The jokes on you
“ . . . I’ve proved my point. I’ve demonstrated there’s no difference between me and everyone else! All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day . . .” – The Joker, The Killing Joke (Written by Alan Moore).
I don’t know what I expected walking into the Joker film. I had heard all the controversy going in. Everything from the mixed reviews, to the mixed reactions, to the mixed responses. Now, one performance from Joaquin Phoenix later, and I was stunned. The film, for those who aren’t sure, is a part of DC’s new line of films entitled “DC Black.” These new films are meant to take on a more experimental style of comic book filmmaking as opposed to the Marvel or DC formula that we’re all aware of.
And experimental it is. Let me just get this out of the way. Ignore the critics on this one. I beg you. Sure, Joker may just be a newer, glossier version of Taxi Driver (a film that helped inspire Joker), and sure, the dark tones within this film may make it hard to appreciate the story that it presents, but here’s the thing though, those criticisms are dumb and stupid and you should just watch the movie anyway. Okay? Okay.
Honestly though, Joker is dark, but it’s a specific brand of dark that’s too captivating to look away from. Like watching a dancer twirl with the elegance and prestige, encapsulating you with their every movement. Joker is a film that does just the same. It was hard to watch, but I couldn’t look away because it was so powerful. Piece by piece, the breaking down of someone that truly has nothing to lose in a society that treats them with such contempt draws you in onto a level that really shouldn’t be possible for a comic book movie.
Yet there I was, sitting in a theater and watching Joaquin Phoenix do one of the most fascinating portrayals of a character that’s been immortalized by so many talented performers. He’s disturbing, he’s obsessive, he’s irredeemable in so many ways and yet you still give a shit about him all the way through. Like the actual character of the Joker, who comes from a troubled past that makes you want to believe there’s some good in him in some way, shape or form. Long story short, Phoenix’s portrayal brings to life this tortured soul in ways we can all relate too, this being one of the scariest takeaways of all, knowing there’s a Joker in all of us.
A scary thought to be certain, but accurate nonetheless, at least for the motivations of this film. If there was any message that this film presents, it’s that, much like the Alan Moore quote featured above, we’re all one bad day away from going off the deep end – this being a message that is delivered with pain stalking detail. I wish I could spoil more, really, but revealing anything about how this occurs throughout the movie may ruin the experience.
Moving away from the more disturbing aspects of Joker, Phoenix may be the star, but the supporting players help bring the world of Gotham to life. Robert De Niro does a wonderful job as the show host and Gary Sinise really sells me as an officer of the law. Frances Conroy, who plays the Joker’s mother, is probably the strongest supporting cast member as she manages to balance her character’s sympathy and lack thereof well. One moment you feel for her plight, the next you wonder what it’s all about. She’s “interesting” incarnate.
I don’t really know if I can recommend this film to anyone, but I want to recommend to everyone. The problem is – and I don’t mean to sound pretentious here – I’m not sure if people will get it unless they’ve had something tragic happen to them in their lives. Unless you’ve experienced hard times or have had to deal with deep emotional issues, I honestly can’t recommend this film to you. You can still watch it, certainly, but just get ready to enter the void when you do.