Joker is NO JOKE! (Movie Review)

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A Brief History

On October 4, 2019, the latest and perhaps greatest of the DC Comics related movies will be released to an eager and avid public.  Joker is projected to be a “stand alone” movie, while centered on the Batman/Gotham City mythology it is not tied into the other DC Cinematic Universe films that have already been produced and are to be produced.  We previewed this film on October 1, 2019, and found it to be every bit as dark, depressing, frightening, and engrossing as we had anticipated.  What a movie!  Despite idiotic and pervasive fears about the film potentially generating a wave of psychopathic murders across the nation, we highly doubt any such fallout will result from this fine movie.

Digging Deeper

Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the mentally and physically ill main character, Arthur Fleck, who will become “Joker,” the 44 year old veteran actor turns in a performance that will undoubtedly garner a nomination as Best Actor at the Academy Awards.

Joaquin Phoenix received considerable praise for his performance as the Joker.  Photograph by Diana Ringo.

While we prefer not to provide spoilers that could ruin your movie going experience, we can roughly describe the plot and discuss important elements.  Arthur Fleck is a sad sack type person, approaching middle age and living in poverty with his mother.  His work as a for rent clown is somewhat less than fulfilling and his mental illness, which includes a type of inability to stop laughing at inappropriate times ruins his encounters with other people and hinders his ultimate goal of becoming a stand-up comic.  To society, Fleck is an anonymous piece of human garbage, and casual encounters with the public result in decidedly unhappy consequences for the tortured Fleck.

Fleck’s decline and descent into madness is fed by the cruelty and uncaring of others, and perhaps the income inequality that mirrors our own society, with filthy rich people seeming to have no understanding of or empathy for the great mass of working class and lower class people.  The story is gripping and the audience is led to feel sad for the character, but also to fear his madness as he tumbles toward the inevitable decline into violence.  Speaking of violence, there is far less murder and mayhem committed by the title character than we had anticipated, but the excellence of the acting and script kept our attention riveted to the screen.

Some critics have offered ambivalent reviews wherein they praise the film and then rate it less than top notch because they fear a violent social backlash from the socioeconomic and mental health aspects of the film.  Hey, it is either a great film or it is not!  Social backlash has no place in rating a movie, in our opinion…   Every movie does NOT have to be some sort of social engineering.  Movies are art, and art should not be subject to manipulation by anyone other than the artists.  Speaking of which, ludicrous fears and warnings about the movie resulting in potential violence at theaters by people apparently upset with the income inequality and social order erupting into spontaneous riots and mass murder.  We believe this analysis and prediction is ridiculous!   Sure, some deranged person here or there may find inspiration in Joker as an excuse to commit violence, but such people tend to find their inspiration somewhere, anywhere, regardless of whether or not there really is any such reasonable cause for prompting violence.  The idea that theater goers would suddenly become crazed killers is especially goofy.  We watched the movie in a packed theater, and there was no indication whatsoever that anyone was about to go postal.

Some critics that claim they liked the movie, still marked it down a tad for its reliance on previously explored movie plot devices, drawing from such films as Taxi Driver (1976), Falling Down (1993), and The King of Comedy (1982).  The fact that Robert DeNiro plays a talk show host in Joker that serves as a foil for the tortured main character reverse/mirrors his role in The King of Comedy, in which DeNiro is the tortured failed comic and Jerry Lewis is the famous television host, which drives home the point.  The title character is plagued by not only mental/emotional issues, but we find out during the movie that part of his problem may be a result of physical abuse as a child, perhaps causing brain issues.

People have also bemoaned the portrayal of a mentally ill person as a danger to society.  Well, duh!  While the vast majority of people with mental and emotional issues are NOT a danger to the rest of us, some of these folks are indeed a danger to themselves and others, and to pretend this is not the case is disingenuous.  Some people with physical and mental/emotional related illness are potential murderers.  The percentage is small, yes, and we should make no hysterical assumptions about the danger an individual poses to the rest of us based on the presence of mental/emotional issues, but why is it wrong to admit that sometimes such problems escalate into violent behavior?  Is the truth that threatening?

Joker provides a gritty and thorough character development of Arthur Fleck as he transforms into the Joker.  Gratuitous violence is absent.  All acts of violence are essential parts of the story line and support the plot.  That being said, the violence depicted on the screen can be upsetting to persons of delicate sensibilities.  Fear and anger are readily generated in the soul of the audience as they empathize with the down and out Fleck, rooting for the guy while fearing his descent into madness.  Depiction of rich people as uncaring, sneering, oppressors of the masses may well resonate with some audience members, but did not manifest itself in the audience we screened the movie with (a diverse crowd).

Watching Joker is a gripping and moving experience, much more so than any other Marvel or DC movie we have yet seen.  While effects are excellent, the film is not about eye candy and spectacular effects.  The film is about sadness and violence, with plenty of both.  Did we mention the performance by Joaquin Phoenix?  Wow.  What a great acting performance.  The portrayal by Phoenix of the Joker character is quite different than that of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, but each in their own way is a tour de force and not particularly comparable.

In a nutshell, we had high, high expectations for Joker and were not disappointedJoker provided incredible entertainment and movie experience and we strongly recommend the film for audiences over the age of 12.  Younger teens and sensitive people may use discretion in deciding to see the movie.  We predict Academy Award nominations for Best Film and Best Actor in the offing, as well as tremendous financial success for the modest budget of $55 million.  Running time is 2 hours and 1 minute.

Question for students (and subscribers): Should movies be subject to social “responsibility?”  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Azzarello, Brian. Joker (DC Black Label Edition). DC Black Label, 2019.

Various. The Joker: A Celebration of 75 Years.  DC Comics, 2014.

Wallace, Daniel. The Joker: A Visual History of the Clown Prince of Crime. Universe, 2011.

The featured image in this article, a scaled-down, low-resolution image of a poster for Joker, is used in an article that provides critical commentary on the film in question per fair use under the copyright law of the United States.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.