“I started a joke”
(from the Bee Gees song on their 1968 Idea album; essentially it's a solo by Robin Gibb from the group’s early days when he was often the lead singer before Barry Gibb largely took over that role)
We’ll begin by announcing this makes post #400 since our December 12, 2011 debut! Thanks to anyone and everyone who’s ever clicked onto our site; please continue whenever you can.
Review by Ken Burke
I invite you to join me on a regular basis to see how my responses to current cinematic offerings compare to the critical establishment, which I’ll refer to as either the CCAL (Collective Critics at Large) if they agree with me or the OCCU (Often Cranky Critics Universe) if they choose to disagree.
Joker (Todd Phillips) rated R
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Gotham City, 1981, years prior to the rise of Batman, although Bruce Wayne does appear briefly as a young boy in this film but a much more prominent character is his billionaire father, Thomas Wayne, who declares he’ll run for mayor in a campaign devoted to ridding this city of its crime/corruption problems, although his distain for those who haven’t yet made something of themselves, “clowns” as he calls them, raises the ire of unemployed/destitute Gotham citizens, leading to increasing demonstrations against the rich who rule the roost. An actual Gotham clown is Arthur Fleck who’s trying to make a living as a costumed performer in traditional make-up, but due to a mental condition (for which he takes a lot of medication), Arthur often laughs uncontrollably, drawing the attention of various street punks and self-important corporate studs who find it humorously-acceptable to physically attack him, prompting a coworker to offer a handgun for protection. Arthur dreams of being a stand-up comedian, appearing on the famous Murray Franklin nighttime talk show, but his sense of humor’s not refined, he lives a confined life in a grim apartment with his ailing mother, and his attempted routine at a comedy club leads to Franklin running footage of it on his show, criticizing Arthur as a complete flop. However, this all changes on a night when Arthur’s headed home after being fired from his clown job, attacked by 3 jerks on the subway, leading to the use of his pistol as he defends himself by shooting 2, then stalking the other until he’s dead as well. While various traumas are revealed as Arthur’s life continues to spiral downward, those subway murders give him a new sense of power which will come to fruition in an increasingly violent manner as he transforms himself into the vicious villain known as Joker. More details than that would get us into forbidden spoiler territory so if you’d like to join the many millions who’ve already seen this film before you read my complete review below please take the time to do that because Joker’s playing just about anywhere mainstream movies are shown—or, if you’re a rebel too, then read on to see what all the fuss is about concerning the merge of madness and violence in this dark, disturbing-yet-impactful story.
Here’s the trailer: (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)
If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this:
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) works for a rent-a-clown-agency in unsettled, unsafe Gotham City, although his laughter often comes about due to a mental condition where uncontrollable (near-demonic, constantly on the borderline between laughing and crying) outbursts characterize him as a freak to those who work with him, anyone who encounters him. His internal traumas are shown to us from the very beginning as we watch him apply his clown make-up, marred a bit by a single tear, followed by a horrible situation on a busy downtown street where he’s working as one of those sign-twirlers until 4 aggressive teens grab his sign, run away with it, then smash it into him when he catches up with them in an alley, followed by a brutal beat-down (mostly kicking his prone body) leaving him (and the sign) in a wrecked-condition.* (To add insult to injury for Arthur, his boss insists he return the sign to their client [impossible, of course] or else the cost will be deducted from his paycheck.) Arthur’s personal life’s not much better than his “professional” one: he lives with his health-impaired-mother in a dingy apartment building (where he has some initial contacts with a supportive-but-equally-worn-down-neighbor, single-mom Sophia Dumond [Zazee Beets]), the city’s budget for the Department of Health’s being cut so he’ll no longer have access to his social worker nor the many medications he needs to help keep his fragile mental state in check (there’s also an extended garbage strike going on, further indication of the deteriorated condition of Gotham, macro-mirroring problems in Arthur’s life), while his sole joy comes from the hope (more of a delusion when we see the pages of his notebook where he scribbles his depressive thoughts along with feeble attempts at jokes) he could be a standup-comedian who’d earn a spot on the popular local late-night talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), with a scene we learn is fantasy as it progresses of Arthur in Murray’s audience, called up on stage as an unknown-but-decent-person, the sort of desirable son father-figure-Murray never had. Back at work, Arthur gets a little help from co-worker Randall (Glenn Fleshler) who gives him a pistol for his protection, but this backfires (so to speak) when he accidently drops it during a performance at a children’s hospital, causing a mild panic by the nurses, followed by Arthur immediately getting fired.
*Director Phillips (better known for his comedic work as a co-writer of the original story for Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan [Larry Charles, 2006] and directing The Hangover trilogy [2009, 2011, 2013]) takes us on an extended exploration (12:32 video) of these opening scenes, giving us a good insight into how he’s transitioned into this dramatic vein, where the only humor in Joker's grotesquely-funny at best.
Dejected, still in his clown make-up on a subway ride home, Arthur’s harassed by 3 young hotshot businessmen who (for no reason except his uncontrollable, scary laughter) attack him, start another round of brutal kicking, causing Arthur to spontaneously shoot at them, quickly killing 2, then stalking the third before bringing him down, escaping before anyone knows who he is. On TV, billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) decries this violent act, pledges to run for mayor to clean up his blighted city, but then says this subway shooter is representative of Gotham’s “clowns" who’ve never made anything of themselves like him, prompting demonstrations against the city’s rich by angry people, many wearing clown masks (not full make-up, as we often see on Arthur and his former co-workers, including Randall who falsely claims, after the hospital incident, Arthur bought the gun from him, absolving himself of all responsibility). Newly emboldened by the subway killings, Arthur rushes into Sophie’s (unlocked?) apartment, kisses her, invites her to a comedy club where he’s doing a set; she's supportive as he begins weakly but seems to bring the crowd around to his odd humor. Later, though, Arthur sees Murray’s show where he’s got clips of Arthur’s performance which he ridicules, yet public interest in Arthur’s routine leads to an invitation to appear with Murray. Before that, though, Arthur’s life becomes more complicated as he’s interviewed by a couple of police detectives, suspicious about his possible involvement in the subway killings, then he opens a letter his Mom, Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy), wrote to Thomas Wayne (one of many she’s sent, never getting a reply) asking for his help with Arthur, her illegitimate son with Wayne. Arthur approaches the imposing gate of Wayne Manor, intending to see Thomas but can’t get in, although he has some disturbing conversation with his young, supposed-half-brother Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson) until the Waynes' stern butler/security enforcer, Alfred Pennyworth (Douglas Hodge), sends Arthur away. Undaunted, he later sneaks into a huge fundraising event at a theater showing Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), confronts Thomas Wayne in a restroom, only to be told Penny, who once worked as the Waynes’ maid, is delusional, was often confined at Arkham State Hospital, adopted Arthur as a baby. Unnerved by this, Arthur goes to Arkham, manages to steal Penny's old files, finds out Wayne told him the truth. At this point, Penny’s in a medical hospital, having suffered a heart attack after being questioned by the detectives, so Arthur visits but kills her in anger at not knowing the truth of his past. Back at his apartment house, he frightens Sophie (leaving the implication all their previous encounters were figments of Arthur’s imagination)—possibly kills her, before being visited by Randall and Gary (Leigh Gill), another coworker; in a fit of rage Arthur kills Randall but spares Gary as he’s one of the few to ever have been nice to Arthur.
⇒After these most recent murders, Arthur puts on his clown make-up, dresses in a colorful suit, heads for his stint on Murray’s talk show but is pursued by the detectives; he manages to escape by jumping onto a subway car filled with clown-masked-protesters heading downtown to a massive rally, but in the attempt to catch up with Arthur one of the cops accidently kills a protester, sparking a huge riot. In the TV studio, Arthur says his appearance is part of his act, asks to be introduced as Joker (Murray had previously referred to him as such in those televised-sarcastic-comments), chats for awhile in a fairly amiable manner, then suddenly confesses the subway murders, justifying them as necessary actions against the cruel treatment of nobodies like him, ignored/vilified by society’s more-prosperous-members. Then, in a shock to everyone, Joker pulls out his gun giving us the impression he’s about to commit suicide (he’s often seemed on the verge of such an action at various times throughout the film) but suddenly shoots Murray during this live broadcast. Joker’s arrested, his police car trying to work its way through the riotous chaos of the city streets when it’s suddenly rammed by an ambulance driven by a clown-masked-protester, with Joker pulled from the car, put upon a damaged vehicle where the crowd (aware of his crimes) wildly cheers his smooth dancing—meanwhile, another masked protester stops the Wayne family coming from some event, kills Thomas and Martha (Carrie Louise Putrello) to young Bruce’s horror (as this story always goes, with this violent-impetus for Bruce to grow into Batman, forever avenging himself on the criminality responsible for destroying the life he’d had prior to this tragedy, even though here Thomas is presented in a more negative light than we’ve encountered in other versions of this unprovoked attack). In final scenes we see Joker as an inmate at Arkham being interviewed by a psychiatrist, followed by him walking freely down a hall leaving a trail of what looks to be bloody footprints, implying she’s become his latest victim, as orderlies pursue him in/out of the frame at the end.⇐ *
* ⇒Here’s a quick-paced spoiler-filled-video (7:50) exploring the premise that much—if not most—of what we see in Joker is actually the ravings of Arthur’s delusional-imagination, based on the known-fantasy-scene of him being called onto Murrary’s stage from the audience along with the implications that much of what we saw with Arthur and Sophie was also wishful-conjecture on his part. The video’s narrator notes we see Arthur early on in a scene in a cell at Arkham banging his head against the door but we assume this was from an earlier incarceration instead of it being linked to the final scene where he’s once again in the asylum in his white uniform, so maybe—a big maybe—almost everything in Joker only occurs within Arthur’s troubled mind; however, we know that by the time Bruce Wayne grows into adulthood, takes on the Batman identity, battles Gotham City’s criminals, Joker’s definitely one of them—seemingly the worst of the lot—so it stands to reason Joker was this homicidal maniac early on, even as he’s notably older than Bruce; we’ll have to see if this iteration of the character returns in a sequel at some point or whether we’ll just have to reconcile all this somehow (if necessary) to what we know of Joker from previous Batman tales.⇐
So What? Set in 1981 Gotham City (although that’s always been a stand-in for the more dismal aspects of NYC—where much of this film was shot, along with Jersey City and Newark, NJ—often referred to as “Gotham,” just as the more positive aspects of the “Big Apple” clearly reference Superman’s gleaming Metropolis—with these 2 long-iconic-DC Comics-locations shown to be geographically nearby in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice [Zack Snyder, 2016; review in our April 1, 2016 posting], where they literally become manifestations of the dark and light aspects of such technologically/economically-driven population centers), the time verified by statements in the second reference in my Related Links section far below, although based on the NYC where I lived in 1972-’73 (Queens, though, not Manhattan, with that main borough much more beset in those days with crime, filth, smog) if this Gotham City was inspired by early ‘80s NYC then it hadn’t changed much in the ensuing decade (whereas the last couple of times I visited, in 1996, then just a few years ago, appearances certainly have shifted for the better, with the Disney-fication of the former-porn-central Times Square district greatly indicative of the city’s current evolution into a welcoming tourist center). Phillips and cinematographer Lawrence Sher (aided by the usual post-production-computer-graphics) have successfully rendered an unhealthy environment where Joker’s maniacal actions easily fit right in for that period, although this film implies the true villains also include corporate-capitalists whose wealth-gap-status compared to those downtrodden-masses have pushed the city to the explosive point we see toward the plot's end where clown-masked-rioters (with eerie, unintended implications about contemporary-masked-demonstrators in Hong Kong challenging mainland-Chinese-overlords) are all-too-easily-compared to the unemployed/ underemployed-blue-collar-workers who found solace for their ignored-frustrations in their 2016 support of Donald Trump. (Now confident in his recent warning such well-armed-loyalists would rise up into another Civil War if he were removed from office through impeachment—just as the clown-crowd in Joker quickly took to justifying Arthur Fleck’s new persona just because he showed his willingness to homicidally strike out against those whom he had experienced/perceived as persecutors [seemingly verifying Trump’s—intentionally-exaggerated?—assertion he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue but his followers wouldn’t hold him accountable for it, although now Trump-tariffs are impacting consumer prices along with the very existence of smaller farmers it might be time for such unquestioning-support to shift with the tides of public opinion, a change of heart Joker’s destructive-fans haven’t yet experienced in this version of Gotham’s problems, unlike future-set-stories where Joker’s intentional harm to this community provides public support for another vigilante, Batman, although he’s still just a traumatized little child in this current narrative].)
Of course, it’s difficult to watch any presentation of the Joker without calling to mind what we’ve seen of him (even in contradictory manifestations) in previous Batman-themed-narratives (if you need a quick-recall-aid, here’s a short video [6:11] with scenes of this archfiend in television and movies from the 1966 Batman TV series to the upcoming Suicide Squad 2*); in what I’d consider the most memorable previous appearances by this character we have the beginning of the modern ongoing Batman cinematic narratives where this costumed, socially-accepted vigilante, still more in Caped Crusader mode played by Michael Keaton, confronts a dastardly-yet-still-humorous-at-times-version of the Joker (Jack Nicholson) in Batman (Tim Burton, 1989)—as small-time hood Jack Napier kills Bruce Wayne’s parents (reinforcing Joker’s age disparity between Arthur and Bruce), then years later when confronting Batman (who doesn’t know yet who this hood really is) Napier falls into a vat of acid, disfiguring his features, leading to a plot against everyone in Gotham City where no one’s able to put their best face forward, until Batman—now aware of his opponent’s wicked past—battles him on the roof of Gotham’s massive cathedral, with the Joker falling to his death (even though there were several sequels to this version of Batman maybe the producers knew they’d never be able to afford Nicholson again), followed many years later by a more vicious Batman (Christian Bale) in The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)—still my favorite superhero film (not just a movie because it's consumed with higher ambitions on the essential nature of evil)—and a personification of such anarchistic-malice in Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the seemingly-ubiquitous, completely-amoral Joker (with his sliced-up-mouth for a permanent-yet-disconcerting- “smile”), a character who simply appears in Gotham City’s underworld, quickly takes command of it with random acts of cruelty done for no other reason than his capacity to execute such atrocities (this could, indeed, be the result of the Arthur Fleck backstory shown in Joker, although the speculation about what’s fantasy there, what’s not, would seemingly need to verify at least some murders by Arthur to justify him being committed to Arkham, not matter how he might later escape).
*This intended upcoming movie, now being developed as a reboot rather than a sequel, has been renamed The Suicide Squad (James Gunn, set for August 2021), although a detailed site makes no mention of the Joker nor even Jared Leto in the cast, even though Leto played him in the previous Suicide Squad (David Ayer, 2016) so we'll learn later what's to become of him in this alternate-story.
Ledger deservedly won a (posthumous) Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this role, seemingly establishing an irreplaceable presence for the Joker character, although it’s now a reasonable argument Phoenix has equaled, if not surpassed, Ledger’s legacy. If you wish, you can decide for yourself with this combination of a lengthy compilation of ... Dark Knight's Joker scenes (43:38) to refresh your memory (if necessary) of what Ledger previously accomplished followed by a direct comparison (11:40 [interrupted at about 5:00 by an ad, damn it!]) of the 2, giving the edge slightly to Ledger, but it’s a closer call than you might ever have thought after witnessing Heath’s devastating performance, possibly restrained only by Phoenix having considerably more screen time, not having to share the story with necessary hero Batman. So, with all this extra-diegetic (to use a high-falootin’ film theory term) material noted for your edification, what’s crucial about what happens within Joker? First and foremost is the impactful acting throughout but especially in the constant scene-dominations (where I think he’s in every one of them) by Joaquin Phoenix, who certainly deserves a Best Actor Oscar nomination for this role unless through some miracle 5 better performances emerge before the end of this year (the same thing—although Best Actress in her case—I said in my last posting about Renée Zellweger in Judy [Rupert Goold; review in our October 2, 2019 posting], although both may suffer from the plague of released-too-early-in-awards-consideration-season, which appears to happens more than it should as recency often triumphs over primacy [now I'm citing mass-communication-theory); the more Phoenix’s screen persona mentally-deteriorates (emphasized by that chilling laugh which may not always be under his control, although his more hostile actions certainly seem to willingly call it forth), the more of a horror he becomes, even if we can appreciate the sources of his rage in a society he gets nothing from, where anyone with any control over him (many of the other characters in the film) ultimately takes none of his interests to heart. Then there are the depressingly-effective-cinematics, from the somewhat-more-confining-screen-ratio of 1.85:1 (width to height), appropriate for the temporal setting of the story from a film production standpoint but also a bit more claustrophobic than the wider formats used in so many movies today (although the Modern Times clip and the “Live with Murray Franklin” TV imagery are in the old format of 1.33:1, even boxier, more spatially-hemmed-in, but historically proper for both these uses) with Sher’s cinematography usually producing a grim, bleak setting but with great compositions at all times, occasionally using a fuller-color-palette more reminiscent of the comic-book-heritage of these characters and settings; Hildur Guönadóttir’s spooky, menacing soundtrack further enhances this film's discomforting, trapped feel, underscoring (so to speak) how you’d rather not be here but can’t leave until you've seen that ultimate resolution.
Another aspect of this film either making it more intriguing or less engaging, depending on your sensibilities (as you’ll find in reading a range of supportive or dismissive critical opinions) is how director/co-screenwriter (with Scott Silver) Phillips evokes other relevant films, especially a couple of notable ones from Martin Scorsese with the obvious connection to The King of Comedy (1983), except this time De Niro is the talk show host rather than the wannabe-stand-up-comic-guest even as notable crimes are committed in the process in the earlier one by Rupert Pupkin (De Niro), this time (much worse) by Arthur Fleck; there’s also a clear sense of Taxi Driver (1976)—another film where on-screen-violence (and its possibly-implied-justification) was a social concern at the time as Travis Bickle (De Niro) decides to address what he feels are the increasing lawless horrors and offensive personal distancing of NYC residents from a supposed-lowlife like himself, although his violent actions are ultimately interpreted as heroic by the public just as Arthur transforms himself into Joker for similar reasons here (there’s even a brief scene where Arthur’s addressing himself in a mirror in a “You talkin’ to me?” fashion, quite reminiscent of De Niro’s famous lines in the earlier masterpiece). Further, you can also see a connection to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) given the similarity between Joker protagonist Arthur and … Orange protagonist Alex (Malcolm McDowell) in terms of face make-up, ever-increasing-insanity, violence against society (more brutal in places with … Orange than Joker; also with a bit of explicit sex forcing Kubrick to re-edit, bringing the initial rating down from X to R). Another interesting intertexual element is the use on the soundtrack of Jimmy Durante singing Chaplin’s “Smile” (from City Lights), ironic commentary on Arthur’s mouth make-up which implies a smile even when he’s most forlorn, also related to his mother’s dictum to him that his purpose in life is to make people happy even though he’s immersed in so much misery. Other lovely bits of irony on the soundtrack are Frank Sinatra singing “That’s Life” as Arthur’s bedeviled-story unfolds, then Sinatra’s “Send In the Clowns” under the final credits.
Bottom Line Final Comments: No matter what anyone may think is wrong with, lacking in, or ill-conceived about Joker, the tepid response by the OCCU (those surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes yield only 69% positive reviews, the often-restricted-responses at Metacritc trend toward negative territory as well with a 59% average score; more details in the Related Links section just below) has had little impact on audience desire to see this film, which opened last weekend at 4,374 domestic (U.S.-Canada) theaters to a whopping $96.2 million box-office-haul, setting records for All-Time October domestic opening weekend, biggest October international opening weekend, etc. (plus even more cash from international markets, $152.2 million, giving a less-than-1-week-global total of $248.4 million), further enhanced in terms of prestige by taking the coveted Golden Lion award at this year’s Venice Film Festival. However, there are plenty of well-versed-critics who find fault with it, such as The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday: “Drawing on such notorious historical figures as John Wayne Gacy and ‘subway vigilante’ Bernhard Goetz, Phoenix creates a character who epitomizes the self-pity, entitlement and rage that have infected a small but disproportionately vocal (and psychotically violent) cohort of American society. He doesn’t start out as a miscreant — it takes him being victimized by a wanton mugging to set him on that path — but by the time ‘Joker’ reaches its anarchic, blood-spattered climax, he’s become the avatar of a populist movement of like-minded losers, who instead of wielding torches and pitchforks don green fright wigs and red noses. […] ‘Joker’ is, finally, so monotonously grandiose and full of its own pretensions that it winds up feeling puny and predictable.” From the perspective of those (such as me) who support Joker a representative review would be by Variety’s Owen Gleiberman: “Arthur, in a funny way, hides his brains (they’re revealed only when he passes through the looking glass of villainy). He’s got a piece missing. But what fills the space is violence. ¶ Many have asked, and with good reason: Do we need another Joker movie? Yet what we do need — badly — are comic-book films that have a verité gravitas, that unfold in the real world, so that there’s something more dramatic at stake than whether the film in question is going to rack up a billion-and-a-half dollars worldwide. […] When he dances on the long concrete stairway near his home, like a demonic Michael Jackson, with Gary Glitter’s ‘Rock and Roll Part 2’ bopping on the soundtrack, it’s a moment of transcendent insanity, because he’s not trying to be ‘the Joker.’ He’s just improvising, going with the flow of his madness. [… although] the movie does something that flirts with danger — it gives evil a clown-mask makeover, turning it into the sickest possible form of cool.” Emphasis on the traditionally-more-negative-connotation of “sickest” (not as equaling “cool”) I can only hope.
Nevertheless, more vital than opinions of critics (impossible as that might seem), the most pressing concern about Joker is whether it might stir up the sort of horrid violence plaguing our all-too-real-world lately, giving justification or sympathy to deranged minds still lurking in society’s shadows, waiting their turns as news headlines of atrocious slaughters of innocent bystanders which has all-too-often-happened in cities all across the U.S., serious-but-relatively-limited-interpersonal-crimes-of-passion pushed aside for lurid coverage of mass killings by deranged-shooters taking assault weapons off the battlefield into civilian gatherings at festivals, schools, offices, houses of worship. The Aurora, CO theater where James Eagan Holmes launched an attack at a midnight screening of the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises (Nolan, 2012), killing 12, injuring 70 more, refused to show Joker while the FBI and the U.S. military issued warnings about potential violence at screenings, just as AMC and Landmark Theatres banned costumes or masks during Joker shows while there’s already talk of how such well-intended-concerns could threaten Phoenix’s Oscar-nomination-chances as a statement against condoning violent films, despite there being far less actual violence that I see here than in many others easily available year after year. Director Phillips and star Phoenix replied to such concerns with pleas for those who wish to criticize the film to at least see it first so any reactions would have substance, as well as their hopes acknowledging the presence of such brutality in our society will offer some opportunity to talk about it/seek solutions rather than just condemn certain artistic content (as many critics have) as being inappropriate in our troubled times. Fortunately, at least to my awareness, no trouble has yet emerged at a Joker screening, so all I can do is hope no angry and/or mentally-unstable person with characteristics of Arthur Fleck will take inspiration from this fictional account of a killer to unleash their own madness-driven-mayhem because we know all too well if such situations come about the killing will likely be done with weapons far more deadly than Joker’s mere handgun. Consequently, while you draw your own conclusions about the value/validity of Joker—hopefully, after watching it rather than just reading about it here or otherwise—I’ll leave you with my usual wrap-up tactic, a Musical Metaphor, actually 2 in this case to reflect the complexity offered in this disturbing narrative, the first “Laugh, Laugh” from the Beau Brummels (on their 1965 Introducing the Beau Brummels album) at https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAeVOoTXt8o, as seen from Joker’s perspective (unlike in the actual song where the singer’s joyful a previous lover who dumped him has now been dumped herself) as the former lover represents the society that treated Arthur so cruelly, making him “Lonely, oh so lonely,” but now “Don’t think I’m funny when I say You got just what you deserve I can’t help feeling you found out today You thought you were too good; you had a lot of nerve” as this rejected social order gets its comeuppance from those rioting clowns lauding Joker as their hero, their inspiration.
But, in order to not be misinterpreted as someone who praises Joker’s ongoing-killing-spree, I’ll give you another Metaphor, this one from society’s perspective, especially those members (that I sincerely hope to be a part of) who try to navigate some sustainable middle road between being in the uncaring elite or embracing hostile thrills of anarchy as revenge against those financial moguls who ultimately control the lives of the unwelcome—people who still have some faith in a collective consciousness aimed at the betterment of all who’re willing to somehow work together, brave enough to call out the true “jokers” in our society taking it upon themselves to make decisions for the rest of us, either because they assume the status of a “stable genius” or because they want to randomly tear down what they see as oppression because they “were born with a snake in both of [their] fists while a hurricane was blowing.” Thus, I give you Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan’s poetic “Jokerman” (from his 1983 Infidels album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XSvsFgvWr0 (the song’s official video, which shows most of the lyrics [except for the chorus: “Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune Bird fly high by the light of the moon Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman”] even though you can understand Dylan better here than in many of the live performances I’ve heard in recent years), which, with the combination of the intriguing words and the illuminating imagery, calls these self-appointed-saviors to task in an unstable world where “the rifleman’s stalking the sick and the lame Preacherman seeks the same, who’ll get there first is uncertain Nightsticks and water cannons, tear gas, padlocks Molotov cocktails and rocks behind every curtain False-hearted judges dying in the webs that they spin Only a matter of time ‘til night comes steppin’ in.” Arthur’s lost himself to his own conception of the Joker, narrating much of his story to us, but, given his mental challenges (“All I have are negative thoughts”), how reliable are his words, his rationale, his worldview, even though he’s also clearly a victim of an upbringing where he’s been constantly lied to about his family, been a victim of abuse by various guys Mom shacked up with, where unknown assailants violently attack him in public just for the fun of it. This “Jokerman” deserves our pity because of all the evil done to him; however, he also deserves our fear as he viciously avenges himself on his fictional society, just as his real-world-counterparts make our tension-filled, divided society a place of constant terror, either caught in the process of mass-killings or the instability in our lives wondering when, where, how the next act of wanton destruction will occur. Joker’s intentionally-disturbing, not in a psychological-horror-movie-vein, slaughter depicted for cathartic-release-aspects of entertainment, but in a “wake up and smell the hostility” as our cultural wars push us farther away from each other, closer to random chaos. Not an easy thing to watch, yet I think it's surely worth your time to do so.
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Here’s more information about Joker:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdlmPcJIKGY (28:52 interview with cinematographer
Lawrence Sher, production designer Mark Friedberg, producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff,
director Todd Phillips, and actor Joaquin Phoenix)
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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of email@example.com. (But if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,
https://kenburke.academia.edu, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)
If we did talk, though, you’d easily see how my early-70s-age informs my references, Musical Metaphors, etc. in these reviews because I’m clearly a guy of the later 20th century, not so much the contemporary world. I’ve come to accept my ongoing situation, though, realizing we all (if fate allows) keep getting older, we just have to embrace it, as Joni Mitchell did so well in "The Circle Game," offering sage advice even when she was quite young herself.
By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker. But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
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Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 29,156 (this time we’ve reached all 6 continents we’d hoped for [until the penguins in Antarctica finally get W-Fi], as long as we can assume that some of the Russian interest came from their vast Asian domain; as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is our snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week: