If I’m Going To Have A Past, I’d Prefer It Were Multiple Choice

Non-spoiler commentary of Joker

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Joker (2019)  is out in theaters everywhere, and it has solid reviews by moviegoers and critics alike! Get some! It’s a great movie. I mean, it’s a really great tale of one man’s descent, and it is also one hell of a character study of mental health and the social taboos associated with it – especially during the social depression of the 70s and the social apathy of the 80s. Talk about being put together well!

The movie is made in such a way that you get to decide what you want to take away from it. Do you want a simple, gritty tragedy? Done. Do you want an introspective look at mental health? Also done. Do you want a mind-bending tale of despair that will make you reconsider what you’ve watched two hours later? Yup, that’s done too. All of that in one solid package. When I finished watching it, I simply left the theater, assuming that the narrative led-up to the final scene chronologically. But now, I’m questioning the narrator and wondering if I assumed incorrectly. You know, what if the entire movie was just the fictional imaginings of the last scene? I’m going to leave it at that. Anything more is dry snitching Tekashi 6ix9ine style. Anyway, the movie leaves a ton up for interpretation, and that’s super dope.

However, despite Joaquin Phoenix giving a smashing performance, I have to say I wasn’t wowed. The problem wasn’t Phoenix…it was the Joker himself. The movie, while thoughtful (which I truly appreciate), didn’t give me anything I didn’t expect. That shouldn’t be the case with the Joker. I liked Arthur Fleck: He’s vulnerable to the point of delicate, disappointed to the point of empty, and depressed to the point of despondent. He really just wanted someone to care, and he felt powerless in getting anyone to do it…until he found something that made him feel powerful and in control. And while that was all good, Arthur lacked the mercurial cunning, the depraved humor, and the mirthful cruelty that characterizes the Joker traditionally. Instead, Arthur was a character with whom I sympathized and with whom I felt vindicated in his acts. That’s not the Joker. It’s definitely an interpretation in a really great movie. But, it isn’t the Joker.

Compare that to Ledger and Nicholson before him. These Jokers, while not perfect facsimiles, captured the source material–perhaps Nicholson more so than Ledger since Nolan took more creative liberties with the character than did Burton, much to Nolan’s acclaim by-the-by. Nicholson’s Jack Napier was considered a psychopath by his fellow gangsters, and Ledger’s version was a madman that came out of nowhere. In both cases, the Jokers are quite lucid in their actions and presented themselves as real threats. And, I get it, Arthur killed some people, but anyone with a gun can catch random citizens unawares. It’s much harder to catch Batman unaware. Both Ledger’s and Nicholson’s Jokers proved themselves dangerous matches for the Bat, if not physically, at least mentally. I didn’t get that vibe from Arthur. While I see a madman, I don’t see a threat to a six-and-a-half-foot freight train wrapped in armor in the shape of a bat. In case you haven’t read a comic book, gunshots don’t stop Batman, they make him angry. So the chances of Batman being the victim of the movie’s climax is less than plausible. In case you’re wondering why I even bring up Batman, it’s because no one would care about the Joker if it wasn’t for Batman. Being that he is our yardstick, I don’t think Arthur quite measures up.

That’s about all I can say without getting into spoiler territory. Joker is a cool take on the character, but I think the movie would have hit the disturbing button just right if the director had based the movie on Brian Azzarello’s graphic novel, Joker (2008). Don’t take my criticism as me not liking this movie because I did. And I definitely recommend it. I just want you to know what you’re getting. Go see it! I’m seeing it again this week. Then, meet me back here at SideSpin to discuss spoilers!

~~Why so serious?

Kenny

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