Saturday, October 5, 2019

Joker - Movie Review

The Movie: Joker

The Director: Todd Phillips

The Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Brett Cullen, Frances Conroy, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp,

The Story: Super serious and super artistic super villain origin story.

The Review:
I have seen this movie referred to as a masterpiece and people are praising it for its exploration of mental illness and how mentally ill people are treated by society. Fans are falling over themselves in adoration of Joaquin Phoenix's performance as Arthur Fleck, a man who takes a very disturbing path towards destruction and villainy in a world that is falling apart around him. There's a lot of reference and relatability to our current state of reality which is of course very intentional and a lot of why the story is resonating with so many people. It scares us because director Todd Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver have taken one of the most wildly extravagant super villains in comic book history and put him right inside our own minds.

I have seen this movie referred to as a total disappointment and people are saying it is too brutal, the violence is too much, and it wasn't what they thought it was going to be. I suppose if your expectation of this film is that it was going to be another comic book movie, it would be all of those things and the casual movie going fan really has no idea that a story as dark and brutal and unnerving as this, is available in comic book formats. Todd Phillips and Scott Silver have brought to the screen a movie that is part of the maturation process of what it means to be a comic book movie and I am very interested to see what doors this opens in the future.

The first time I ever watched a trailer for this movie, I felt that it looked uninteresting and not something that I would enjoy. I wasn't sure if I needed to see this version of a character we have seen several times before. Not that it bothered me or I was afraid of the introspective nature that this type of story would instigate, it just didn't grab my attention in any way. When the second trailer came out, it looked a bit more interesting and I was like, okay let me get on board with this so I can go in without it having already lost me.

Joaquin Phoenix is one of the most interesting actors of our generation and organizations would be lining up to throw awards his way for this particular performance. Because any time an actor transforms their body in a drastic way to play a role, it seems to automatically qualify them for an abundance of accolades and compliments. Phoenix looks physically sick and twisted in this movie and Phillips films him in ways that accentuate and visually exaggerate how sick and twisted he is both physically and as a representation of his mental and psychological dysfunction. Arthur's transformation into Joker over the course of the movie is subtle and nudged along by his interaction s with the world and his appearance evolves right along with his increasingly psychotic behavior.

His performance deserves all of that attention and it will be the thing that is remembered about the movie more than anything else. The story, when you really boil it down, is about as generic of a comic book origin story as you will find and further stigmatizes mental illness as something we should fear because it will ultimately do nothing but cause pain and destruction. In a time where humanity is making strides to understand mental illness and come to the understanding that it is something we all manage as part of our daily lives, this movie takes us a few steps backwards in that process. Sure this is meant to be an extreme example but it still reinforces stereotypes that need to go away.

The one area that the movie excels within the context of mental illness is how Arthur's descent into villainy is perpetuated by a lack of authentic communication from anyone he crosses paths with. He is constantly shunned and disregarded because he is perceived to be less than or nothing because he is different and no one is willing to look for the humanity that is slowly withering away underneath the makeup and colorful clothing. I think it's no coincidence that the one person who sees Arthur as a person and chooses to interact with him is a small child who laughs and plays with him until his mother scolds Arthur for "bothering" her son. Kids don't care who you are, where you come from, or what your beliefs are, they accept everyone simply because they exist, at least until they are taught to quantify those things into fear and judgment. We should all be more like kids in that regard.

The Verdict:
Joker is a dark exploration of comic book villainy that I found to be uninteresting and unnecessary. The story is decent and Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic as he always, it just didn't grab me in any way that made me feel like engaging or caring in what was going on. I seriously had no reaction at the end other than it was time to leave the theater so I did.

The movie is playing on premium format screens like IMAX and Dolby although I have no idea why. Nothing about the movie warrants the upgrade in screen size or audio quality. The story is a dark and intimate character exploration, not an epic, special effects laden event film.

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