I Finally Got Around To Watching Joker
the film penned as a “disappointment” by critics
Joker has been the hot topic and talk of the Internet since it came out at the beginning of October. While I may be a bit late to the game, watching movies hasn’t really been on my list of priorities in the last few months — or years.
The last thing I watched was on my couch. It was X-Men’s Dark Pheonix and Aquaman before that. Avengers made it onto my film viewing history and probably another Marvel movie. In short, most movies I’ve watched in the past 12 months is some sort of comic-related thing.
But Joker is inescapable and after working hard to avoid spoilers, I decided to watch the darn thing.
It was a slow start for a film.
We’re so used to the sudden explosions with fight scenes and conflict setups that Joker’s difference hits us at a different pace — well, for me anyway. The violence in the film is different too — not your usual good guy vs bad guy, everything is black and white with evil aliens out to take over the Universe kind of violent.
And because of that, the blood you see in the film is bloodier.
Traditionally, Joker is the bad guy. He’s always been the bad guy. His craziness and entire characterization tropes are reduced to his clown makeup, props and the occasional appearance of a bowtie. His actions make no sense and his motives are always unclear — yet with the power to inspire and control the minds of people to do his bidding.
But this translation of Joker unhinges the traditional take on crazy and gives it perspective — something that the masses of superhero movies don’t even try to touch on, in part because their purpose is to entertain and sell merchandise to kids. I don’t think Joaquin Phoenix has a toy version of himself floating around on the shelves somewhere.
The heroes may fall but they always get up. The villains, however, they’ve always been treated as inherently evil for not conforming to society and its expectations. They are the dissenters, the outlaws and the instigator of pain and suffering.
Joker, however, is the expression of the pain and suffering experienced — and it’s this jarring difference from everything else that’s currently in circulation that’s made it a box office hit.
This is not a political statement
The irony of Joker’s own words that his existence is not a political statement — yet becoming one in the process — is next level meta-analysis. In the light of politically induced events such as the Hong Kong riots, displaced and separated families in relation to immigration, and the ongoing issue of healthcare affordability — Joker unwittingly becomes a symbol of the people.
In the film, the Joker dances a lot — not because he’s crazy but rather, it’s his method of communication and self-expression. It didn’t really make sense to me at first, until the childhood abuse, trauma, and neglect were revealed. He lacks words, not because he has nothing to say, but rather because he doesn’t know how to say them.
The Joker, by no initial fault of his own, becomes a by-product of his childhood traumas and general society’s inability to support or give the mobility needed by one of its own citizens.
His manic laughter has more depth than any predeceasing Jokers that’s been portrayed on the screen. It’s not random. It’s not sinister. It’s not evil. Rather, it’s a triggered mechanism when he’s experiencing a range of intense emotions that he’s unable to control or communicate.
And that’s what the critics seemed to have missed. Perhaps they were expecting something more towards the stock of comic book heroes that are currently on the screen — but with an evil slant. Or perhaps they just weren’t ready to deal with the concept that what’s regarded as traditionally “crazy” — things like mental health, dissent, anger, disappointment and the display of such things in an unorthodox way. Perhaps, all this is simply too complex to complete in an hour of writing with a word count limit.
What the critics missed that the people saw
For a long time, the concept of crazy has been a one-dimensional feature in the way it is treated by the media and by society. The moment someone is labeled as crazy, their actions, thoughts, and words becomes invalid and dismissed. Their ability to control their narrative taken away from them and no one truly sees the actual person.
And perhaps it is this that caught the heartstrings of so many moviegoers, especially those who feel jilted by the system that is supposed to be taking care of them. Their personal stories and struggles become lost, discarded and reduced to a single word. The demographic for this film is not just the fans of the comics but casts a much wider net that includes a range of groups and their gradients.
I have nothing against capitalism — but when it’s not balanced with opportunities for people to rise up and out — it can turn toxic. There are different degrees of capitalism implemented around the world and the most successful countries are those that have figured out the fine balance between social support and just enough struggle to motivate the people to move forward and be productive citizens.
Failed capitalism is when the structures that govern it fail to give adequate support to those who are deeply in poverty a way to dig their way out. But that’s an entirely different discussion and not what Joker is all about.
“Humorless”, “Lacks empathy”, “cliche”
I found the negative reviews interesting.
One reporter tweeted the movie having an “utter absence of hope”. Another pointed it as a homage to the small but vocally violent groups in America. Others kept mentioning to the director’s previous works as if it’s supposed to influence Joker in some way — which include The Hangover, Starsky & Hutch, and Due Date — and perhaps expected something along the same vein. Slate called it boring.
And perhaps boring is where the real fault lies.
Joker is not your traditional supervillain/hero-eques movie. Yes, it’s a lot slower than what we’re used to, but the pace does pick up once the tension points have been struck.
There’s no tour of a gadget cave like they did in Charlie’s Angel or the usual scenes found in superheroes and spy movies, nor an attempt at an epic battle with some aliens or cosmic being. There were no car chases, no fancy ballroom scene, no spycam, choreographed parkour, no special green screens or CGI and no special techno-gadgetry.
There were only humans being humans, captured as best as possible by an iconic character who’s story of falling into a chemical vat has been reiterated too many times and in too many versions. If Joker had gone down that route, we might have ended up with a movie akin to Suicide Squad, or at its worst, Green Lantern.
Or perhaps that’s what the critics were expecting — another superhero movie and got something else instead.
The subtexts of Joker are subtle and can be interpreted in as many ways a high school essay fishing for reasons can muster. There are multiple ways to look and apply meaning to the film, especially one like Joker.
No. Joker is not a traditionally happy movie. Nor does it set itself out to be a comedy. But as the character himself says, comedy is subjective and Joker, the film, is dotted with dark humor and it takes accepting such humor for what it is to see the comedic aspects of it.
The film is good and much better than whatever Dark Pheonix and Batman vs Superman was supposed to be. There are plenty of bad adaptations from comic books, Green Lantern, Halle Berry’s Catwoman, and the first iteration of Deadpool included, and this Joker is not one of them.
This Joker is something else and the box office results seem to agree.