Joker rises as in Phoenix


The Joker, the movie

When I first saw some of Joaquin Phoenix’s makeup photos for the Joker, I admit I didn’t like them. Too theatrical. They hid his face. Better the trick of Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman or Heath Ledger’s in the Dark Knight (Jared Leto not received). Then I saw the film and I thought it was cool because it reminded me of The Raven (It can’t rain forever).

And the Crow reminded me a lot of the sadness of the character, the loser of the character and basically a little bit of his vengeful spirit. Both react to violence with other violence. Only usually, at least I, think of the Crow as a “justified” violence dictated by the joker’s revenge and violence as something criminal, insane and end in itself. But this film almost makes you believe otherwise, and the almost is dictated by the fact that reality and imagination are told to us with the same credibility and the fact that we manage to empathize with Arthur Fleck even though he commits atrocious crimes. But let’s try to get to the end of these facts.

Joker, the plot

Since the release of the film Joker, attempts to find a logical and chronological order to the plot of the film are multiplied. All with little success! After all, the story is told by a madman, how can he have a linear and scientific order? We are not able to process the data that is provided to us. Why do you think crazy people can do this? If he could, he wouldn’t be crazy! And it’s just the central joke of the movie! The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t. In my humble opinion not even Todd Phillips the director, knows! But I also don’t find the need for it to be there. Certainly what Todd Phillips and Scott Silver knew, was to build a set-up in which every joke and every movement of the film exudes multiple, recognizable and glossy meanings, to Scorsese to understand, great myth of Todd and another great director that the producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff has been managing for almost 20 years. We can say, however, that 2 are the main stories that develop in the film Joker.

The Joker’s tragicomedy

One of the film’s great merits is discussing mental illness. Arthur makes us understand what it’s like to be sick, he almost makes us try and his only goal from the beginning to the end of the film is to find an antidote, a cure, a system that contains this problem. After he is cut off, he does everything he can to get into Arkham and eventually succeeds! So his is a positive, if tragicomic, ending. Arthur’s desire to be cared for, listened to, FOLLOW (in the end is chased!) is realized, even if the solution for him is the asylum!

How do you end up in here? Arthur asks the clerk. He already knows that this is the place he will need and in fact his subconscious begins to babble about the crimes he had begun to carry out, already manifesting the need to be locked up. The whole film plays on the fine line between tragedy and comedy: one scene on all, the one between Arthur and his friend suffering from dwarfism! But we can quote Arthur in the cabaret that always laughs “with the wrong timing” and the real “tragedy” is that we in the film laugh in some parts and are always the parts where Arthur is a loser: when the gun falls on him, when he bangs on the glass, when he laughs and there is nothing to laugh etc… We NEVER laugh with him, we laugh at him.”

But Arthur is a bit like the protagonist of Profumo, a story about a Suskin assassination that has no smell and although he has human form, there is something that causes other human beings to fail to fully accept it. Arthur’s absence of human odor is his mental illness. And we’re like the doctor, we’re there listening to him, but we don’t understand his words and his jokes. But how can we do that? We’re a little crazy, but not crazy.

The question that leaves us most dismayed, however, is the one that is related to the graphic novel from which the Joker the film, as Tim Burton’s batman first takes inspiration: The Killing Joke of none other than Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Except that unlike the arthur comic, instead of breaking down a whole day of misfortunes, an entire existence breaks down.

And the question we basically ask ourselves as human beings where empathy is the norm is: can a “healthy” human being go crazy after a tough series of “unfortunate events”? What happened to Arthur, can it happen to me? And this prospect makes anyone’s wrists tremble! In The Killing Joke you can find a lot of references that are found in the film and to this question Alan Moore gives us a reassuring answer. The antecedent is that the Joker tries to drive Commissioner Gordon crazy in brutal mode and Batman comes to save Jim. The Joker begins a kind of monologue to explain his actions. Here are some significant excerpts:

“It only takes a crooked day to turn the best of men into a madman. That’s how far the world is from me. A bad day. You’ve had a bad day too, haven’t you? I’m sure you do. I understand that. You had a bad day and everything changed. Why else would you dress like a flying mouse? (…) I mean, what happened to you? What made you who you are? The girlfriend killed by the bandits? A brother scarred by a robber? Something like that, I bet something like that…

Something like that happened to me, you know. I… I’m not sure what it was. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes in another… If I really have to have a past, I prefer to have as many options as possible! Ha ha ha! But my thesis is… I’ve gone crazy. When I saw what a terrible, bitter joke the world is, I went mad like a horse! (…) It’s all a joke! Everything that anyone who’s ever cared about or fought for… it’s all a colossal, demented joke! Why don’t you see the comedic side? Why don’t you laugh?’ 

But Gordon, the best of men, is not crazy and Batman/Moore gives us his opinion:

Detail from The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

From Arthur Fleck to the Joker: The Origins

So what the film paints is the portrait of Arthur Fleck and then recounts the escalation of events that turn Arthur into the Joker: the triumph of disease over the person. The moment Arthur becomes the Joker, the protagonist assumes the disease as part of his personality, no longer wears the clown mask, but is the clown: he internalizes the laugh, so much so that he manages to control it and when he paints the face, he also paints the tongue, that is, the interior of himself and the interior of himself, the blood, is used to paint the smile. Arthur can finally act like a sick man, finally being himself in the sunlight, like the light that envelops him in the last suggestive scene. And that madness makes “free” is a concept that we also find in another beautiful volume of Batman entitled Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum and Dave McKean where Batman responds to Two-Face:

Dave McKean's Table
Dave McKean’s table of Batman “Arkham Asylum”

And so the film is a tale of the origins, of the Joker and Of Batman because the genesis of the Joker directly or indirectly causes the killing of Bruce’s parents giving rise to the tragic moment in the life of the scion of the house Wayne that will lead him to become the pie-down man. Epic moment when during the killing of Wayne, shadows of giant mice (bat: flying mouse) run into the background of the scene just as the super cat is born to tie the joke of Murray Franklin. But there is a closer correlation between Bruce and Arthur who is related to Thomas Wayne, Arthur’s alleged father. We’re never going to figure out if Thomas Wayne faked the story. After all, if he was the good person he wanted to represent because he didn’t understand that Arthur and his mother needed psychiatric help? Isn’t Wayne Enterprise a family? And why does he beat Arthur in such an exaggerated act? Perhaps the violent companion was actually the T.W written on the back of the letter? Half-brothers or not, it’s Thomas’s actions that help, along with the rest, bring to light the Joker, and what Thomas has poured on Arthur affects Bruce. The certain fact is that abuse and violence, which generate pathologies such as alcoholism, substance abuse and psychotic behaviors are a kind of curse that is passed down from parent to child.

Joker, a controversial film

The Joker film was yet to be released in theaters, and the media already accused him of being disturbed and dangerous: an anthem to violence that would inspire problem people to make crazy gestures. Certainly the Aurora massacre where a man claiming to be the Joker killed 12 people during the screening of the Dark Knight did not mitigate the situation. But what the film slams in your face are also all the contradictions, especially in American society, that fuel this kind of crime.

Joker and Violence

Let’s take the movie Deadpool. How much verbal and visual violence there is in that movie yet no one thought it could be “irresponsible” to get it out? Answer: because there is clearly something unreal and it is even comical. But let’s look a little bit better at this answer from a statement from Joker Production Designer Mark Friedberg.

Pepople are reacting to this movie beacuse they go to a comic movie expecting a not reality and escape and here we are, saying actually this is what this looks like, this is what this world looks like, this is what violence looks like, this is what mental illness looks like, this is what the city and decay look like. Look at it, feel it. Today what’s hard about this movie is what’s great about this movie.

And the same director Todd Philips:

Am I surprised where the discourse has gone? That’s the surprising thing for me: isn’t it a good thing to put a real-world implications on violence? Isn’t it a good thing to take away the cartoon element of violence that we’ve become so immune to? So I was a little surprised when it turned into that direction that it seems irresposible because to me it seems actually very responsible to make it feel real and make it have weight and implications.

After all, isn’t it the long-standing problem that politicians, the media, the experts of ‘I’m cabbage pull out to find “other” justifications that are not real uncomfortable contingencies to one or the other? A recent example of all: the massacres of El Paso and Dayton. 29 deaths in 13 hours. Clearly one was perpetrated by a white supremacist and both pose the age-old problem of licenses, numbers and types of weapons that are on American soil. It took us, Donald, to enlighten us: video games are the cause!

In Japan and Asia there are the same video games and people are even more fixated, but there are no such massacres!

Arkham Asylum comics and The killing joke, Batman DVD box set

Then 2 cues provides us with the film supported by real data.

1- If Arthur had not had a gun the situation would not have degenerated into those terms. I don’t even spend money on guns in America. I’m just saying, gun lobby and distorted interpretation of the Second Amendment.

2- The only almost positive figures we find in the film are all black women who in society are the category that most disadvantaged: African-American is the neighbor, the lady on the bus, the doctors…

Studies confirm that: “Gun violence in African American communities has also left an indelible mark on the quality and quantity of life among the youngest members as well. Statistics released by federal law enforcement officials reveal that, collectively, more children of color die each year to gun violence. However, gun-related crimes involving low-income persons and racial and ethnic minorities are framed by the media as a convergence of cultural, environmental, and individual shortcomings and immorality. Consequently, structural and/or policy resolutions to address such crimes involving low-income persons and racial and ethnic minorities are overlooked or even omitted from the national and, more importantly, political discourse.”

What’s the consequence? That if the public thinks that the environment affects shootings, then what could have gone wrong in a “privileged” environment? Only that using the term privilege would indicate that there are second-class citizens and second-class citizens and it is not democratic! But what do all citizens have in common? Video games! That they are never associated by the media when it comes to shootings committed by black people. I make the question of these reflections explicit. When the media and then the public declared the Joker a “dangerous” film, he didn’t think it would inspire young black people.

Joker and the media

And then the media should take a certain amount of responsibility for certain crimes because it is their obsessive, macabre and vouyeristic way of telling violence that fuels strange ideas. Even the news, which should be pure information, have been dramatized to make more audiences.

It is proposed by Joaquin Phoenix, who usually never exposes himself, to suggest a clue here at the 11th minute. He says that in his deep studies of the character he found indicative of the fact that it is from 1963 that there is an escalation of so-called mass shooting and it is no coincidence that in those years television began to spread in every house. Perhaps in the end it is the very media that provide a goal, a voice to these “disturbed” people. And the reality is that the more the media actually talk about it, the more they influence these “sick.

To find a reference to the distorted influence of the media we can not fail to go back to Alan Moore, the author of V for Vendetta, but in this case we will focus on Brian Bolland who delights us in the deluxe version of The killing joke with a short story in which an ordinary boy wants to become famous by killing for no reason Batman taking the mythomaniac murder of John Lennon.

Brian Bolland
Brian Bolland

For Arthur, too, television is a fundamental aspect of his world, so much so that he sees Murray as almost a father figure. Arthur’s dream is to go to television, to become someone as a stand up comedian and when television starts creating the Joker monster starting to talk about the homicirates in the subway, Arthur is finally projected into the world! And in fact the TV ad is correlated with a whole series of actions that Arthur finds the courage to do: start a relationship with Sophie, get on stage, react to his boss.

Arthur wants to make his cathartic gesture on TV by taking his own life live, but deviates from his plan evidently displeased by Murray’s remark. And his gesture triggers a series of urban uprisings that lead Arthur to have what he had always wanted: someone to pay attention to him. Although at this event in which the Joker becomes a kind of messiah follows the sequence in the asylum in which we no longer know if everything we have witnessed has been real or the Joker has teased us from the beginning. Are we his joke?

Joker, conclusions

The usual tandem Zoa Studio managed to go and see the movie Joker in the original language because we wanted to enjoy the performance of Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck and we have to say that it was! I don’t think there’s a scene where Phoenix isn’t on screen and it’s wonderful: it makes you laugh, cry, feel affection and fear at the same time. We knew his performance was masterful but we didn’t know what to expect from the film.

The only things we had read were about the exaltation of violence, the celebration of a monster, and the accusation that this film would inspire young people to carry out Columbine-style massacres. And that wasn’t the case. We found a film directed in a brilliant, profound way and to look good at an indictment against the real social and individual problems that can lead a person already tried by an unstable mental condition to derail. It is pervaded by conflicting emotions generated by the fact that at the same time the viewer manages to feel empathy for Arthur while not sharing his actions that rationally seem justified, but humanly are aberrant.

One of the many epic and brilliant moments of the film Joker is the moment when Arthur meets young Bruce and we know that one will be The Joker and one will be Batman, and knowing the situation from Arthur’s point of view, we hate little Bruce too! Because we know like Arthur that Bruce doesn’t blame, but he’d be on the ball if we were Arthur!

And that’s the great power of the movie. It’s a film about empathy. He continually denounces the lack of kindness and understanding of one another and warns: if there is the law of the strongest in strength or wealth, mind you, that this is what will happen sooner or later! How can we blame him? It is a time of protests in ours, when the iniquity of the status quo that has been generated over the last 30 years is beginning to hold on to too many people.

And if Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t give this round an Oscar for the Joker, after he didn’t give it to him for playing Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, the Academy are giant mice!



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