I had no interest in this movie originally, I really didn’t. I admit it may have been because the controversies and general culture behind the movie were exhausting me but the main contributing factor was that it just didn’t personally appeal to me. I don’t have much experience with character studies or dramas so even though it was about a character I have some affection for, I just wasn’t interested. But when the reviews started pouring out and I saw how divided it was among critics it piqued my interest (at the time of this writing the Rotten Tomatoes score is sitting at 69%). Reviews were along the lines of “This film is a masterpiece!” and “This has the emotional intensity of a school shooters manifesto” and that made my ears perk up. Movies with that big of a critical divide, especially larger ones like this, have always interested me for some sick reason. I admit that I had a lot of reservations before seeing Joker and while some of them were founded, mainly the uncomfortable scenes, I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed the film. I think there are many aspects of Joker that are interesting and it’s a beautiful film on a technical level but there was something about it that kept bothering me.
Like I said above I think Joker is an absolutely gorgeous film. The use of color in every scene fits the mood perfectly sets the atmosphere. The fact that the film uses a subdued color pallet and gets more colorful with harsher/violent looking colors as time goes on is brilliant and the camera work is uncomfortable well done. The way many of the shots linger and zoom in on Arthur (Joaquin Phoenix) to exemplify how further broken he becomes is genuinely unsettling. Speaking of Mr. Phoenix he is phenomenal in this movie. He sells Every Single Piece Of Dialogue and practically commandeers your attention whenever he’s on-screen. He portrays the character he’s given perfectly…even when his writing can be a bit too on the nose and bit uncomfortable (for the wrong reasons, I’ll get to that). I can say the same for every actor in this movie as well. Everyone from the side characters to the main cast brings their A-game and it helps elevate the movie to something thoroughly engaging and entertaining. Overall I think Joker is really engaging and an absolute treat to the eyes but I want to go back to what I said about the character of Arthur because while I enjoyed watching him evolve into the Joker in a sense I also feel there were times where the character felt a tad problematic.
Arthur Fleck is a man that suffers from mental illness. Arthur Fleck is a struggling clown and standup comedian. Arthur Fleck is a man that has gone through various hardships and has gone through more than any person should bear. Arthur Fleck is a terrible person that kills and thrives on the suffering of others because he felt he was wronged. The film does not excuse his actions and while there are characters within the movie that put him on a pedestal at no point does it show that he is in the right or fully justified in what he’s doing. That was honestly my biggest worry going in with this movie and I’m so glad it didn’t do that. While at times he can be sympathetic the moment he finally crosses the line is the moment you stop finding the character sad in any kind of way. Now that was the thing I liked about the character..what about what I didn’t like? Honestly. I thought the portrayal of mental illness was in poor taste. The way Arthur talks and the way he acts always came off as uncomfortable to me and while I get that’s what they were going for it just didn’t work for me at times. This goes for other characters that suffer from it as well (characters that I won’t mention due to spoilers). No character with mental illness is portrayed within any other context outside of negative and that just rubs me the wrong way. I fully admit I am nowhere NEAR qualified to talk about the intricacies and nuances of mental illness and how it should be portrayed in media but it’s gotta be better than “Oh this person has a mental illness, they’re FUCKING crazy!” Also, I felt the final monologue the Joker had was A BIT too heavy-handed and, dare I say, cringeworthy. Dude for real says “SOCIETY ABANDONED” him and I almost burst out laughing.
Now. With all of this being said. Would I recommend Joker?
This is a really hard movie to suggest to people given the stuff surrounding and within it but I do think Joker has a bunch of positive aspects to warrant a watch. I don’t think it’s as bad as a lot of people are making it out to be and I really don’t know if it’s worth the controversy it’s getting. But I also can’t blame people for having reservations about it. I think it’s a fine movie but if you get uncomfortable about things such as violence or mental illness maybe stay away from it. I think it’s a fascinating movie and probably the most INTERESTING comic book movie released this year….but I wouldn’t call it the most enjoyable.