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Joker

I think my favorite movie by director Todd Phillips (ROAD TRIP, STARSKY & HUTCH) is still his 1993 student film HATED: GG ALLIN & THE MURDER JUNKIES. It’s a documentary about an infamously transgressive punk singer skipping parole to do a tour where he kind of plays music, but the shows usually end soon after he shoves someone’s banana up his ass or smashes a woman’s nose with a beer bottle or shits on stage and throws it in the crowd. Phillips was clearly aware of the absurdity of his subject, but also in awe of someone living their life as a human middle finger. The director’s new film, JOKER, won the Golden Lion at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, and shows an evolution in his film craft, but not necessarily in his world view.

Let’s take a moment to consider that when BATMAN & ROBIN came out there is no way in hell any of us could’ve guessed that in 22 years one of our generation’s most respected actors would star in a super-fucked-up hard-R ‘70s period piece Scorsese knockoff character study vaguely based on (and officially branded as) an iconic Batman villain. Much less that it would be controversial only for reasons other than “it’s too scary for kids.” It’s a crazy world we’re living in. Almost like… the Joker. Oh my god.

Joaquin Phoenix (Joel Schumacher’s 8MM) plays Arthur Fleck, a weird socially inept guy who takes care of his sick mother (Frances Conroy, CATWOMAN) in his shitty New Y— I mean Gotham City apartment and works as a clown for a small agency that rents them out to hospitals and businesses and stuff. And he’s been trying to write some jokes to try his hand at standup comedy. But he gets in trouble at work for things that aren’t his fault, he loses his social worker because of budget cuts, a black lady is mean to him on the bus, etc. One night when some drunk Wall Street assholes pick on him on the subway he Bernard Goetzes them, flees the scene, and is dubbed by the media and police a clown vigilante attacking the rich. He alternates between trying not to get caught and being empowered by what he did.

The screenplay by Phillips & Scott Silver (8 MILE, THE FIGHTER) takes maybe six things from DC Comics, with two of them being “the Joker” and “Gotham City.” Another is Batman’s old man Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen, GHOST RIDER), who has not yet been murdered and is a rich asshole who’s running for Mayor. Arthur’s mom used to work for him and is always writing him letters, believing he’ll help her with her financial problems. Since the movie is kind of SUPER-8-for-Scorsese-instead-of-Spielberg it makes you wonder if the famous death of Batman’s parents will become a political assassination in homage to TAXI DRIVER. That would be a different take.

The other obvious comparison is KING OF COMEDY, with Arthur causing Rupert Pupkin-like discomfort through delusional belief in his talent as a comedian and being fixated on talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, Joel Schumacher’s FLAWLESS). It’s much less funny than Scorsese’s movie, but it does have some dark humor in it. For me the biggest laugh was when he exits a dramatic scene walking face first into a glass door. I love the irony that he fails with all his comedy and then does a great physical gag completely by accident when he’s not trying to be funny.

For some guy near the back of the theater the biggest laugh was a not-exactly-joke at the expense of a little person (Leigh Gill, THE SCORPION KING 4: QUEST FOR POWER) trying to flee the scene of a gruesome murder. I didn’t find it funny but that guy straight up guffawing was very in line with an evil Joker sense of humor and made the scene even more upsetting.

I think the idea that works best is Arthur’s neurological disorder that makes him sometimes laugh for no reason. It allows for Phoenix to do a great Joker laugh for the unorthodox purpose of causing social discomfort instead of punctuating evil speeches. Sometimes the situations it causes are funny, but you feel bad for laughing. Sometimes they’re just sad.

Zazie Beetz and Brian Tyree Henry, two actors I love from Atlanta, make appearances. Henry does his thing in one scene but Beetz has an important role as a neighbor who Arthur becomes fixated on, and the way that whole relationship goes down is interesting. It’s definitely noticeable that pretty much every character that upsets Arthur besides the one he kills is black, but I’m unsure whether this is an unconscious bias coming out in a depiction of urban stress, or an intentional point about Arthur having racial resentment. Could go either way.

I kind of liked JOKER. I found it involving, Phoenix is obviously very good, it looks beautiful, there are those bits of dark comedy, there are some turns I didn’t see coming, some genuinely scary parts, and it’s a creepy slow burn to a couple really effective explosions of seriously fucked up violence. It’s about as well-executed a version as you could hope for of what in my opinion seems like the half-thought-out premise somebody brags that they pitched to a studio but the fucking cowards wouldn’t go for it. Something Max Landis would come up with. What if it’s The Joker, in Gotham City, only it’s real dark and grounded, ‘cause you learn about his problems, and he doesn’t do fun Joker stuff, or obviously fight Batman or anything. ‘Cause if you think about it if the Joker was real he wouldn’t fall into a vat of acid and have giant jack in the boxes and fight a guy dressed as a bat in a stylized gothic metropolis. He’d be more like Mark David Chapman. So that’s what you have to watch. Sorry losers. Fuck you.

That they were able to make such a watchable movie out of an idea I find so fucking stupid is actually very impressive to me.

Maybe it would bother me less if they hadn’t done such a good job of getting our attention, making people treat it as a big important movie. As a small little experiment, a strange pop culture mashup, obviously it’s different from what other people are doing, and that’s good. But when I hear somebody imply that this is somehow a better or deeper way to do comic book movies because it takes the fun parts out and does an imitation of a type of dark character study that was new 40 years ago… I’m just not sold on that at all. There are better fucked up psychological portraits than JOKER, but there aren’t better Dolph-Lundgren-on-a-sea-horse movies than AQUAMAN. So if I had to choose, I’m goin with the sea horse.

I’m glad we get both. But don’t give me some horse shit line about he wanted to make a character study but the only way to get that greenlit in this day and age is to say it’s a reimagining of Batman or Mork & Mindy or some shit. I mean, Joaquin already made YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE. That was way more challenging and he didn’t have to rename his character Beetle Bailey or anything.

I’m also skeptical of all these takes about this being a timely movie (or too timely… “this is not the time for a movie about this”), as if it’s a recent development that sick people feel/are mistreated and have a hard time and become suicidal or psychotic or stalk people. I’m not sure how this addresses those problems in a more advanced way than Scorsese did with Travis Bickle when Phillips was six years old. I think the attitude of the movie is actually pretty dated, this idea that it’s subversive and rebellious to recast heroes as villains. I get that this is telling the story from a different perspective, but making Thomas Wayne an asshole and Alfred (Douglas Hodge, THE DESCENT: PART 2) kind of a douche and the murder of the Waynes part of a backlash against the 1% isn’t… like… a cool idea. It’s just a very mild form of taking a shit on stage.

(Fucking with the audience by SPOILER making us believe for a couple minutes that they made Joker be Batman’s brother is a better one. I heard a guy sigh and I thought “I agree.” But when you find out what’s really going on it’s more interesting.)

(Or not! Cullen told The Hollywood Reporter, “The backstory was that Arthur’s mother had worked for Thomas in his home, and she was a beautiful woman who Thomas was attracted to and it led to a physical relationship. Later in life, she’s in and out of mental institutions. And in my mind, Thomas Wayne put her there.” Boooooooooo.)

This is probly some nerd shit, but I just want to say that I hope next time somebody plays the Joker they forget about Heath Ledger’s version. Yeah, he was great – now can we get back to what the character used to be? There’s no reason he has to have greasy, scraggly hair and messy makeup and not have white skin and green hair. This seems less like an interpretation of the nearly 70 year old comic book character than of specifically the Ledger version. The only thing I can think of that arguably comes from a traditional Joker is how skinny he is, but that seems to be mainly for MACHINIST style shirtless grossout purposes.

Is it weird that there’s not even any references to playing cards? Where does he get “Joker” from? ‘Cause he tells jokes?

If you’re not sure this is your type of movie, it probly isn’t. But if you’re down to clown and stoked to get joked and don’t necessarily care whether or not someone has danced with the devil in the pale moonlight – sure, give it a shot.

I guess in the end Arthur Fleck is kind of like GG Allin. Both planned to kill themselves on stage, but fate took them in other directions. GG just o.d.’d and Arthur became The Joker. Or at least he put on makeup and stood on a car and people acted like he was cool. I can’t say I’m disappointed that this is (supposedly) a standalone. I think this is enough. Unless you put Aquaman in the next one.

p.s. According to IMDb JOKER is an alternate title for WILD CARD, Jason Statham’s remake of the Burt Reynolds movie HEAT. I just thought you should know.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 8th, 2019 at 9:15 am and is filed under Comic strips/Super heroes, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

90 Responses to “Joker”

  1. Todd N. DeShadows

    October 8th, 2019 at 9:30 am

    I think the big reason why it doesn’t compare to “Taxi Driver” or “King of Comedy” is that he just never seems in control of his actions. Like, Travis Bickle made himself who he is because that’s what he wanted, being a psycho vigilante is the only thing that made him happy. With Arthur Fleck, it feels more like becoming the Joker was forced upon him. A lot of people don’t like that for ideological reasons, like it’s a bad message to be sending out to a bunch of disaffected loners, but the bigger problem with it to me is that it’s boring. I didn’t feel sad for Arthur, or excited for him, when he finally became the Joker, the way I did with Bickle or Walter White or Saul Goodman.

  2. The thing about black people is another Scorsese homage.

  3. I think weirder than people trying to push it as an important movie, is how people seemed to desperately wanted it to become the new cinematic bible of all incels and internet assholes, by trying to warn us about it! It took less than 10 minutes after the trailer was released until I had the first Tweet in my timeline, calling it “another glorification of a mentally ill white male”. Once the movie won at Cannes or Venice*, people were trying REALLY hard to warn us about the dangers of it, to the point where I even fully expected some assholes to really kill a bunch of people BECAUSE the media had their knives out and kept talking about it. Like a deadly Streisand effect.

    *To be honest, before that I expected it to be more of a sleeper hit or even a slight underperformer, because outside of the internet nobody seemed to care until then.

  4. The amount of anxious hand-wringing news outlets have had over this movie has been straight-up baffling to watch. I thought we were past the days when society was convinced that movies were going to Corrupt The Youths.

    Any time I’ve seen anything for this movie recently it’s made me think of that joke Scott Ackerman made about how there’s something…almost chilling about the Joker. Someone…who finds crime…funny??? Pretty scary to imagine wow.

  5. Convincing themselves that this movie was going to get us all killed may not be the dumbest thing that internet liberals ever worked themselves into a tizzy about, but it is certainly the lamest. 176% guarantee that Todd Phillips started trolling them with his dumbass “PC culture” tirade exclusively because he immediately saw that it would result in thousands of gullible morons giving his movie weeks of free publicity while they ignored a straight-up constitutional crisis that was unfolding concurrently.

    Sure, the fact that this is exactly the movie the Ain’t It Cool Talkbackers wanted 15 years ago was definitely a red flag that it’s for unpleasant morons, but it should also have made it equally obvious that it was utterly irrelevant and unimportant and that hysterical public weeping about how scary it was would only encourage it. The fact that this dumbass anti-controversy was swamping my twitter feed for weeks is definitive proof that I need to get off that cesspool of a platform permanently.

  6. I’ll admit that the first thing I thought of when I saw the trailer was “So do I have to get there early to catch the mass shooting or will it be cool if I show up after the trailers?” Which, to me, was as much a joke about how ubiquitous mass shooting are these days as it is about how the movie looks like it was made specifically to be quoted in 4chan manifestos. I don’t actually think the movie poses any more danger to our society (such as it is) than any other work of fiction, considering there are angry pieces of human filth committing senseless acts of butchery and ignorance in this country on a daily basis with no need to be inspired by some edgelord comic book movie.

    I’m not skipping it for anything of that though. I’m skipping it because you can look at two frames of this thing and see every single thing that’s going to happen in it. It just looks dumb and boring and self-important and I don’t feel any need to subject myself to that kind of wankery .

  7. The only group of people I can see people wary of this were those family members of the Aurora shooting. I just moved to Aurora this year and I go to the movie theather were the shooting happened. They did not show The Joker.

  8. Oh Jesus and now I check my newsfeed to see a completely ridiculous article in Time of all places, breathlessly describing how *controversial* and *dangerous* the Joker has always been. My god, people, he’s a cartoon clown who gets punched in the face by a guy in a bat costume!

    It feels like some people think the Joker is, like, a real guy, like Charles Manson or something, but people were *way less upset* about actual Charles Manson appearing in movies earlier this summer.

  9. “But don’t give me some horse shit line about he wanted to make a character study but the only way to get that greenlit in this day and age is to say it’s a reimagining of Batman or Mork & Mindy or some shit. I mean, Joaquin already made YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE. That was way more challenging and he didn’t have to rename his character Beetle Bailey or anything.”

    I don’t know that you can really compare these two. Joker had a budget of $58,000,000 and You Were Never Really Here had a budget of $7,000,000. Philips isn’t getting a $58 million dollar budget for his version of Taxi Driver.

  10. You can probably say this about anything but I really don’t see the point of this movie.

  11. We’re at a weird place in time where some people see little separation between who they are and what happens in the movies they support. It’s an effect of movies as personal branding, late-capitalism, etc. I’m even hearing some people who I know are smart who take the Joker saying he isn’t political to mean that the movie must also think it’s above politics, and the whole thing is frustrating.

    Like, all the references to MODERN TIMES were key to my understanding of what I think the film is trying to say about antihuman systems, though the glowing humanity of that movie is completely absent here. I also noticed what you were saying about his interactions with black people, specifically with black women, who he thinks he can turn to for escape (the neighbour in the elevator, the girl on the bus, his counsellors) due to an imagined shared oppression, yet he’s shut out each time. In a way, I think this is just a provocation on Phillips’ part, but there’s at least some levels to this text.

    I thought this was more compelling than YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, though I’ll probably never want to watch it again.

  12. I do think it is remarkable that some “suit” didn’t really fuck with this movie. It is pretty clear the people who made this didn’t consider it a super hero movie or a comic book movie. There really isn’t an action scene in the movie (unless you count them chasing Joker into the subway an action scene). Some executive somewhere must have pushed hard to get a big action scene or gun fight in this thing. Hell, that may be the reason we have the alley scene at the end. BTW, do you think the Waynes went to see Zorro The Gay Blade? I forgot what the other movie on the marquee was, but I guess that means this was set in 1981.

    I am worried Heath Ledger may have completely ruined this character forever. His performance is so amazing and iconic, I feel every actor who plays the joker from hereon out (and we will see many more, I am sure) will do some kind of spin on that performance.

    Phoenix really is amazing, though. I am almost positive he is in every second of the film, I don’t remember a scene without him. He was great to watch. And the film really looks great.

  13. Haven’t seen it yet (as usual), and probably won’t til it’s on my TV, but one thing, Vern. I don’t see why it would be weird or underwhelming or whatever you were implying if the character is called Joker because he tells jokes. It makes perfect sense to me, and — again, without having seen the movie — might even carry a little weight? (But, of course, might not.)

    Mr. M: I bet you save yourself from seeing a lot of shit, but have you ever come to discover that you had missed out on something good by making your mind up so certainly beforehand? I know this sounds judgy. I don’t mean it to. I’m legitimately wondering if you’ve ever been pleasantly surprised later on?

  14. Oh definitely. I’ve changed my tune a million times. But I never regret skipping it in the theater. Being pleasantly surprised by a movie I assumed I’d hate after getting it free from the library or something is different than going out and spending money on something I assume I’ll hate. I’ll probably give JOKER a chance eventually but I’m not paying for the privilege.

  15. I suppose I can also be tempted by a cheap Blu-ray with a generous assortment of special features. I just spent $8.50 at Target against my better judgment on the Blu of BLADE RUNNER 2049 even though I’m pretty sure I’ll be praying for the sweet release of death after the first two hours. But what if I’m wrong? What if, against all odds, I find its two hours of beautifully photographed somnabulance as enthralling as all of the white guys on the Internet with beards and opinions on local IPAs say it is? I guess I’ll just have to find out.

  16. I’ll say it. I did not like Ledger’s Joker, ok? I found it pretty…well, not Jokerish. Sue me.

    Also Vern…Thomas Wayne, Alfred, the two detectives, the three guys on the subway, Murray’s assistant, and the kids who steal his sign all upset Fleck. I did not see him getting upset by black folks exclusively. By contrast, I feel like he was getting upset by almost everybody. The people who didn’t upset him were elderly white lady, handicapped white man, super-hot mixed chick, cute black kids 1 and 2. So blackness batted .500 for NOT upsetting Fleck.

  17. The little person “gag” was ABSOLUTELY a joke. And one I saw coming a mile away when Fleck closed the latch. It played out differently than I expected, however.

    Also, thank you for mentioning Goetze. I can’t believe no one else has mentioned that point of reference. It’s clear as day in the film, but I guess people have forgotten that whole, dreary affair.

  18. Jeff- I remember people were saying the same thing about Nicholson’s Joker after Heath Ledger was cast, that nobody could ever do it better. I think it’ll happen (obviously there’s gonna be more movies with the Joker in ’em eventually), but maybe not right away. I think maybe ten, fifteen years from now when there’s kind of a new cultural zeitgeist. Honestly, that’s the main reason I’m interested to see this one, for Phoenix’s performance.

  19. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 8th, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    From the moment the first trailer was released I’ve struggled to muster any enthusiasm for this, and have been amazed at so many commenters (on other websights) being immediately on board. Like Mr. M said above, you watch two seconds of that trailer, you know exactly what’s gonna happen, and it seems like a slog to have to sit through that to get to a couple bits of “fucked up violence” towards the end. So there’s a loser character, and he gets beat up on the street for no reason, he gets shit on at every turn by life itself, nobody likes him, his jokes aren’t funny, nobody comes to his birthday party, a dog pisses on his leg etc. so he snaps and kills a few people. I guess you just gotta be really into Joaquin Phoenix for that to seem in any way exciting (which I’m not) as admittedly, I most likely would’ve watched this in a heartbeat had it been Tom Hardy or Michael Fassbender.

    Also, it weirds me out they decided to use pedophile music during the big staircase dance scene. Was that a deliberate choice by Philips or did he never read up on Gary Glitter? In any case, it’s putting money in a pedophile’s pocket, and that’s not a great thing if you ask me.

  20. I will never see this movie, so my only contribution to this discussion will be… the story of how I came to be in HATED.

    I went to see GG Allin one night in 1992 at a crappy little NYC bar called Space At Chase. I had no idea there was a movie being shot until I got there and there was a camera set up in a closet-sized room adjacent to the “performance area,” completely wrapped in plastic and being manned by a dude in head-to-toe yellow rain gear.

    So there are a couple of dozen of us, including me and my then best friend, all crowded into the back room of a bar waiting for the show. Somebody says to me, “Hey, watch out – if he can, he’ll grab your glasses and break them,” so I make sure there’s at least two people between me and the stage.

    The band comes on and starts playing a fast, noisy punk tune, and after a minute or so, GG comes out from the dressing room, and he’s totally naked except for cowboy boots, and my first impression is that he’s short and kinda soft, and he has the smallest penis I have ever seen on an adult human male. He’s roaring indecipherable lyrics into the mic, and after one verse, maybe two, he turns around, squats down, and drops a runny pile of poo on the floor.

    The stink fills the tiny room instantly, and it is ON. People immediately start backing away and making for the exits, and that’s BEFORE he picks up a handful and smears it on himself, then picks up a second handful and flings it at whoever’s closest. I was already out, heading for the main room, and I’ll never forget this part – as we were leaving, the bartender was laughing and shouting at us, “What’s the matter? Isn’t this what you wanted? Get back in there and party with him!”

    The show I was at starts at the 42-minute mark of HATED, and I can be seen for a second or two while the performance is going on, and then walking out the front door just as the NYPD is coming in. I’m glad I went, and/but I also think that 10 minutes (which is about how long the “show” lasted) is the perfect length for a GG Allin performance. A guy I knew said he saw him in Asbury Park, in a bigger room, and the crowd wasn’t taking the bait at all. He couldn’t scare them off, they were too far away to start fights with, and after about 45 minutes he was reduced to lying on his back on the stage begging someone to bring him drugs.

  21. Thank you, burningambulance, that is an amazing first hand account.

  22. Normally, I come here for Vern’s always excellent reviews with the bonus being insightful comments from the group. Today, while the review was excellent as always and the comments about the movie are still insightful, the definite highlight is burningambulance’s GG Allin anecdote!

  23. The film has an odd preponderance of Black women, but it took that to be political in the sense that it was designed to establish that Fleck was NOT motivated by race. Likely added because of the aforementioned Goetze angle.

  24. The class warfare and resentment stuff in this movie, imo, is clearer than the racism. And to the extent this movie has a coherent POV (or even it’s lead has a POV–great comment earlier observinghow this movie and Joker lacks a POV unlike Travis and TAXI DRIVER) that stuff holds together far more than most of the rest.

    I don’t think this movie is particularly good. Besides it’s lacking story, I was underwhelmed with the setting and look of it too. For a movie that wants to draw on TAXI DRIVER and THE KING OF COMEDY it doesn’t have quite the right look…it’s too glossy grotesque, and Gotham feels like less of a place than the NYC of those other movies. Lastly, anybody who would argue that this movie would be really good as a standalone if you remove all the Batman and comic stuff….I don’t trust your movie taste. I can think of one Jacquin Phoenix movie from the last couple of years, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, which is a lot better than this movie, and easily would’ve smashed the box office if they added 15 minutes and released it as a PUNISHER movie.

  25. “There are better fucked up psychological portraits than JOKER” – the most recent one which came to mind while watching this was MY FRIEND DAHMER, which was super low budget but had some truly uncomfortable moments of a young Dahmer acting out his weirdness. The mentally-unstable mother figure (Anne Heche) and absent father (in Dahmers case “physically present but neutered”) were also factored in.

    The other 1981 movie on the marquee was BLOW OUT.

  26. DID Bickle have a perspective, though? I mean, he’s obsessed with the Candidate because the woman he pines for works for said candidate. But then when the man himself gets into Bickle’s cab, all the taxi driver can do is mumble about “the issues” before going off on an unhinged and totally-off-topic rant.

    Bickle is a shell of a man. Hell, I don’t even think he’s a veteran. He just bought a surplus jacket and threw it on. Look at his body. Look at how he eats nothing but junk food. He has no regimen. No discipline. If he were drafted, he’d almost certainly get a 4F (F4?) designation.

  27. Hey Vern,

    Do you remember that script of mine I asked you for notes on years ago? The one that was basically Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, as a super hero origin story…

    Mine had action beats and far more meta.

  28. Hey Vern,

    Do you remember that script of mine I asked you for notes on years ago? The one that was basically Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, as a super hero origin story…

    Mine had action beats and far more meta.

  29. I used to work on the rock floor at Tower Records lincoln square (the one from the LL Cool J I Need Love video) and when I used to stock or refile G.G. Allin albums just off the song titles alone I used to go “this guy’s shows must truly be something else” so thank you for not disappointing with your anecdote burningambulance.

    I watched this yesterday. The only expectation I had was another movie where a guy is victimized to the point his buttons are pushed. This was not that at all which shocked me. I disagree with whoever claimed this was forced on Arthur.

    This was a movie where sociopathic evil was restrained by mental conditioning and prescription drugs. All that shit already existed inside Arthur it was just repressed and number by both societal manipulation and pill popping. We saw hints of it with the stalking and the fact that instead of panicking or becoming anxiety driven during his self defense he instead kept salivating to just keep preying and shooting. 0 remorse.

    Mind you his justification was “only the awful deserve my wrath” but the fact that he felt anyone deserved his wrath at all is pure unfiltered evil. Now in terms of filmatism it was too heavy handed a Scorsese homage for it’s own good without any of the “ooomph”. Like the clown agency serves the same purpose as the cab dispatch center but unlike the latter I didn’t really care about spending time in the former. It wasn’t as intriguing.

    This movie definitely is one more about the performance showcase than anything else. And what a performance it was. This guy made me wince a couple of times before he had even gone “full psycho”. The air of uneasyness, the defeated and inebriated body language it was just so well put together by the time you get to talk show scene he blows your fucking mind.

    Like the whole thing from leaving the apartment to the train confrontation and then the talk show is one of the most Joker things I’ve ever seen on film. The movie earned its name with the 3rd act. Also Vern during said 3rd act he did say to the talk show host “that’s what you called me remember? ‘some joker'” so that’s where that came from.

    The hospital sliding door scene was indeed hilarious though. Im glad im not the only one that laughed at the one scene this guy shows some backbone in before going all out being accented by a Chaplin homage. Also the scene where he was like “I forgot to PUNCH out” also made me laugh.

    Overall tbh I feel that BATMAN V SUPERMAN: ULTIMATE CUT was a more thematic and daring exploration of the psyche and emotional turmoil of it’s DC icons than this was. Also this one still has a great amount of expected cliches despite how much it did subvert my expectations. For example I called the shit with the neighbor a mile away. But I didn’t expect this kind of approach to Thomas Wayne and certainly didn’t feel any kind of joy when this freak is dancing all joyly to something by that monster Gary Glitter. In that sense it was very Joker. Something that brought him joy made me feel uneasy due to the context of what he was celebrating (the fact that the monster is now fully uncaged NO MORE MEDS!) and the artist he was celebrating to.

    It’s not the masterpiece people claim it is but it is the one DC joint I’ve enjoyed most this year (sorry SHAZAM!) and I’m glad I gave it a shot.

  30. Meant to type numbed not *number and the cab dispatch center is of course the one from TAXI DRIVER.

  31. One thing I’ll say about Bickle is the guy at least shot for normalcy in his own way. He tried socializing with people, he woos prime era Cybill Shephard. He may not be socially apt enough to understand that what he considers a night at the movies will not seem as anything but a cry for help to anybody else but he tries. Even suits up for the date and everything. This Arthur Fleck though? lost cause from scene one. Nothing he tries except goofing off with the kid on the bus seems like anything close to “normality”.

    I did like that though because it shows to a lot of people in this country especially that mental health issues are some of the most valid issues we have as a society and really should be prioritized. I’ve met some Arthurs here in NYC over the years. Mind you they were people who did not want to help themselves in the end and you can only do so much for them but it’s real. And like the social worker said “nobody gives a fuck”.

  32. I’d say Bickle had more of a perspective. Though as others have mentioned, he’s also less damaged and actually can trick people into thinking he’s somewhat normal and not a ticking time bomb. But, importantly, the movie actually depicted that POV (and commented on it). JOKER lacks on both counts largely.

  33. I’d say Bickle had more of a perspective. Though as others have mentioned, he’s also less damaged and actually can trick people into thinking he’s somewhat normal and not a ticking time bomb. But, importantly, the movie actually depicted that POV (and commented on it). JOKER lacks on both counts largely.

  34. Bickle also has more ambiguities. (I disagree with all the Vietnam Vet stuff, though it’s debatable at least.) Joker tends to lean more into being either heavy-handed (the beatdowns or the subway scenes) or its ambiguities are sorta dull (e.g. how much of the movie is in Joker’s head? Or the whole Wayne’s sidebar shit.) In contrast, you’ll still get people debating what Taxi Driver is really all about and what the final scenes mean, even though I think it’s pretty clear that close readings show the movie doesn’t think of Travis as really a hero or that the final ending isn’t a fever dream, death dream, or hallucination.

  35. I love the anti elitism of Vern’s actor credits.

    I’ve heard that this is a movie about class struggle that was rebranded by the media as being about the dangers of white male incels just in case we got any thoughts about class solidarity from it.

  36. Oh and Mr. Majestyk I’ve agreed with your opinion on BLADE RUNNER many times over throughout the years. I still find that movie pretty freaking sterile and borderline lifeless despite some great work from Hauer and the effects and cinematography but I have to say I really loved the sequel. I never expected to but damn this movie actually had a a great understanding of genuine warmth and added a sense of humanity to it’s sci fi concepts that Scott’s coldness would’ve probably snuffed out. I’m glad he didn’t direct it. Curious what you end up thinking of it after you sit down with it.

  37. So, if I’m a BLADE RUNNER fan I must be a hipster?!

  38. Forget it, pegs. It’s Outlawverntown.

  39. Not at all pegsman. You’re fortunate to at least get something from it. I own the damn movie but it always just seems to just pass me by. This happens to me with most Ridley Scott movies not named ALIEN, GLADIATOR & BLACK HAWK DOWN.

  40. Weird, my screening also had a single guy in the loudlý laughing at the little person joke. Is that just part of the movie?

  41. “It’s definitely noticeable that pretty much every character that upsets Arthur besides the one he kills is black, but I’m unsure whether this is an unconscious bias coming out in a depiction of urban stress, or an intentional point about Arthur having racial resentment.”

    Vern, I really don’t get this comment at all. The black people I can think of that Arthur interacts with are: 1) his therapist (who, I concede, clearly upsets him) 2) his neighbor, who seems to be the only person in the film other than his mom he cares about and 3) the Arkham clerk, who really doesn’t do much of anything other than tell him he cant have his mom’s records, but I guess I can concede that as well.

    Was the woman at Arkham at the end questioning him who, he presumably kills off screen black? I cant remember.

    But the long list of people who really get to him obviously are the folks at the clown job (his boss and the one fella he kills), the people who mug him, the officers, Thomas Wayne and Murray Franklin, just to name a few.

  42. pegs: What, because of the beards and IPAs joke? That’s not what I was getting at. Where I come from, that’s some basic bro shit. The male equivalent of Uggs and appletinis. Hipsters seem to be more about White Claw and pompadours these days.

  43. Seems like the hipsters in your part of the world are more evolved, Vince. I just took it for granted that no sane person would drink IPA if it weren’t some kind of superiority statement. I don’t know what I was thinking, I read it at 6 o’clock in the morning. But I have a beard, I own a computer and I am a fan of BLADE RUNNER 1 and 2. Hate IPA, though.

  44. I’m with you on IPAs. I prefer my beer to taste like beer, not like beer somebody let an incense stick melt in. Also I prefer beer you don’t have to talk about. Ever. How’s your beer? It’s a beer. It’s self-explanatory. Talking about beer is like dancing about architecture.

  45. I can’t really drink beer anymore, but when I did, IPAs were the only kind I cared for. I just don’t like the taste of malt or whatever much, so blow it out with some hops and I’m happy.

  46. I must point out that you have failed at not talking about beer. But that’s okay because language and thought are inextricably linked and of course anything worth experiencing in one’s consciousness (beverages, architecture, film) is also worth talking about.

    Anybody ever seen the videos where Michael Jackson (the beer guy, not the musician) talks about beer? I think they’re amazing personally

  47. That’s how these IPA bros get you. They force you to fight them on their own terms.

  48. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 9th, 2019 at 10:16 am

    You guys talk about IPAs like there’s only one kind that tastes like one particular thing. There’s amazing IPAs and there’s fucking terrible ones, there’s a crazy wide spectrum of beers out there that falls in this category, and that’s only scratching the surface as there’s tons of other categories outside of IPAs. The world of beer is just as exciting as wine and whisky these days, so much unique and experimental stuff out there that’s worth trying. Definitely worth talking about – if nobody did, I would’ve missed out on some of the tastiest beverages I’ve tried in my life.

  49. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 9th, 2019 at 10:19 am

    Shit, am I an IPA bro?

  50. It’s okay. I won’t hold it against you. Some of my best friends are IPA bros. I’m just a curmudgeon. I don’t get excited about food or drink the way lots of people do. I’ve never had a beer in my life I’d describe as “amazing.” There’s beers I like and beers I don’t but at the end of the day it’s just a beer. It’s a fizzy beverage with a little booze in it. There’s nothing I consider amazing about that. I save that term for important stuff like Filipino disco songs and unearthed backyard horror movies from the early 90s. I’m an aesthete, not a gourmand.

    I’m also a ton of fun at parties.

  51. Jeff – I guess I was not thinking of some of the people who upset him, but I was including the black woman who inexplicably yells at him on the bus and the group of I believe multi-racial kids in the opening scene who harass and beat him up for no reason, getting him in trouble at work. It seemed to me that the movie may be participating in the old ’70s/’80s/FALLING DOWN cliche “encounters with minorities as shorthand for the stresses of urban life,” but I was trying to give it the benefit of the doubt that it could be intentionally making a point about Arthur’s perspective.

  52. Gaul, a lot of people feel like you do. But in my world beer is something you drink while you talk to people, not something worth talking about.

  53. No matter the subject, I’d always rather listen to someone talk about something they love than listen to people moan about what they hate. Who needs all that negativity?

  54. That was not meant as an attack on anyone, but I feel like it came off like that. Not the intent.

  55. This movie makes me want to buy Joaquin Phoenix an IPA. Come on guy, you have nothing to prove. Have a beer, cheer up. Enjoy your beard.

  56. Are ugg boots a hipster thing? Because I randomly ended up with 10 pairs of ugg boots and I LOVE them. So fuckin comfy. Don’t last long enough to actually pay for, however. But then, I’m an odd duck. I only wear steel toed, vintage doc martens… or Ugg boots.

  57. No, man, Uggs are basic as shit. I know it’s complicated but try to keep up.

  58. I’m on the Untappd app and I’m at level 59 “I Believe in IPA”. I have tried (Holy Shit, I don’t look at my stats often) 658 unique beers. Since I downloaded the app.

    I like all beer, but definitely lean IPA. I am way too old and geeky to be confused with a hipster. Just sayin.

    I sense this Talkback is about to spiral out of control.

  59. Lots going on here, but first let me say that with this and YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE I think Joaquin Phoenix is rapidly turning into that actor who signals that it’s OK to like a genre movie to people who would normally think themselves above such trash. Did anyone here see THE SISTERS BROTHERS? And is he as good in JOKER as he was in GLADIATOR, an unapologetic genre movie?

    Love BLADE RUNNER and IPA, but really didn’t care for BLADE RUNNER 2049. It seemed a real misstep for Villeneuve. Looking for the 40-year sequel, I still dream that Bill Forsyth will get to make a sequel to LOCAL HERO.

    In my next career I’m gonna be a brewer. I gave up drinking wine 5-6 years ago, but beer is the water of life. And Goose Island IPA is one of the beers I am always happy to drink when I am in the US. Of course, the US would not have been discovered without beer, as water would not survive the ocean journeys, and the India in IPA signifies that it was brewed to fuel British colonialism in the subcontinent. So there’s plenty to talk about really.

    Not sure if Wim Wender’s PINA counts as dancing about architecture, although his use of the Wuppertal suspension railway continues to delight me:

    Yup, I drink IPA and I own a dance movie.

  60. And yet I still have the nerve to call out pretentiousness among film fans. Cheers!

  61. Be you, Borg9. Assimilate for no one!

  62. Thanks, Mr. M. A Star Trek joke. Respect!

  63. I like IPAs but they don’t agree with me, and I don’t have the energy to be a hipster. I live in a quasi-PORTLANDIA-grade hipster neighborhood, and hipsters are mostly fine. That said, I can’t relate to the idea of spending more than 10 minutes picking out a pair of eyeglass frames or discussing beer. If you have the time and discretionary income to do that, you are either hashtag blessed or need to find a better hobby, like bitching about hipsters on outlawvern.com.

    I think one day I will watch this movie and grade it a solid B (that’s a prediction), but right now I can’t even with this faux-gritty, self-serious grimdark shit. All this film needs is Casey Affleck to glare and mope onscreen and then terrorize women offscreen, and it’ll be complete. I love Joaquin Phoenix as an actor, but he sounds insufferably self-serious as a person, and if someone has the time to put together a supercut of Todd Phillips’s cameos in his films, there’s a serious creep vibe he’s giving off that he has to be aware of, and I’m just not sure what that is about. Right now it’s hard to separate art from people, and I’ll take the magic of Chris Evans getting me to non-cynically fall in love with Captain America over the magic of these asshats brooding and grimdarking any day. Fuck off with that shit.

  64. When people talk to me about beer as if they are revealing the master thesis of the universe I look at them the same way most normies used to look at me when I would go too deep into music or film discussion growing up. I didn’t like that look so I toned it down.

    Saved those in depth discussions only for those I knew for a fact were as equally passionate about that as I grew older (& admittedly more cynical though I’m more balanced these days). Only a handful out of everyone I knew growing up and past adulthood and 2 of them are still 2 of my 3 only friends 25 plus years later. I wish the beer enthusiasts would take the hint, self evaluate and do the same but maybe I’m guilty since I do enable them by amusing them. I tend to be a good listener.

  65. One of the side effects of having had the same type of clothes, beard, hair and interests for 30 odd years is that you once in every 5-10 years suddenly become fashionable. So when the hipsters came along I’m sure at some point I was mistaken for one. And in the 90’s I had a period where I would drink a dozen different beers at a party, and talk about them at lenght. So I am hardly one to point fingers. People can drink whatever they want in my company without fear of being verbally abused. But it is way cooler to just drink what’s on tap than to walk miles just to try out a super hoppy strawberry bear!

  66. I don’t drink beer. Or any kind of alcohol. I hate the alcohol taste, which always shows up, even if it’s a chocolate pudding whisky or a mango banana beer. Makes me enjoy parties a lot less most of the times.

  67. That’s fair enough, CJ. Might I ask if you use any other stimulants. Just tell me to fuck off if that’s too personal.

  68. On my “Tell people to fuck off” scale, this question is really low. Not even sure if it’s on it.

    I am far from living healthy, but I am completely drug free, both legal and illegal. However, I drink lots of caramel coffee recently (even if caffeine doesn’t seem to have an effect on me for some weird reason), so there is this.

  69. Odd, I had a lady in my theater who acted like the little person escape scene was the funniest thing she’d ever seen too, loudly saying “I’m sorry” while cackling. It definitely ruined the moment for me.

    The filmmaker’s intention might have been for laughs, but Joker just murdered someone? No one else in the theater was laughing, so she came off like a real asshole.

  70. P.S. this is the best Joker review I’ve read.

  71. I am so baffled by the reaction to the “little person scene” OF COURSE it’s a joke. It’s shot like a joke. It’s built like a joke. It plays out like a joke. It’s basically the ONLY moment in the whole film where fleck does something “Joker-y.” Now, you may not think it’s a *funny* joke. But that’s kinda the point. That’s like, how the Joker works, isn’t it? It’s the cinematic version of “Knock, Knock” “Whos there?” “it’s the police, your son was just hit by a bus and he’s dead.”

  72. I think it’s designed to have exactly the effect we’re describing. It might make some people laugh, but it’s in a context where you don’t want to laugh, and become uncomfortable in a non-humorous way. That’s why I say it’s not quite a joke – it’s working to achieve something different.

  73. Played like somewhere between the humor of Todd Solondz and Harmony Korine for me. The not-funny nature of something told with the structure of a joke wraps all the way around to being funny again, for me at least.

    Or maybe I’m the asshole, because I was pretty much the only one laughing in my theater.

  74. It’s funny that we have, what, 4 or 5 cases of a theater where one person loudly laughs at that part? I hope that was their specific design.

  75. My humor is really warped. I didn’t laugh at that scene with Gary. I realized the setup right away and found it too on the nose and did feel for the guy. The one guy who laughed did quiet up as soon as he realized he was the only one at my show to do so. To his credit I was the only one who laughed when he dropped the revolver in front of the sick little kids at the hospital and then does a “shhhshh” gesture as if that was gonna undo the fuck shit that just occured. Unlike that other guy though I just kept on laughing.

  76. That scene was also the one with the loudest laughs in my screening. The little person scene first aim isn’t being a joke, it’s a troll–just like the movie largely. It signals a lot to provoke a reaction, but as soon as you reflect at all about what is going on, it smacks you in the face about how its so on the nose and there’s nothing under the hood. A number of people have thrown out–amusingly similar to TAXI DRIVER given that it actually would make a difference in TAXI DRIVER–how most of the movie might just be in Fleck’s head. Maybe Fleck/Joker was in the mental ward/arkham the whole time and it’s a big hallcuination, maybe his death dream kicks off after he literally fridges himself, etc. But what’s striking about those ambiguities is how little significance any of those outcomes actually carries. Beetz not actually being there with him and his supportive girlfriend is practically the same thing.

  77. Nabroleon Dynamite

    October 22nd, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    “That they were able to make such a watchable movie out of an idea I find so fucking stupid is actually very impressive to me.” ~ Vern.

    ^^ Let’s petition to get this on the Blu Ray cover

  78. The confluence of this film and then the IRISHMAN coming out inspired me to watch KING OF COMEDY for the first time. I really enjoyed it. I’m not sure what I would have made of it if I’d been a 40-something-year-old person in 1983 when this came out, but some things that I enjoyed:

    1. What I anachronistically experience as a “throwback” early 80s NYC aesthetic. It’s in the sweet spot of feeling somewhat “modern” (Reagan era and beyond, I guess) but also clearly “analog.” There’s an interesting mix of glitz, grime, and otherworldiness to that iteration of NYC.

    2. Jerry Lewis’s incredible performance, which is a master class in restrained intensity and, for lack of a better word, dignity and integrity.

    3. DeNiro is also great. His serious actor persona is often defined by his roles as strong-silent-type gangsters and heavies, like with GODFATHER II and GOODFELLA and with his most successful comedies, which were premised on subverting that persona by re-purposing it as the straight man. What you really appreciate in looking at his work in things like CAPE FEAR, TAXI DRIVER, and then KING OF COMEDY here, is his capacity to play a really broad range of different types of unhinged weirdo. In CAPE FEAR he’s utterly terrifying, and in this one you just want to literally slap some sense into him. He really feeds your empathy and admiration for Lewis’s Jerry Langford character, who is remarkably patient, self-aware, authentic, and clear-eyed in all of his interactions with De Niro’s Rupert.

    4. I love the weirdness of De Niro and Lewis being co-leads, with no less inspired a choice than Sandra Bernhard as a supporting actress. Such oddly inspired casting and generous performances. Their anti-chemistry chemistry is fantastic. The scenes with Bernhard and De Niro are great, as well. As is the rest of the supporting cast.

    5. The little Walter Mitty scenes where we go inside De Niro’s world of unreality are really fascinating and creepy and heartbreaking, and the ending connects to these in some haunting ways.

    6. As strange as it is, it’s also oddly quiet and workmanlike in a lot of respects. It’s not overly showy or enamored of its own avant garde-ish-ness. It lets the scenes, characters, and dialogue speak for themselves. For the most part, there is very little exposition or explaining what’s happening, but at the same time its very talky, being driven by dialogue or, in Rupert’s case, inner monologue. Even though characters are constantly verbalizing their thought processes, this seems appropriate and necessary, because these are all people who are trying to shape their environments and self-images primarily through language — fantasy, showmanship, salesmanship, jokes, stories, propositions.

    7. It’s interesting to watch this film in 2019, because there is a confluence of various “full circle” synchronicities. In JOKER, we have De Niro apparently playing a role very similar to the Jerry Lewis role in a film that overtly acknowledges KING OF COMEDY and the early-80s Scorsese-verse NYC as its inspiration. Meanwhile, at about the same time, we have the latest and possibly last Scorsese-DeNiro collaboration, which traces De Niro’s journey from early adulthood through middle age into old age. The Frank Sheeran character’s heyday tightly overlaps the Jerry Lewis/Jerry Langford heyday, and like Lewis/Langford, the best days are past and the times they are a changin as he journeys into middle age and beyond in the later 70s early 80s timeframe.

    Highly recommend watching this film for any number reasons, some of which I’ve tried to delineate. Actually gets me excited to give JOKER a try on DVD now that the hype has died down (and, with it, my backlash to the hype) — primarily for the De Niro / Scorsese-verse elements and because I do enjoy Phoenix as an actor.

  79. Caught up with this one yesterday, courtesy of our good friends at Redbox.

    High-level hot take: An interesting and overall pretty good, if slight and over-hyped, film. A lot of individual elements work, and there are a handful of genuinely inspired moments, but the whole ends up feeling thin-to-vaucous. It is more an exercise or an experiment in meta-film-making than it is a film that could get by on its own merits.

    Stray thoughts:
    It was interesting seeing De Niro in the Jerry Lewis KING OF COMEDY role, and I thought he played it well. I loved the period stuff and the grimy look. I liked the feel of the Murray Franklin Show, right down to that great name Murray Franklin and the great fake guest names.

    Performances were all first-rate, particularly Frances Conroy. Bryan Tyree Henry stood out, as well, though it was a short appearance.

    Phoenix’s performance is a great technical achievement, but I found it mostly distracting in its lugubrious, tic-ful physicality. Impressive as an exercise in ascetic, contorted, unhingedness, but ultimately kind of empty. I will say that the last 25 or so minutes of the film gathers some momentum, as Phoenix’s portrayal starts to acquire some shape that might add up to more than a bag of angst and mannerisms. Phillips, Phoenix, have something interesting on their hands in the last act, though this is undercut by an ill-advised coda.

    Film-as-a-whole-and-in-context Thoughts
    It’s a handsome and competent film and an intermittently interesting one with some nice little flourishes. But it’s too self-serious, disappearing into its own “nihilstic agitprop / important work of art” pretensions. The Occupy Gotham piece was covered pretty effectively in DARK KNIGHT RISES (which offered a lot else besides). The grimy look and feel is BATMAN BEGINS and early 80s Scorsese in a blender. Like Rupert Pupkin, Phoenix’s Joker is a delusional hack and pretty damn boring once you push aside his affectations and his morose edginess. He can’t come close to the Heath Ledger Joker, who was a singular mixture of intelligence, menance, and truly unpredictable strangeness. Unlike Ledger, and n a twist of irony, Phoenix’s Joker takes himself way too damn seriously, just like this film does itself.

    Jerry Springer’s Final Thoughts
    In the end, we have a fairly generic, and/or derivative, and/or under-baked set of themes, which is noteworthy, since the film clearly seems to aspire at being about capital-S “Something.” It seems to want to be about something more than just Arthur. It wants Arthur to be a microcosm or a mirror for society– the bastard son of our sick society; the anti-hero that we and our times don’t need but nevertheless deserve.

    With that said, what is this movie trying to say?
    (a) laissez faire robber baron-ism and under-funded governments are a positive feedback loop of systemic shittiness?
    (b) a shitty system turns people shitty?
    (c) shitty people turn the system shitty or allow it to turn shitty?
    (d) at root, most all people are shitty, and so it’s no surprise that we find this at all levels and crannies of society and day-to-day life.
    (e) Life is not just shitty, but it is shit. One big joke, one big F-U, where there are no heroes, only villains, and where the closest thing to being a hero is being honest about the fact that we’re all villains. To acquire and exercise agency is to commit evil, because there is no authentic agency in do-gooding. Since nothing matters, and everything is brutish and selfish, the truly heroic act is a Nietszche-esque embrace of of nihilism. Cynical nihilism is the only path toward authenticity, becuase the world is fundamentally and authentically nihilistic.

    The film betrays its late-90s college freshman Marilyn Manson poster dimestore nihilism in its decision to offer us no heroes — no heroes of the Bruce Wayne variety, nor even any heroes of the Jim Gordon or Rachel Dawes variety. Only monsters, low-lifes, dirtbags, cowards, power-mongers, manipulators, phonies, or mindless lackeys. And then Arthur, the lone, woke-to-nihilism agent***

    As such, it’s an interesting exercise, if little else. It is a new strain of comic book film, a new way to exploit comic book branding, and a pseudo-cynical “anti-comic-book” comic book film that is laughing its meta- / grimdark ass all the way to the $1B box office bank. It’s something I’ll probably revisit at least once, but my hot take is that it’s pretty thin and not particularly groundbreaking — pretty derivative of its obvious influences and forerunners, just super-sized with an extra dollop of dour. Certainly not worth all the initial fuss.

    ***It’s interesting to me that Vern highlights the intetional or unintentional African-American-directed racism, because it’s the two African-American characters (the actors from ATLANTA) who are virtually the only ones who come out of this looking like decent people.

  80. Me on everything the internet cares about: “it’s pretty thin and not particularly groundbreaking — pretty derivative of its obvious influences and forerunners, just super-sized with an extra dollop of dour. Certainly not worth all the initial fuss.”

  81. :)

    I think there is good nihilistic stuff out there, don’t get me wrong. As is well-documented round these parts, I’m down with the nihilistic bent we find in Ari Aster and, to a lesser extent, Ti West — to name a couple. But with those guys, I feel like it’s more just a particular band of the horror storytelling spectrum that they like to explore — they like to draw horror with the bleaker-colored crayons from the box. Whether this is accurate or not, for some reason, I don’t come away from those guys’ films with the feeling that they are intended to express some deeply rooted agenda or philosophy of life. It’s just an idiom.

    With Phillips, it feels like he is trying to express some kind of personal philosophy or make some kind of political statement, but that statement is basically just the same Tyler Durden Cliff’s Notes nihilism that tries to pass of detached, self-protective cynicism for depth and insight. Not that he is going so far as endorsing Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck’s behavior, but that he does view this film as some kind of symbolic message film and that he does generally resonate with the sentiment it expresses, which is that everything is bullshit and everyone is a broken selfish bullshit phony, and the answer is tear shit down without any alternative, positive vision.

    Now, having said all that, I do think it’s well-worth the $2 I spent on it, and it *is* a bold film to make in our current climate, where the playbook says you should make a focus-grouped PG-13 joker film with Taco Bell tie-ins. This film is interesting and bold as a major studio comic book franchise business move, and I like what it implies (That there is an audience for strange, dark, competent, artier-inclined films). I just do think it’s more style than substance.

  82. I kinda loved it.

    It seems most people are mostly interested discussing about how other people see the film, or how Todd Philips sees it, or whatever. I’m more interested about what I saw myself, but I will comment on some of the consensus, when it directly contradicts what I saw.

    First of all this is not a realistic film. It’s a fantasy. A fairy tale. It even looks like a fantasy, as visually it mostly has a feverish, dream-like quality to it. And yes, it does look stunning. And it doesn’t look like anything Scorsese has ever made. Certainly not like Taxi Driver. The closest visual comparison would be Shutter Island, probably.
    Even the musical choices emphasise the fantasy aspect a lot, with very old, cinematic classics playing on the background.

    And while Phoenix is amazing in the lead, it’s a knowingly exaggerated, theatrical performance. Everyone else is very good as well.

    Directing is pretty great. There are several stand-out scenes and the suspenseful set-pieces are played to perfection. The film is tense as hell, since while there is very little violence, Arthur is such a completely unpredictable character, that I never knew what he was going to next. So it was actually quite refreshing, how I never knew what the next step was gonna be. Yes, we all know where the film is gonna end, roughly, because it’s the story of Joker. But I could have never figured out how the dominoes were gonna fall.

    Your reaction to the film is pretty much entirely dependent on how you feel about Arthur. He is in nearly every scene of the film, and everything plays from his POV. I related to some things in him, sometimes even liked him. But he is not an easy person for most audiences to simply like. I would say it’s much easier to be interested and intrigued by him. And if that doesn’t work for you, then the film can be boring and hard to like.

    A genuine problem with the film: The class divide aspect of the film is pretty weak, and only works as a plot device to get Arthur from A to B. It didn’t bother me much, but by adding another 5 minutes and making Arthur more a part of it, it would given the film more thematic weight.

    But as a depiction of loneliness, isolation and madness it works well. Much of Arthur’s thoughts and feelings ring true. However, the final act goes straight to fantasy land. Because (SPOILER) Arthur heals himself by actually embracing his madness and rage, the cathartic feeling of simply letting go. All his life, he has been trying to do the exact opposite, by trying to hide from everyone who he truly is, trying to maintain control. So THEMATICALLY it works great, especially for the character of Joker, but it’s probably not a realistic idea to “heal” yourself by killing people, and laughing about it.

    Vern’s comment about Arthur having a problem with black people sounds weird to me. Black people are sometimes a nuisance to him, but he also likes some. And all the people he actually HATES, are white. All the people he KILLS, are white. With a likely exception of one off-screen kill towards the end. But at that point he is no more Arthur Fleck. He is Joker, and Joker has no code.

  83. Great observations, Tuukka.

    I think you are right that the film doesn’t look quite like any one other Scorsese film (or quite like any one other Batman film, for that matter), but I do think it it looks a lot like if BATMAN BEGINS (which is pretty dingy and blighty) and TAXI DRIVER and KING OF COMEDY had a baby.

    Also, while I certainly agree that the film definitely has a hyper-stylized aesthetic as far as sound and cinematography, the film doesn’t simply wholesale adopt Arthur’s point of view. Whether it is explicitly showing a KING OF COMEDY-like delusion or showing what by all appearances is a real act of violence, the film doesn’t always seem to show things from exclusively his point of view. For example, when he’s fighting with the clerk over his records or having his argument with Murray Franklin or having his last exchange with his single mom neighbor or having his last exchange with the little person who works at his agency — all of his other interlocutors’ points of view are very salient, and I found myself most identifying and empathizing with them. Like them, I’m having that “what the hell is wrong with this guy?” experience. I am feeling threatened and uncomfortable with Arthur’s bizarre actions, i.e., adopting the viewpoint of the other person, not Arthur. There are certainly exceptions, like when Arthur meets Thomas Wayne face-to-face. In that scene, I’m team Arthur. So, I think the point of view and object of sympathy is more of a moving target that depends on who seems to be the most vulnerable vs. who seems the most malevolent in the given situation. And, at times, this can shift wildly even within a scene, like it does from the woman to Arthur to the fleeing investment guy in that subway scene.

    For me, that is part of the problem, and I think it feeds into the problem you concede as far as the social-political commentary. The film seems conflicted or simply muddled and under-developed with respect to the central question of, how should we feel about Arthur and his ilk? Sympathetic? Guilty? Revolted? Psyched to take to the streets and join him? I think most viewers can get on board with the idea that he is a trauma victim and is sympathetic. When he snaps, we can certainly understand how or why this has happened, though at this point, I think he rightly loses a lot of the audience’s sympathy, even if he maintains our empathy. And I’m not sure how we are supposed to feel about the mobs of people who seem to spontaneously rally around his actions, as if he were some sort of folk hero. To my knowledge, we have never really seen that kind of a movement, where people actually start to rally around a murderer as a kind of man-of-the-people hero. Sure, maybe in the case of guerrillas and freedom fighters/terrorists, but Arthur does not really fit that mold — he’s a lone wolf.

    It’s not a simple matter of the film forcing us to feel conflicting and taboo feelings about what Arthur does, because I think the majority will feel horrified and revolted by what he does and not particularly sympathetic, as things escalate. The point at which Arthur loses one’s sympathy will probably vary, but I think it happens at some point for most of us — even those of us who agree that the system is broken and that Thomas Wayne is an asshole and that Arthur has had a cruel, unjust, and tragic life. It’s not just that we disapprove or tsk-tsk those actions — in the case of the protests and such, it just doesn’t really ring true to me that a whole sympathetic movement would rise up around Arthur.

    And even though, as I said above, I don’t think the film consistently asks us to adopt Arthur’s point of view or to agree with his action, what bothers me is that, towards the end of the film, it does seem to increasingly move in the direction of signaling that Arthur’s actions are a kind of personal cathartic triumph and that he is a sort of folk hero.

    I guess that is something to think about — the way the film assails not only the rich, powerful elites (Thomas Waynes and his brokers), but also the rich clowns who are complicit in preserving the status quo (Murray Franklin), and the bureaucratic foot soldiers who mistakenly act as arms of an ultimately broken system (the social worker, the records clerk), the unenlighted sheep who perpetuate and enable the system by staying in the rat race (his workaday clown agencies buddies and boss). I guess I utlimately felt there were narrative and tonal problems with the combination of an unremittingly grim “everyone’s broken, everything’s fucked, we’re all complicit.” As a setup for a Batman film, it might be pretty great. As a stand-alone, self-contained story, it just seemed too far up its own wanna-see-something-really-messed-up arse.

  84. The film doesn’t simply wholesale adopt Arthur’s point of view…. For example, when he’s fighting with the clerk over his records or having his argument with Murray Franklin or having his last exchange with his single mom neighbor or having his last exchange with the little person who works at his agency — all of his other interlocutors’ points of view are very salient, and I found myself most identifying and empathizing with them. Like them, I’m having that “what the hell is wrong with this guy?” experience. I am feeling threatened and uncomfortable with Arthur’s bizarre actions, i.e., adopting the viewpoint of the other person, not Arthur. There are certainly exceptions, like when Arthur meets Thomas Wayne face-to-face. In that scene, I’m team Arthur. So, I think the point of view and object of sympathy is more of a moving target that depends on who seems to be the most vulnerable vs. who seems the most malevolent in the given situation. And, at times, this can shift wildly even within a scene, like it does from the woman to Arthur to the fleeing investment guy in that subway scene.”

    RE:

    This is a fine point, but I think there is a strict difference between a story/character POV and the object of empathy. For example while the clerk is a nice guy and obviously more sane, Arthur has a much greater investment in the the scene. He NEEDS to see those records, and as an audience, so do we.

    Single mum – We are afraid that Arthur might hurt her (Although at this point Arthur only hurts people who have wronged him). But the scene is really about Arthur in a moment of terror trying to connect with the only person who’s still there for him, and he has to admit to himself that even that connection is simply a delusion. The scene isn’t about the girl, it’s about Arthur.

    With the little man, we are again worried that Arthur might hurt him, but the scene is really about the fact that Arthur still has a code – He hurts only those who have wronged him, and the little guy has never done anything bad to him. Again, we don’t really learn anything about the little guy.

    The subway scene – The woman is afraid. The guys are assholes. That’s all there is to them. The scene is all about the Arthur: How he reacts to the woman being bullied (It seems like he wants to help, but is afraid to do so, leading to uncontrolled laughter.). Then the bullies beat him up, and for the first time, Arthur fights back. And kills, almost accidentally. Even he seems surprised what the first bullet does. And when the final guy is crawling away, we emphasise with his situation, simply because he is so scared and helpless. And this time Arthur kills with clear determination. So the scene is all about the development of the character of Arthur. The other characters are there simply to reflect on who Arthur is, and how he changes.

    So while the film adjusts emotionally in many scenes, to allow us emphasise with supporting characters, the actual story and character POV is on Arthur. The scenes are about him, his experience, his change as a character.

  85. Maybe I am getting hung up in the semantics of “point of view,” and maybe I simply don’t understand the concept.

    Without a doubt, Arthur is the main character, and there is an almost solipsistic quality in how much he dominates every scene. There aren’t really scenes that I can recall whether other people are talking about him or pursuing things independent of him — people only appear as they interact with him or as he imagines them interacting with him. So, no one’s debating that the movie is about him.

    And without a doubt, as you state, he is a bizarre and frequently off-putting character who unnerves, irritates, or otherwise befuddles those around him. Typically, it’s the other person he’s interacting with who grounds the scene and serves as a reference point. I find myself joining whoever that other person is in the given scene, sharing the thought, “man, get a load of this guy Arthur, will you.”

    Maybe that’s where I get tripped up in the language about point of view, because even though it’s Arthur’s story, and even though the film is all in on taking us through the slog of his pain, I never quite feel like I’m inside that pain, and I never overcome a certain level of alienation and discomfort with Arthur (surely part of the idea). Every time the scene changes and some other character intersects with Arthur, I find myself sliding several steps closer to whomever that is to close ranks with them and put some distance between us and Arthur.

    So, even though I kind of get Arthur, because the whole movie has been bashing me over the head with layer after layer of his never-ending hard luck story, he remains alien. This goes to your point about him being unpredictable and a hard character to entirely like. Whether it’s reductive, I do think he’s a more showy cross between Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin. The film certainly does the work to show us how he reaches his breaking point and then what happens afterward.

    At the end, the attempt to use Arthur’s story to say something bigger about modern life, urban life, or human nature never quite comes together for me. There is this idea that it’s not just Arthur who’s had it bad, but that everything and everyone is just rotten to the core and irretrievably screwed. It feels unbalanced and childish. All the protest stuff should have been cut to make it clear that this is about Arthur, not about Arthur as folk hero. Unless that is all supposed to be his fantasy and I’m missing something there.

  86. Well, I think this also connects with the point I was making earlier: It’s hard to identify with Arthur. Because he’s completely crazy, a loose cannon. With a massive amount of psychopathic rage, which comes clearer and clearer the further the story goes. I think the people who identify with him the most, are people who themselves have mental health issues (Unfortunately I have not been safe from those issues myself).

    But considering the absolutely massive success of the film, I think a lot of people can relate to issues of mental instability, isolation, loneliness, desperation, anger, rage, all of which Arthur so clearly has. The film doesn’t connect with everyone, but it does connect with a lot of people.

    I agree that the whole rich vs. poor aspect is poorly handled. And I don’t think that audiences relate to that half-baked storyline very much. It’s all the other things I mentioned, that form a connection.

    In the end, I don’t care much about the riots. But I do like the moment when Arthur is standing on top of the car, surrounded by people, and for the first time, he puts a smile on his face. Thus becoming Joker. Like I said earlier, it’s not a realistic movie. The whole concept is stupid in terms of real world. But as a comic book film, and as a piece of myth-making, I think it’s a great moment. And stories should not be judged by real world terms, I think. They can live in their own reality.

  87. Couple more things.

    These are repetitive, but:
    1. I do think there is an interesting reading of this film that says that late-capitalism is responsible for all of this (which problematizes my reading of Phillips as a latent dude-bro). Basically, the capitalist, laissez faire system is a lie that serves only a handful of scoundrels and their toadies, while it dehumanizes, exploits, and destroys everyone else. Arthur is then something of a hero, because he is woke to the fact that the whole thing is a dirty rotten system where the rot propagates top down, and where everyone is forced to make a choice to either play the game or push back against the game. Even if I have a negative emotional and ethical reaction to what he does, there is a certain coherence and latent political quality to it. Basically, get woke and then pick a side, or get out of my way.

    2. I do give the film credit for taking an unflinching look at Arthur, both what he goes through and what he puts others through. I do think this film is risky in its own way in general and in the current environment. Even films like DEADPOOL win us over by emotionally manipulating us into warm fuzzies of one form or another. Oh, that rascal, Deadpool. This film really challenges us to hang in there with Arthur and wrestle with our feelings about the whole thing and the discomfort it engenders. It does not give us any kind of warm fuzzies ever, and even though I think that leaves it incomplete and kind of blinkered, it is a bold choice in its own way.

    Some questions
    *Is Arthur credible / plausible as Joker? He does not seem very intelligent or capable of masterminding anything, and Joker does not seem like a sad sack emo.
    *Can he grow into the Joker we know (any iteration, but in the sense of intelligence, resourcefulness, poise, articulateness)?
    *Does knowing that the Joker had a really hard life make him more or less compelling and effective as a character and as an eventual foil to Batman.
    *Is this Gotham a Gotham worth saving. Is it the distorted, incomplete yang that points the way toward a countevailing yin? A sequel with Batman that shows us a different, more hopeful worldview could be interesting. I don’t really want to see an anti-hero Batman who is as bad or worse than Arthur.

    This comes back to my earlier point. As the opening salvo or first act in some bigger story that does a better job of mixing darkness and light, despair and hope, I can see this film working much better in retrospect. But its almost mean-spirited grimness makes it hard to embrace as stand-alone, even if I appreciate its singular commitment to its weird vision.

  88. “Some questions
    *Is Arthur credible / plausible as Joker? He does not seem very intelligent or capable of masterminding anything, and Joker does not seem like a sad sack emo.
    *Can he grow into the Joker we know (any iteration, but in the sense of intelligence, resourcefulness, poise, articulateness)?
    *Does knowing that the Joker had a really hard life make him more or less compelling and effective as a character and as an eventual foil to Batman.
    *Is this Gotham a Gotham worth saving. Is it the distorted, incomplete yang that points the way toward a countevailing yin? A sequel with Batman that shows us a different, more hopeful worldview could be interesting. I don’t really want to see an anti-hero Batman who is as bad or worse than Arthur.”

    RE:

    A & B: We only see Joker at the end, when he puts on the smile. And the mental hospital scene after that. What is he capable of? We don’t know. They could actually do a pretty interesting part 2 answering that. Hopefully the rather inevitable Batman Vs. Joker will answer it around 2024 or so. Even Phoenix can be persuaded to do a sequel, after his inevitable Oscar win, worldwide adoration for his character and acting, and the unimaginable amounts of money the studio will give him.

    C: Well, it’s just a a different take on Joker. Ledger was partially so awesome because he was just a chaotic force of nature. No backstory. No history. No explanation. Just pure chaos. That made him tick. This is a different Joker, but I think it’s just as compelling.

    D: Everyone has been saying that the next Batman film will emphasise his detective skills. Which is a good choice, as it will make him different, yet part of the canon. And I think Pattinson is great, inspired casting. I don’t think Gotham is beyond saving at all, but this has been a fairly re-occurring part of the Batman mythos. If you watch the Gotham TV-series (Which I like for it’s ambition), it’s really a major part of the overall story.

  89. Skani – Admitting that the film is a bit of a Rorschach Test, that late-capitalism reading is the only way I’m able to see it. I think for people whose politics are more liberal-centrist, the movie doesn’t register as positively. Like it’s interesting how many rich people don’t see that PARASITE isn’t on their side (it’s Elon Musk’s favourite movie of the year), yet something about JOKER hits them as much more threatening.

  90. I appreciate the perspectives and dialogue. Thanks for processing the film a bit with me. I’m still not sure what I think/feel about it, but it’s gotten a bit under my skin, and the discussion has challenged some of my original assumptions, which I’ll take as a good thing.

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