Joker (2019)
October 6, 2019 2:47 PM - Subscribe

During the 1980s, a failed stand-up comedian is driven insane and turns to a life of crime and chaos in Gotham City while becoming an infamous psychopathic crime figure.
posted by cozenedindigo (29 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Noah Berlatsky's review is pretty savage about what he calls the movie's cowardice. It includes tons of spoilers so don't read it if you care about that.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SERIOUSLY MAJOR SPOILERS QUOTED JUST BELOW








Manly High Quality Jokes (Unlocked)

The Joker is a masterclass in this kind of cowardly but validating dogwhistle...Arthur's anger is identifiably white and male, which makes it important and profound. But it's not too identifiably white and male, which would make him a white nationalist terrorist. His resentment, we're assured, is not anti-woman or anti-black, but anti-elitist...Racism and misogyny are painted over with the familiar clown make-up of economic anxiety...

It's not an accident that the movie ends with an evocation of Psycho's final scenes. Arthur, shut up in an asylum, breaks into uncontrollable laughter, just as Norman Bates, locked in the police station, breaks into an eerie smile. The implication is that Arthur and Norman are in on the same joke.

The joke in both cases is that the director both gets to disavow white male murderousness and claim credit for it. The clichéd antihero, the disingenuous dogwhistles, the ostentatious erasure of other perspectives, the references to other white guy protagonists, all make The Joker read as an important film to many cultural arbiters. In a patriarchal society, masculinity is celebrated, and that means that toxic masculinity is seen as profound, serious, controversial, gritty, real, and cool. The Joker shows that no matter how tired the act, critics will look at even the most clownish white guy, and take him seriously.

posted by mediareport at 5:16 PM on October 6 [14 favorites]


You don't need to (and shouldn't) mark spoilers here, discussion of the content of a work is literally what FanFare is for. If someone doesn't want to be spoiled on this movie then they shouldn't be reading this thread.

Anyway, this movie was fine. Excellent setting, some beautiful shots, Phoenix was amazing, but overall it was largely warmed-over Scorsese with a good dose of Norma Bates. I'd give it a B-, maybe a B. Certainly not worth all of the fuss it's generated. And it's certainly been bizarre to see online commenters and the media almost eagerly wanting this movie to cause a mass shooting to prove whatever point they think they're making.

As much as people have been screeching about incels, the strangest part for me was the movie's politics. It changed Thomas Wayne into a Mitt Romney-ish out of touch rich guy with contempt for the poor who was clearly shown in a negative light, but also depicted the Occupy-ish movement the Joker accidentally starts as a horde of mindless thugs. What, if anything, was it trying to say?
posted by Sangermaine at 7:46 PM on October 6 [10 favorites]


Also, it was pretty great that the Zorro movie that the Waynes fatefully leave is now Zorro, The Gay Blade.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:51 PM on October 6 [7 favorites]


This film reinforces my already deep-seated belief that some comic book characters (especially villains) don't need origin stories. I was never the most massive fan of the Nolan trilogy, but he definitely handled that point deftly.

What, if anything, was it trying to say?

It struck me as trying very very hard to "be meaningful" without actually engaging with meaningful things. There's some "mental health is important", but the film seems to feel that's not a strong enough board to put it's full weight on, there's the class war stuff but that feels rather jarring both because the Joker isn't, y'know, V from V for Vendetta. If you draw that connection then you either have the option of making the Joker more of a misunderstood hero type than a villain or making the working class protestors into villains or buffoons in some sense.

Basically the "issues" stuff felt to me like scenery the Joker is walking past, rather than part of his story.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:27 PM on October 6 [4 favorites]


Haven't seen the movie. Wasn't going to. However, Michael Moore's take on it is giving me second thoughts.

Anyone who has seen it.... does any of that ring true?
posted by kokaku at 2:51 AM on October 7 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that the movie includes an almost complete Gary Glitter song. A man who is a convicted pedophile on two continents.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:52 AM on October 7 [4 favorites]


i liked the movie. visually, it was amazing. joaquin phoenix was breathtaking.

the movie never promised to be a good-time romp for all ages. as for a message, i don't know. does the movie have one? is it just a cynical cash grab? i haven't decided. but it has people talking about issues, so it's probably a step above a lot of superhero movies.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:46 AM on October 7


I must admit I hadn't paid a lot of attention to this film when it was announced but now that it is out I finally registered that it was by Todd Phillips, best known to most audiences for his Hangover movies. However, earlier in his career he made the documentary Hatred about the self-destructive punk performer GG Allin (if you're not familiar with him a word of caution when you search for him - he's very NSFW and likely not safe for most people's brains). I haven't seen the Joker but it seems there might be a direct connect between the two (it looks like I'm not the only one to see the connection - Slate has an article on it and Phillips in his introduction when the film played at TIFF mentions Hatred). Anyone seen both that can make the comparison?
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:34 AM on October 7 [2 favorites]


In a something of a comedy of errors, we saw Joker instead of Downton Abbey (long story, not worth going into). Phoenix is outstanding in this, but I have to say it sort of ruined the character for me just a little bit. The extended riff on mental health, the failure of social services, his horrendously abusive childhood, and so on, clears away (for me) the character's mystery. Maybe this was cemented by Ledger's Joker - he had no origin, he just sort of was. Without an origin, the Joker is sort of...I dunno. Mythological?

Against the context of what I saw in the movie, I'm compelled to see him as a terribly damaged human being, with all of the things that follow from that. Not sure why this matters and I'm still trying to get my head around it. Hero origin stories are de riguer, after all, and I don't think any less of, say, Batman or Superman by knowing where they came from. Something about the villain feels different though.
posted by jquinby at 8:13 AM on October 7 [2 favorites]


This appears to be a non-Facebook mirror of Michael Moore's review (Dorset Eye)

jquinby: Hero origin stories are de riguer, after all, and I don't think any less of, say, Batman or Superman by knowing where they came from. Something about the villain feels different though.

My initial thought was that the villain's story is an attempt to justify or humanize characters that are generally painted as relatively flat Bad Guys, to be battled and defeated by the Good Guys. After all, villains are often actual murderers, so on one hand, you're trying to get sympathy for a devil.

Then there's the point of view from Moore - "It’s about the America that gave us Trump," which I first read to mean he's warning us not to be complacent about toxic masculinity, the deplorable people who justify their violence with their perceived oppression.

But on re-reading Moore's review, he's painting the Joker as the low-income underdog, and spinning this to be a rallying cry to "focus your attention on the nonviolent power you hold in your hands every single day."

Which seems like rather a stretch.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:05 AM on October 7 [4 favorites]


This film was an absolute masterpiece! Four days later and I'm still thinking about it...I want to go see it again. So that I can think about it some more perhaps.

I've read and heard a lot of critics and others saying the film has no message. I find that so strange. For me, it was a nonstop song about the nature of humor and human connection. It was tragedy and comedy and they kept changing places, it was nuts!

I actually felt myself pulling faces during the film, sometimes a laugh, sometimes a grimace... I think I was alternating between mimicking (empathizing?) and having a panic attack. I was completely confused by my feelings of disgust and empathy and even attraction* to Joker, or to Phoenix, I have no idea! I'd love to believe all the good things were attributed to Phoenix and all the bad was the Joker character, but I'm afraid that's not true. That would actually deny the brilliance of his acting. So I have to reconcile all these feelings about how I feel a human connection to a character whose hate festers and who increasingly brings harm to others.

While I was feeling the deep dread of anxiety throughout the whole experience (similar to watching Requiem for a Dream), I also felt safe and held, like I was in good hands and I could trust the director to lead me through this. This was confirmed for me the first time Joker performed on stage at the comedy show. I think I was nearly in tears anticipating having to watch a scene of him bombing on stage and witnessing his experience of that. Which he did and I didn't have to. The film laid us down so so gently, by first showing us the delusion of him with arms outstretched, embraced by the adoring audience. Thank god because I don't think I could have taken the version of him clumsily flinging his arms out to the nervous chuckles had they shown that first and foremost. That I didn't even have to consider it (because I had taken the version I saw as truth, albeit only his truth) meant that it was much easier to accept the reality of the dismal performance when I saw it later.

It also nicely forshadowed the delusion of him on the Murray show. I am truly grateful we only had to see his glorified delusion of that.

I also really loved how the film showed us every possible kind of humor, from slapstick to the depraved. It was fascinating to hear what the audience (both in the film and in the theatre) found funny. I think I was the only one who laughed when he walked into the hospital's glass door. And when he was laughing in between the jokes at the comedy show. Which made other people laugh. Which I found amusing.

*There was this twisting Jim Morrison thing he was doing with his body that was so unhinged and reckless and wild...made me wonder if/where there is the line between artistic genius and pure madness. Add that to the list of things I think this film is trying to say.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:04 PM on October 7 [6 favorites]


Just wanted to thank you for posting the spoilers warning. Gonna catch it this weekend.
posted by Sphinx at 1:27 PM on October 7 [1 favorite]


iamkimiam, a friend commented to me that Joaquin looked to her like he was channeling Iggy Pop with that snaky dance. Morrison makes sense too...
posted by queensissy at 3:17 PM on October 7 [1 favorite]


Iggy Pop! That's way more accurate.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:39 PM on October 7


there's the class war stuff but that feels rather jarring both because the Joker isn't, y'know, V from V for Vendetta

Neither is Bane, but The Dark Knight Rises also went for that angle. Haven't seen this movie yet, but I wonder which of the two is more politically incoherent.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:25 PM on October 7 [2 favorites]


Loved the references to The King of Comedy
posted by luckynerd at 3:08 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


I loved how the apartment set served as the clear antecedent for Joker’s fashion sense, especially the plaid living room wallpaper, the colors, etc. Is the link between him and Thomas Wayne canon or new? I was glad it wasn’t literally Arthur/Joker who killed the Waynes as that would have been too on the nose.
posted by carmicha at 6:35 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


Nicholson's Jack Napier/The Joker did kill the Waynes in Batman (1989) but I think that's the only version of The Joker who did.
posted by octothorpe at 5:29 AM on October 9


It is not canon in the comics, no.
posted by Fukiyama at 6:56 AM on October 9


I’m still sorting out my thoughts about this picture, but I do want to note that I was thrilled to hear a Jackson C. Frank song on the soundtrack (“My Name is Carnival”). I couldn’t quite place it at first, but when I did...man. He’s one of the great forgotten singer songwriters, and his life story (had a horrific childhood, suffered from severe mental illness, wound up homeless and destitute) makes his music eerily perfect for this picture.
posted by holborne at 9:30 PM on October 10


Just saw it last night and my thoughts are basically that it's Taxi Driver with a dose of V for Vendetta, but minus the revulsion we're supposed to feel for Travis Bickle. I didn't get anywhere near the "incel" feel I was promised and quite enjoyed the reversion of the Batman story- that his family's wealth and the inequality it relies on is what causes the crime Batman fights. Still, it was very obviously about angry white dudes no matter how much I tried to let the "social funding cuts and mental health care and rich people fucking us over" angle distract from it.

Also I know the Joker is supposed to be a criminal mastermind but I never got any kind of hint of that from Fleck, even when he transforms toward the end. I don't suppose there'll be a sequel for Phoenix to meet his Batman and in that case I don't think this film needed to be a Joker movie. It was Taxi driver with a more "sympathetic" Travis but wrapped in a comic to get the nerds to watch it.

Overall I give it two bags of popcorn and a honking clown nose.
posted by Chaffinch at 12:59 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]


There may be three Jokers.

I've mentioned before that in the series Gotham, they introduced a character who was, very obviously, intended to become the Joker. And then, a couple of episodes later, they killed him. And yet the character strangely survived, as his signature nihilism, grin and "ha!ha!ha!" turned into a meme, spawning who knows how many proto- and actual Jokers. Why not Fleck as an early prototype?
posted by SPrintF at 2:03 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]


I feel like there was about half of a good movie here, and people's different reactions may depend on which half they paid attention to. The lifts from Scorsese were obvious, but Phillips does a decent enough job of recreating the atmosphere of a big city on the decline in the late seventies; everything seems either to have a thin layer of grime on it or flaking paint. The seventies was also the time when deinstitutionalization, which had actually begun a bit earlier, really started to bite America in the ass, as the failure of community support programs started to result in higher rates of homelessness and drug abuse, and the movie's got a bit of this, too.

But the other half has a lot of the problems that have been noted by many other people. The movie hedges its bets an awful lot; like Ang Lee's Hulk, it seems to want to use all the origins: he was a psychiatric patient off his meds, no, his mom was and he probably inherited the tendency, no, he was abused as a child and had a head injury, no, Society Made Him Like This. (The beauty of Nolan's approach is that it suggests that the whole idea of the origin story is superfluous in the face of a character like this, and mocks such stories; Phillips, whom one can believe might have literally had the scripts of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy heavily highlighted, doesn't seem able to abide that notion, or anything like it.) Phillips flirts with making Joker and Batman half-brothers just long enough to make us groan at the idea of yet another hoary trope getting trotted out, but then pulls back from it; Thomas Wayne punches Arthur, but only because he was creeping around the gates of Stately Wayne Manor freaking out Bruce and Alfred. The scene with the counselor suggests some solidarity between Arthur and the African-American women in his life, but there's also the suggestion that they've failed him in different ways. It reminds me a bit of Watchmen, in that it's not a complete failure, but most of the good bits were lifted more or less directly from other, superior works; in the case of Joker, that would be Scorsese, as well as some bits from Alan Moore and Frank Miller (the weirdly anachronistic use of a Dr. Ruth Westheimer clone--the real Dr. Ruth didn't really begin her media career until 1980--is lifted from The Dark Knight Returns, published in 1986), and its faults seem to be those of its director.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:52 PM on October 13 [3 favorites]


I've been thinking about Joker since I saw it a couple of days ago, so it has held my attention too long to say it was a "bad movie," but I am nearing the conclusion that it's chickenshit, and I hate it. Yes, it's beautiful and yes, Phoenix kills it but it absolutely does not stick the landing whatsoever. It was building towards being an all time great, then collapsed in on itself like a bad souffle in the end. For all it's noise about the working poor, this is a movie that ultimately agrees with it's millionaire creators about the menace of protest movements. This was a bad take in Dark Knight Rises, and it remains a bad take in Joker. And here, it's a protester who kills the Waynes! Does that mean in 2002 or so, the Batman who arrives in this Gotham starts beating up on Occupy dudes or what?

The final Murray Frankin scene is a fiasco, a complete disaster. When did Arthur change his mind about shooting himself on air? We see him practicing the move right up until the dressing room scene. And why, for fuck's sake, in a movie all about a dude's collapsing dream of becoming a comedian, in a movie with a midpoint nadir that involves him bombing his standup set, how on earth did the final draft of the script include a climactic talk show scene starring the fucking Joker, why were there not any jokes? That entire stupid "WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY" speech should have been JOKES. How hard would it have been to write 3 minutes of jokes about how much it sucks to be poor in Gotham? They had access to Marc Maron for crissakes!

I don't give a shit about comics canon in adaptations any more, especially about a character who has explicitly stated his past is multiple choice. But the entire movie is steeped in themes of comedy and laughter and acceptance, and it all crumbles in that talk show scene. Arthur deciding that his laugh was no disorder should have unlocked his sense of humor at last. Keep all the same tired points he wanted to make, keep Dr. Ruth, keep the murder of Murray Franklin, but get some damn punchlines in there. How did I get through an entire Joker origin movie where he never becomes really funny?

I liked the clown dancing. I like the better movies which this movie apes. I laughed out loud with delight at the surprise appearance of THICC 80s Alfred. But while it contains elements worthy of praise, I did not like Joker.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:56 AM on October 15 [3 favorites]


I agree whole-heartedly with Michael Moore. This is an important movie that takes dead aim at the Pumpkin King in the White House and at the America that made him.
posted by No Robots at 12:52 PM on October 15


Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele's take on the scary clown thing that we all have to talk about until this blows over
posted by eustatic at 5:30 PM on October 15 [2 favorites]


Jenny Nicholson:

"that grandmother sitting next to Arthur on the talk show, and having that be the thing that kicks off this confrontation is, just the moment that writer-director Todd Phillips comes out of the screen like a 3d movie to complain to you about his career. The whole speech is just a hot mess.

You can't have it both ways. You can't make a movie about a mentally ill man's tragic descent into further madness; and then also have an ending where he gives a big coherent speech where he's a mouthpiece for you, the writer-director, about how nobody wanted a fourth Hangover movie"

also her cut of the trailer
posted by eustatic at 7:13 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]


I wanted to like it and I wanted to think the "concerned" set were uncharitably misreading it. I wondered why people kept asking "what is the message"? Now I understand: they were asking because it's so empty. I just found it boring more than anything else. This is a mainstream film, and applying "Occam's Razor" here is useful: it turns out that Joker is nothing more than a dully written origin story that happens to have an exuberant performance, which makes it seem like the film must be hiding content equal to the performance. But it's not. It's as "interesting" as Transformers.

I shift around a lot in a theatre seat at the best of times, but I tell you, there was a moment halfway through where I probably would have walked out if not for my partner. Where I realized that Phoenix was going to twist and shout throughout the film but that nothing was going to develop beyond a few basic ideas shown in the trailers.

With no plot worth noting, Phoenix's performance risks exhaustion if the viewer does not find it captivating. And since he's not playing against anything, for me it was exhausting. There were so few emotional beats. (Was that the point?) Joker-coming-down-the-staircase was potentially a Special Moment, a fruition, a birth. OK, but then it shouldn't have been in the trailers. To watch the trailer is to get pretty much the whole show, and there's the rub. Here's the trailer, spare yourself 120 mins. Not even joking.

I think this movie probably will be looked back on and related to its time – in that "representative of the era" style. Michael Moore gave us a sneak peek of this in his "Joker blah blah Trump blah blah these times are ccrraazzyy!" essay. It's just too easy to do.

Joker told us at the end that it was OK to be negative, to ruin others' dreams or whatever. I believe he was giving me permission to explain my negative opinion. Thanks, Joker!
posted by sylvanshine at 11:58 PM on October 17


Hipsters and Fundies agree: Joker sucks.
posted by No Robots at 9:12 AM on October 18


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