joker tries to show the big audience this side of him that often had been left out in the past on the big screen. Todd Phillips manages to reach his goal to perfection, through an astonishing performance from Joaquin Phoenix that played the part in such a passionate way that makes you empathise with Joker. Yes, empathise with the Joker, a sadistic cold blooded killer that shows no mercy to anyone: nobody would have ever thought to witness such a day arrive. And yet, it happened.
The whole first part of the film is meant to show you that maybe, Arthur Fleck could have been something else, maybe even a good person with the right kind of help. Events wanted it to go differently, though: the very corrupted city of Gotham created the spark to ignite the madness inside of him and turn him into the villain that everybody loves. His evolution during the film is slow but steady as he goes through his every day life, and things happen around him. Bad things, mostly. Arthur has mental issues, and a condition that makes him laugh regardless of his real feelings and this gives the chance to the director to shoot some poignant scenes. Watching Arthur laughs while we just wants to stop in difficult and inappropriate situations is heart-breaking, especially when you notice that, as he laughs, his eyes hide a very intimate sadness, into the almost tearful eyes of Joaquin Phoenix.
His transformation into the vicious clown starts, as most of the violent stories, with a gun: is this a veiled critic to the real situation in the USA? Anyway, Arthur ends up killing three Wall Street guys that assaulted him using that gun, in a first rampage attack that triggers his change once and for all: you cannot go back after you kill someone, after all. His mind is twisted, and it becomes clearer and clearer as we watch him picturing his apparition at the Murray Franklin Show, Gotham’s finest version of a late show. This is a subtle clue that should make us question if what we are seeing is actually happening, or it is just in Arthur’s head. This actually happens with Sophie, a woman living in the same building of Arthur, when we see him having a relationship with her, just to find out later that this is only pure daydreaming.
Joker tackles delicate matters as mental health and many scenes are highly disturbing as we travel through Arthur’s brain, his murders and his madness that will have its climax in the moment he ultimately murders his adoptive mother, that was abusive and lied to him for all his life. Especially this last scene is extremely disrupting as there’s no cut either and it goes on for a while causing distress into the audience; the film is full with scenes like this, starting from the one where he kills the coworker who gave him the gun using a pair of scissors, in a shocking bloody rapture. The climax of the film will happen on the very stage of the Murray Franklin Show, when Arthur is invited (after that Murray mocked him for one of his stand up sessions gone wrong) and we have the final showdown between Robert De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix characters. During his segment, Arthur drops the mask and confesses his crimes until he shoots Murray in the head in cold blood on live TV, with no hopes of escape and the Joker finally rises.
“I hope my death makes more cents than my life.”
Arthur’s actions lead to a riot that will finally see him accomplish something for the first time in his life: the supporters of the riot see him as a hero. After living all of his life in the shadow, being mocked and disrespected by everyone around him he truly becomes the person that people wants to follow. Criticism tried to hit hard this film and its release and watching the film it is possible to understand why so many people stood up to stop it from hitting cinemas. Understand, not justify. If we live constantly in the fear that a work of any kind could spark and prompt violent behaviors into people, we should stop watching and creating any kind of art. It is up to the receivers of the work to give a proper interpretation, and realise that what they are watching or reading is wrong and should not be taken as an example. This is one of the main interpretations I would like to personally give to this film: our corrupted parts of society create our own villains. The right kind of help at the right time can prevent a person in difficulty from turning into the next Joker.
The soundtrack, the dark scenes and the glumness of the photography all contribute to give the film a murky feel, that will accompany the audience from the start to the end. There’s not a single moment of joy in the film, just like in Arthur’s life.
The film ends where it started, in Arkham Asylum, with Arthur kept in detention. This finale makes us wonder: is it all real? Did we see what it really happened, or what we saw was just another fantasy generated by Arthur Fleck’s mind? We will probably never know the answer to this question, but we can answer to a more specific one: this film will become a cult that divided, is dividing and will always divide the audience with its controversy and unhealthy journey into the soul of one of the most vicious character in the history of comics.
Final score: 9.5/10