“The worst part about having a mental illness is that people expect you to behave as though you don’t.”
Yeah, fair to say that it’s been a bit of a while since I did one of these – been busy you could say. But I went to see Joker over the weekend, twice. I went to see it with two different groups of people, and they all had their own individual opinions on what happened, and its interesting because there hasn’t been a film in a while, that I’ve seen at least, that has sparked so much debate from such a wide variety of people. I’m going to talk about some of those things, and I’ll try to keep it short.
The film draws its origin from DC Comics, but you could be mistaken for thinking that it wasn’t. It is just as much a character study of a rundown and lonely man who has been rejected by society as it is a film about the birth of Batman’s arch nemesis.
Arthur isn’t the only thing that is rundown within the film, so is the city. Drawing aesthetics from 70s dystopia films like Taxi Driver and Network, Gotham is a place of fear and terror, mirroring the real world state of New York City in the 1970s. Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur can be seen as a modern day version of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, performing the same sorts of fictitious acts as Bickle and giving similar reasonings (who interesting was played by Robert De Niro, also a big star of “Joker”).
At its core, this is a film about a collective failure of a society to listen to people with mental health issues, and to really listen, not just to “put on a face and pretend”. Arthur has spent his whole life being thrown aside and rejected, whether it been the lies told by his narcissistic ‘mother’ or the refusal of anyone around him to really listen to his problems, he has spent his whole life being rejected by society, and consequently its moulded the person he becomes. His actions represent the society collapsing in onto itself, and being destroyed by the very monsters it has helped to create.
This is best represented by the clown rebellion subplot that occurs in and around Gotham. The citizens have become liberated by Arthur’s actions, and have started to fight back against the system that is oppressing them. This is best shown when Thomas Wanye meets his end at the hands of a crazed clown, quoted as “you get what you deserve”. While the death of Batman’s parents has usually always been delivered as the brutal massacre of two innocent people, this rendition is different, showing it as rich biggots getting what they deserve, after failing to use their power and influence to help make the lives of the poor better.
Joker showcases a society that had become too complacent with a harsher way of thinking, and lack of empathy for those sitting on the edges with nowhere else to go. Ultimately, the ‘monsters’, such as Arthur, are made and shaped by the very society that they are so desperately wanting to be a part of. We become the monsters we deserve.
Directed by Todd Phillips.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz and Frances Conroy.
Reviewed by Duncan Swift.