I honestly thought my days of looking away from films and covering my face was over after I started watching horror films where people got shot in the stomach with four-inch long nails or had their arms graphically slashed off.
Arthur Fleck is a clown, in so many senses of the word. He works as one of those ad campaigners who puts on a green-perm wig and dancing around to music on the modern-day 1981 radio. Except he doesn’t want to be that person who everyone looks away from, embarrassed to be willing to acknowledge him. He wants to make people laugh, not be laughed at. He wants to be a stand-up comedian. But it’s hard when he can’t even lift himself up any higher than his clown-ad position at work, because he has a disability that makes him laugh, a very menacing and uncomfortable holler of sorts, and he laughs not just when someone does something funny. Unsurprising, because in his life, on seven medications and an alcoholic mother in the slums of the city, there’s very little to laugh about. His disability makes him laugh in circumstances where others normally wouldn’t, and he has a card to explain that to anyone who may think he’s creeping up on them. On one day that starts horrendous and gets even worse than he could’ve imagined, he ends up doing a crime that gets viral attention, a movement of people he sees in his same circumstances joining this mysterious figure, against the rich and almighty. Now the question is; what does this mean? Does he have a shot at a life after all? And if that means that life will have to be one that the rest of the world would prefer he didn’t have, is that better than no life at all?
I was excited to see this, but not because I’m a big DC fan. Despite the astounding Wonder Woman film, most of DC’s other films, like Teen Titans Go: To The Movies, Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman and Aquaman…really not for me. I hated Batman v. Superman so much that I passed on Suicide Squad, a regret I now have considering my curiosity that ignited after 2016 finished its year up. I was excited to see this because last year, on a whim, I saw Venom, another anti-hero film, and I liked it even more than Avengers: Infinity War, moving its way to my #2 spot of best films of the 2018 year. I wholeheartedly agreed with its slogan: The World Has Enough Superheroes”. Movies about the supervillains is a great idea because it opens up new exploration, and allows viewers to learn about how the world made them into who they are, and maybe regular people like you and I are to blame for why these people ended up this way. Not to mention they have no requirement to be predictable.
I never read any of the controversy surrounding this film’s inner messages, but now I feel some should be acknowledged. As an autistic young adult, I feel I need to call out the fact this film may incite phobias towards people with what some call mental disabilities. I call my autism a gift, but there are some autistic people I have met who are diagnosed a little tougher. But it’s not their fault any more than it was Arthur’s fault he was born the way he was. I wish there was someone else on the autism spectrum in this movie to balance out the message of what it’s like to be different, to show it isn’t always all bad, that the world isn’t always going to reject you. And yet, this movie went for the plain and simple approach; sometimes, there are those who are spat on, who are unable to get the support they need to lift themselves up and accomplish their dreams…so what do they have to live for?
I also liked the fantasies in this movie Arthur dreams up; one we kind of expect is too good to be true, and another flips so many things on its head. I thought about the end of Patty Jenkins’ Aileen Wuornos movie “Monster”, about what the world saw as the world’s first female serial killer, who really lived with a losing hand dealt to her. The ending includes a monologue thinking about all people are told, like how love conquers all, and faith can move mountains and where there’s life, there’s hope, and ends it with a scoff and says, “They gotta tell ya something”. I get the impression that’s what this movie was going for as well in these fantasies, projecting a life Arthur really wanted to live and imagined he maybe could, but, life was too cruel for it to work out that way. There are a few times where something very angering comes up, and we already see how delicate Arthur’s life is, how he’s surviving on a delicate shoestring, and his heartbeat echoes, silencing everything else. Have you ever had someone embarrass you? And have you ever been punished for something that wasn’t your fault? Then I bet you’ll find yourself relating to Arthur. The only difference is he actually goes and does something crazy in response to it.
Its lack of action may disappoint some, and though it is sort of the point of it being a human interest story turned upside down, by the 90-minute mark, I was wishing there was at least one or two other action scenes, maybe a police chase or robbery, or more of the Clown-Masked Riots Arthur accidentally orchestrated. It saves all its good marbles for the very very end. All the actors are fine, but Joaquin Phoenix is the only major one, not even Robert De Niro as a huge talk-show host can take him on. This is his movie alone, not even an antagonist that could sink even lower than him going up into battle. His life, or his laugh, is his enemy until he simply lets go and embraces it, with his hatred for others stirring his wrath.
Joker is not a tremendously exciting peace, and occasionally awkward, and there are reasons other than profanity that this film is rated R to keep out little kids (teenagers everywhere have lied and said they’re 18, the movie’s hype made that a surefire), but it certainly knows it wants to be dark and angry and sadistic. There’s nothing really like this out there.