Directed by Hangover director Todd Phillips, Joker tells the story of the creation of one of Batman’s most captivating and popular comic book villains and later his primary adversary. The film examines the development of a lonely and insecure outsider into a mad killer. It is a story of self-discovery. Only, as an anti-thesis to Batman, nothing positive emerges from the bad experiences of the past, but the descent into nihilism and chaos. On the other hand, the film questions our society. To what extent is our behaviour towards our fellow human beings and especially towards the sick and needy (along with a suboptimal health care system) the cause of the fall into violence and madness? In view of this topic, which in principle suggests a completely different cause, any accusation about the impact of violence in film and video games in this case is even more nonsensical than it would normally be. But Joker provides food for thought and discussion and is more interesting for that alone than most generic comic book adaptations that flood the market today. The film is good from a technical point of view, especially in terms of its cinematography and detailed portrayal of Gotham in the 1980s. Joaquin Phoenix provides a bizarre and original interpretation of the later Joker, Arthur Fleck, which is very different from that of Nicholson and Ledger.
Phillips makes strong use of two better movies. The basic structure and aesthetics are almost completely taken from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. A socially incompetent loner in the dark streets of the big city, who falls for violence because of his disgust for society. Phillip’s vision of Gotham City is more bleak than ever. There is probably no person in the whole city who has a noticeable degree of empathy and human love. Even Thomas Wayne, Batman’s father, who was praised in past films as the Samaritan of the city, is an arrogant, narcissistic and insensitive prick. Unlike Taxi Driver, where we perceive everything from Travis Bickle’s point of view, Joker acts as a neutral observer. This suggests that the world decays not only from the main character’s point of view, but that everything in Gotham is actually corrupted. I guess this approach works as a hyperbolic commentary on our society, but it’s not very convincing in the context of the film. Gotham’s crisis of humanity and the emerging nihilism is not dealt with any further than the fact that the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. The film neither seeks an explanation nor a solution.
The second source is Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. Many elements of the plot and some lines of dialogue are taken over directly. Fleck lives with his mother and dreams of acting as a comedian. In his favorite show he fantasizes about being able to appear as a guest of his idol Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). At that time De Niro played the role of Phoenix, today he plays the famous talk show host. Arthur Fleck, like all the other characters in Joker, is not a sympathetic person. He is pitiful, if even that. Compared to its role models, the film, like Fleck himself, lacks the wit and irony that makes fools of the masses of admirers of its protagonist. Joker is a film that contains a great deal of anger about the situation of (American) society and condemns it.
Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy
Runtime: 122 min.
Release Date: 2019/10/04
Screenplay: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Editor: Jeff Groth
Cinematography: Lawrence Sher
Budget: $55-70 million