Joker is easily the most talked about film of this year and with all the media attention it’s getting, it’s inevitable that people are going to be confused on what to expect or what the controversy is even all about. Is it too violent? Does it glorify a serial killer? Does anyone even know?
Well from what I can surmise, the only thing that would cause any outrage would stem from critics with a common misunderstanding on what cinema is. People are concerned with Philip’s portrayal of the Joker as he forces us to sympathize with someone who does awful things, but that’s what the movies are for.
If you go into this movie expecting a fetishized, Tarantino-esque blood bath or another Dark Knight, then you’ll probably walk out disappointed. What Jokeris is a gritty 70’s character study packaged and presented in a way that’s much more digestible for the modern movie-goer (IE: Make it about a supervillain).
Joker is unlike any other superhero movie, because it isn’t a superhero movie at all. It’s so far removed from its comic book origins that the producers could have easily named this film “Arthur” and it wouldn’t have changed a damn thing. But, what Phillips did is genius. He took what would have been an otherwise obscure melodrama and turned it into a mainstream hit by putting the Joker’s name behind it.
Since the Joker never had a real solid origin story, Philipps was free to really dive in a create a film that is pure cinema - he uses real humans to express real emotions that affect us and the way we view ourselves and our society. Now, I’m not saying that his direction, or even the writing, is perfect because I thought there were quite a few flaws in both. However, either way, this film is a breath of fresh air in a climate that’s bogged down with over-produced sequels, reboots, and superhero films like the Avengers.
As for Joaquin Phoenix, I really think gives one hell of a performance and presents the Joker in a way that can’t possibly be compared to Heath Ledger’s Joker. The two characters are not even the same. Where Heath Ledger’s Joker might have had a few screws loose, he was a criminal mastermind who was essentially an agent of chaos. On the other hand, Phoenix’s Joker is a truly disturbed individual suffering from some sort of mental illness a la Rupert Pupkin or Travis Bickle. Arthur Fleck lacks the mental capacity to carry out the maniacal things Ledger’s Joker could and that presents him in a far more realistic light which fits this film’s purpose as a prevalent character study and not a spectacle like all the other comic book films.
Drawing influence from films like Taxi Driver, King of Comedy, Network, The Man Who Laughs, and other New Hollywood and Expressionist films alike, Joker is one of a kind in today’s world and it introduces what I hope to be a new wave of cinema; one that traces its roots back to what I believe to be the greatest era of cinema, the New Hollywood of the late 60s - early 80s!