Why I Love Joker

"He who makes a beast of himself relieves himself the pain of being a man." - Hunter S. Thompson

Joker is a provocative film. It is truly one of the strangest major releases of the last many years. It is challenging, dark as all hell and never once flinches from its examination of an isolated and severely damaged soul. That this film was made at all in 2019 is a miracle. That it is a comic book movie is doubly strange. There has legitimately never been a comic book movie that has even approached the depth and complexity of emotion to be found here. That it was to arrive in cinemas with a fair deal of controversy is a sign, not of the film's immorality and irresponsibility, but of its fearless and courageous heart. Joker has made people uncomfortable, and that is a very good thing, for it is through this discomfort that we can examine ourselves in stark reality.

Joker was directed and co-written by Todd Phillips, whose previous work did not exactly mark him out as a key player in one of the most important films of the decade. The Hangover and Old School, while fairly amusing in their way, were not exactly thought provoking or prone to stir deep emotions. Phillips does a superb job; a firm hand on the tiller, knowing when to give space to Joaquin Phoenix and when to support him. Phoenix should, by all rights, win the Oscar for Best Actor. His performance somehow manages to surpass Heath Ledger's performance in The Dark Knight and Jack Nicholson's iconic turn in Tim Burton's Batman. It is an utterly spellbinding effort; a man in free fall with no net to catch him.

Those who understand Joker in their bones, as I did upon first viewing, are going to be people who have their share of problems. Joker has an understanding of mental illness and isolation that very few films have. Nothing about Phoenix's performance comes across as anything but authentic and from personal experience. It is captivating but also so profoundly disturbing that it is hard to confront the feelings it stirs in the viewer's soul. I do not wish to spend too much time here detailing the many, many ways that the phony, patronizing, moral righteousness of those on the left, and the right, that it is art which is the true culprit in forcing white supremacists and deranged men to kill innocents. Let it be said though that these people are grotesquely disingenuous and are not operating in good faith. For those who have been on the bottom of this life, who have had all hope stolen from them, a film like Joker does not provoke a need to take out their sad lives on the world, but to affirm to the Gods that yes, there is someone out there who understands. A film of this quality brings relief from isolation and despair, not rage or murderous intent. Phoenix plays the character in such a damaged way, far, far away from the anarchistic cool of Ledger or the hilarity and fun of Nicholson, that he is not a character to be rallied around, but to pity. He holds a mirror up to the crippled and let's us see ourselves at our worst. A cautionary tale if that kind of thing turns you on.

Some words have been spent on Joker being a mere carbon copy of Martin Scorsese's catalogue, specifically Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. The influence that these films have had on Joker cannot be dismissed, but it is important to note that Joker is anything but a pale imitation of these admittedly great films. Think of Joker as a riff on an old joke. What Todd Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver have done with the script is something that reminded me a lot of what Brian De Palma did on Obsession, a film that is a knowing play on Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. It is a quotation, and a discussion that references the earlier work but does not steal from it. This concern is largely something that is meant to bolster the case of the previously mentioned Think of the Children dullards, as a means of saying "See, it's not only an immoral film, but a bad one to boot!" A viewing of Joker puts the issue of plagiarism to rest, as its emotion is on a different wave length than those movies, referencing them yes, but never stealing outright.

It is difficult to describe to you the terror in one's heart and soul when it has become clear that there is no-one out there who cares one way or another if your body will keep breathing. To lose all hope of a normal life is something that many never have to worry about, always being on the right side of society. It is the people who can't even begin to imagine what this is like, that are the truly dangerous ones. Those whose failure of imagination have led them to stigmatize those who are on the outside, and who have an unshakable belief that they know what is best for us, when they don't have the first clue. Take away the dangerous art but fail on every damn level to help those who need it most. That this is something that is displayed by those on the right is not surprising; they have always had a hard on for restricting and censoring the art that makes them uncomfortable. That those on the left have taken up the same methods when it agrees with their politics, is disheartening. These people deserve to have their liberal cards taken away.

Joker is a film that speaks to me, not because I am violent or plan to be in the future. It speaks to me because it shows the true insignificance of my issues with paranoia, anxiety and depression, in comparison to the people out there who have been completely failed by the system. It gives me hope, in facilitating the conversation and increasing awareness that victims very often create victims of their own. I cried at Joker and I was truly astounded by its power and insight. It is unarguably one of the best films of the year, and very likely longer than that to boot. The cinematography of Lawrence Shur is stunning, as is the score by Hildur Guonadottir. Joaquin Phoenix continues his work on being one of the greatest actors of his generation, easily rivaling his best in Her, The Master, Inherent Vice and the wildly underrated Irrational Man. Joker is a beautiful, terrifying and powerful bit of work and something that is almost certainly the most ambitious comic book movie ever made. If comic book movies can do things like this, then perhaps we might just have our superhero cake and eat it too.


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