Ok before I get into this, I do have to say that I want to emphasize the word “nearly.” There are some issues with this movie and your mileage may vary depending on whether or not you want to see this as an origin movie or a character study. I’ll get into more of that later.
Also, there will be *SPOILERS* so you have been warned. It’s also a long one so you’ve been warned twice.
Arthur Fleck is a sad sack clown who will start laughing uncontrollably when sad or anxious. He carries around a card when this happens to let people know he has a condition and that the laughter is not indicative of his actual emotional state. He’s also skinny, introverted, and mentally ill. He goes to a social worker every week to discuss how he’s doing and to get medications.
He was once institutionalized for some unknown reason in the past but he seems to get by in life. He does enjoy being a clown and making children smile. His off-putting mannerisms and spontaneous inappropriate laughter make it hard for people to connect to him.
He lives with his mom who believes Thomas Wayne is Arthur’s father. He and his mother have an odd relationship, to say the least. But he cares for her and is unaware of what his mother believes.
1981 Gotham city is a pretty awful place and there is a lot of economic issues along with a grimy sheen on everything. News reports detail the garbage and terribly large rats. Crime is on the rise and people blame the rich. Arthur starts out the movie as a clown with a spinning sign to advertise a going out of business sale. He gets accosted by a group of kids who beat him up with his own sign and a round of kicking.
Arthur gets beat up a lot in this movie.
He is given a gun to help him protect himself but gets fired from being a clown after it pops out in a hospital while entertaining sick children.
Things go really bad when a bunch a Wall Street yuppie types beat the crap out of him on the subway after his uncontrollable laughter and clown makeup gets them pissed. More beating until he whips out the gun and kills them all.
This gets people worked up in a city that’s already at a boiling point. We start to see people in clown masks and protesting. It all looks like an Occupy Wall Street protest. But Arthur doesn’t really care about that, he just is trying to deal with his own issues. The social services he received and how he got his medication are cut and he’s left without that coping mechanism.
After the killings, he finally finds out what his mom believes and tries to make a connection with Thomas Wayne believing he’s his father. Things deteriorate from there as he finds out the truth.
He also tries to be a stand-up comedian and fails. His attempt somehow ends up on Robert DeNiro’s late-night program, a thinly veiled Johnny Carson show. He ends up being invited on as things continue to go from bad to worse in his life.
The ending has everything come together in amazing fashion as the Joker is born through bad situations compounded by bad decisions. I was left with one indelible reaction.
There but for the grace of God, go I
Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is nothing short of amazing. Is it the revelation that Heath Ledger’s was? Difficult to say as we are witnessing a metamorphosis rather than a fully realized Joker just coming into the movie. His actual moments as Joker are only at the end of the movie and only at the beginning of his career. That being said, this performance is outstanding.
I think many may have issues with some famous moments happening in this movie along with some plot points. For instance, how did DeNiro’s show get the tape? It’s supposed to be 1981, were people filming in comedy clubs with full sound? This kind of equipment wasn’t readily available back then.
This gets me to what I said at the beginning, what are you getting out of this movie? Personally, I don’t really mind those types of issues in this kind of movie because this is a character study with a lot of thematic moments that resonate today. The Joker is a forgotten individual in a sea of groups all vying for attention. You might say it’s the haves against the have-nots but is Thomas Wayne a bad guy in the grand scheme of the Batman mythos?
He might be seen that way if you believe that rich people are bad simply for existing. But there is nothing in the movie that shows us that Wayne is a bad guy. Maybe a little gruff with Arthur but Arthur’s behavior leading up to their meeting makes it understandable.
Yes, services are getting cut and people are hurting economically. So the masses use the Joker’s murder of some Wayne employees –and it was murder, make no mistake– as a jumping-off point to boil over, wearing clown masks and having “kill the rich” placards. They become Antifa. I think I even saw a “resist” sign. They are not justified in their behavior because there is nothing overtly wrong in what Wayne is doing. In fact, I think he’s running for mayor in the hope to try to fix things. But he’s a rich guy so fuck him, right?
All of this is a backdrop in the Joker’s life. He’s the forgotten individual who needs help and is used by people for their own entertainment or simply shunned by the rest. He needs help but everyone in this movie is too motivated by their tribe to do anything about it. Is it any wonder he finally snaps and lashes out?
There are no good people in this movie, at least how it’s portrayed. Or at best, good people are powerless to stop the decay and downturn that’s happening to Gotham City. Joker is an organic outgrowth of that but he doesn’t really give a shit about either side. He’s now a force of nature. Think of him like pollution. Pollution may have been caused by factories creating a product and us consuming what the factory creates. The pollution finally comes and dirties both sides alike.
Is this a woke or anti-woke film? I honestly can’t say. I feel like it’s an anti-tribal film. So maybe non-woke but certainly one could interpret the poor and their protests as a good thing.
Remember the individual has his own problems. We have to take each individual and work with each of them to help. No tribal “one-size fits my side and fuck the other side” solution is going to work. Many people have to have their own unique situations.
Maybe their parents died in an alley. Maybe they were adopted by a crazy person. Maybe they have a drug addiction. Maybe they need medications for mental illness. Maybe they have no legs. Maybe they have money but no family support system.
Which solution are you going to use that fits all these? What sign are you going to hold up that has some clever empty phrase on it that fixes all these problems and a million more? What are you going to post on twitter that will actually DO something?
If you think these are solutions, then our Joker is probably waiting to be born. Maybe we have them happen now with every unknown person that dies in an alley or mass shooter that kills random shoppers at a Wal-Mart.
This is what makes this a nearly perfect film. It stuck with me. It got me thinking of how we have become lockstep in our ideas and have gone to war over them without examining the new data that is always coming in. Because people have problems that are as unique as they are.
And no one’s listening.