By The Nerdling
I have to admit, I’m struggling with Joker. I left the theater after my screening feeling hollow and cold. I knew I just witness something fantastic, but strange thinking of this movie as that.
Looking at the origin story from a technical point of view, Joker is a masterpiece, award-worthy even. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is the best I have seen from him so far. And that is saying something. Phoenix is one of the most outstanding actors of this Hollywood era. He elevates Arthur Fleck to a level that rivals Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight.
The look of the film is beautiful in its dingy, griminess thanks to Lawrence Sher’s fantastic cinematography. You can smell the trash that laces the streets due to a garbage strike. Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score enhances the mood of each scene. When the music starts to overtake the dialogue, I would get goosebumps and feel sick to my stomach. I could keep going with the technical marvel that is Joker. But leaving the theater, all I could think is how much I never wanted to see this movie again despite the cinematic beauty of it.
Joker could only come from Todd Phillips. A man who gets angry when asked about concerns about the “real-world violence” portrayed in this movie and who it could inspire. The man who is so painfully bitter his homophobic, frat-boy jokes have been rightfully deemed tasteless, he claims comedy is over.
We are getting into SPOILER territory here! If you haven’t seen Joker, do not read any further!
Joker takes a hard look at the system that creates men who would shoot up a movie theater or school. An incel who deludes oneself into thinking a nice moment with a woman means a romantic relationship has been formed. The film dares you to find Arthur Fleck sympathetic even as his actions are shown to be horrific.
Early in the film, Fleck is confronted by three douchey, investment banker types on the subway who take issue with his inability to stop laughing (a symptom of neurological trauma stemming from childhood abuse at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend) during an intense encounter with them. They begin to beat him severely and Fleck shoots them in retaliation.
At first, Fleck’s actions can be seen as self-defense. These three men could easily beat Fleck to death. But after killing one of them, Fleck mercilessly shoots and kills the second man who has already backed off and injures the third who never started hitting him in the first place. The injured man runs away and Fleck hunts him down and shoots him in the back. Fleck is a man who is dealt a bad hand by a cruel world, but he chose to cross the line from self-defense to murder at that moment.
As Fleck descends further into madness, he smothers his mother when he discovers she has lied to and abused him. He brutally stabs to death a former co-worker who had a hand in getting him fired. It is unclear, but the film hints he kills his doctor at Arkham asylum and possibly his neighbor when he realizes his relationship with her is actually a delusion he created. Then there is the shooting on live TV of Murray Franklin.
Franklin is a talk show host who Fleck, a wannabe comedian, hero-worships. After Fleck bombs a set at a comedy club, Franklin shows a clip of it and makes fun of Fleck on national TV. When the bit becomes popular, Franklin invites Fleck to the show for more laughs at Fleck’s expense. On air, Fleck confesses to killing the three men on the subway. He rants and raves about how the world beats men like him down. Then he shoots Franklin in the eye, then a few more times in the chest for the shock of it.
The killing of the men on the subway sparks a movement for the downtrodden in Gotham. They see the death of these privileged, white men as retribution for the disparity of wealth in the city. Fleck’s rant on the Murray Franklin Show spurs the demoralized Gothamites into action. One of the rioters is even inspired to kill Thomas and Martha Wayne in front of a young Bruce (the film’s tenuous and out of place connection to the Batman canon).
There are plenty of theories that suggest the shooting of Franklin, even the invitation of being on the show in the first place, is a delusion. Off of his meds, Fleck imagines a scenario in which he gets revenge on his hero who hurt him. What helps to spark these theories are the riots that happen right after the shooting and the worship of Fleck by the rioters. He stands above them, raising his arms in triumph after his tormentors are all dead. Just the thing all Incels dream of.
I can appreciate Joker has much to say about our broken system which creates men like Fleck. The film takes place in the late ’70s/early ’80s, but it could easily be set in current times. Thomas Wayne is like many elitists. He sees poor people as inferiors, blaming a lack of ambition and/or intelligence for their situation. Sneering at them, calling them clowns. Wayne glosses over his benefitting from the system that gives him tax breaks, leading to cuts in funding for social programs designed to help the underprivileged. His campaign for mayor is hinged on the poor need their betters, people like him, to save them.
What makes me uncomfortable about Joker is the film wants you to side with Arthur Fleck, even if all that he has done is just a delusion in his mind. The film attempts to paint a murderer and Incel as a hero. But Joker has no heroes, just villains.
The Nerdling was born in the majestic land known as Texas and currently resides there after several years of journeying through Middle Earth in a failed attempt to steal the one Ring from that annoying hobbit, serving the Galactic Empire for a time, and then a short stint as a crew member on the Serenity. Since moving back to her homeland, Nerdling flirted with a hero reputation. Saving children from the dangers of adoring domineering, sparkly vampires (champions with souls are the only vampires worth loving) and teaching normals the value of nerdom, all while rooting for her beloved Dallas Stars. Then came the Sokovia Accords and her short spell of saving others came to an end. With Darth Vader’s reputation rightfully returning to badass status, Nerdling is making her way back to the Empire. They do have cookies, you know. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.