'Joker' Pulls Its Punches

Walter Rhein

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=2xvPHM_0YoOdqYU00Photo by Paul Kapischka on Unsplash

I waited until Joker arrived on Redbox before I watched the film that so many paid reviewers working for the production company went on record as calling a triumph. I always find my wife is a good sounding board for whether something is quality or not. Three quarters of the way through Joker she feel asleep, and I had the volume cranked to 59!

Some people call Joker polarizing, but in my opinion it wasn’t nearly polarizing enough. After watching the film it’s interesting to sort through the lies and misdirection contained in the advertising campaign. Yeah, there’s a bit of a shooting at the end, but any controversy of showing this in a movie theater is a completely artificial creation designed to sell tickets.

It was nice to look at

I will say that whoever was in charge of the cinematography did a great job. Also, Joaquin Phoenix gives an interesting performance. When he finally dons the full on green hair and face makeup at the end, he cuts a striking figure as the Joker. Unfortunately, he never has a moment of “becoming” and pretty much remains a sniveling little weakling right up to the last.

What the filmmakers seemed not to understand was that when you want to make a truly terrifying villain, it’s scarier if the audience feels they can identify with the character. In The Dark Knight Heath Ledger’s Joker called himself an agent of chaos because “Chaos is fair.” Now, that statement is totally insane, but there’s also some truth to it. Heck, even Ledger’s Joker is willing to risk his life on a coin flip, and I can respect that a lot more than I respect the self-entitlement of most of our politicians who don’t bother to even try to live by the rules they designate for the rest of us.

A missed opportunity

Phoenix’s Joker is just insane and that’s not very interesting. It’s a shame too because there really is a lot in the Batman mythos that you can work with. You don’t have to search very hard to find examples of how Batman is a problematic character. He’s an entitled little rich snot who inherited everything he owns and constantly violates people’s civil rights through his commitment to nocturnal vigilantism. If Batman really wanted to help people, he should give up all his wealth and build schools or something.

See? This is a JOKER movie, take a LITTLE bit of time to DECONSTRUCT Batman! That’s INTERESTING!

But no…the rich are sacrosanct

Joker takes a swipe at engaging the rich vs poor argument that is just starting to take center stage in our political ideology, but this is a pro-rich film. Part of the plot impetuous is that Joker is no longer able to afford his mental health medications.

Right there you have a compelling story since we live in a society where the majority of people are doomed to lose everything they own to obscene health care costs. With politicians constantly crying about how our society should never do anything to help anyone… ever, doesn’t it make sense to show how if we fail to get people the medications they need, it might end up in a bloody, tragic, slaughter? But in Joker this plot nugget is mentioned as an afterthought and then forgotten.

The rich exploiting people…never!

The film also begins to suggest that Joker is the illegitimate child of Thomas Wayne. Again, that would be interesting because there is plenty of evidence in society (Epstein for example), of rich, entitled jerks destroying people’s lives and then skating away without any consequence.

Wayne claims that Joker’s mom was delusional and that the Joker was adopted. There’s a flashback where Joker’s mom said Wayne launched a campaign to discredit her to escape his responsibilities. But in the end, the film seems to lead toward the belief that Wayne’s version was true.

Oh great, another example of rich people painting women as hysterical lunatics. That’s a pretty misogynistic choice, but the critics didn’t seem to pick up on it for some reason…

Boring!

Why did the filmmakers choose misogyny when the other direction is SO much more interesting? Heck, just keeping the truth in doubt is more interesting! Have a scene where Joker demands Wayne take a paternity test and have him refuse for a bunch of BS, entitled reasons. See? That would be delightfully infuriating to watch! But for some reason Joker, despite calling itself “edgy” just refuses to go there.

I think the reason that the film eventually decides to portray Joker as a bland nutcase than a truly wronged individual is because the studio system, the actors, and the director of this film are all part of the system of wealthy individuals who exploit the poor. They all get their several million dollars for their work, the film makes a billion, and poor people are rightfully put in their place. Then all the players involved go on TV and conduct interviews about how socially conscious they are.

It was largely mailed in

I didn’t get the sense that the director really did his homework on this film. Instead of contemplating his objectives, he seemed to think that all he needed to do was dress Phoenix up in a clown suit and film him crying and dancing to create a guaranteed cinematic masterpiece.

“See how that clown has a happy face painted on, but inside he’s crying! Isn’t that profound. Ya get it? Ya get it? Ya get it? Ya get it? YA GET IT?”

Consider how sloppy some of the writing is. Joker’s line, “When I said I would be a stand up comic, everyone laughed, but nobody’s laughing now!” Then the punchline, “You can say that again!”

That interplay is uninspired and predictable but they thought so much of the exchange that they used it in the TRAILER.

Then there’s the random Wall St. dudes who start flicking french fries at a young woman. Sure, that’s how entitled jerks act, but if you’re brainstorming ways to demonstrate Wall St. dudes being jerks, that’s the first or second thing you think of. Why not show them stealing pensions, or getting massive government bail out checks while veterans go hungry or something like that? I mean anything so that the film Joker is truly sympathetic to the plight of the poor, or at least gives a semi-fair accounting.

Just a few fair arguments people! You’re the ones that picked this subject. Engage it!

Oh, did we make Wall St. look bad? We’re sorry…

But getting back to the Wall St. dudes, the film quickly pivots and makes them look like the victims even though they first assaulted the woman before getting shot by Joker who acted in self-defense (well, for the first two, anyway, HAHAHAHAHAHA!).

The talk show scene is where things really fall apart. I don’t understands Phonix’s decision to scream and snivel as he’s saying “If I were laying down in the street dying you people would step right over me.” He should have said this calm and collected, like it’s true, because it is true, and he should be at peace with himself for his decisions. By screaming and sniveling he looks unhinged and he undermines his own argument.

The Joker actually has a point

The Joker character is not without precedent in literature. He’s ruthless, he’s crazy, and he also serves up justice to those that have committed wrongs. The devil is a similar character in many ways. Sure he lies…but not all the time.

Creating a film that suggests that no matter what wrongs are committed, the ruling class is always beyond reproach is both irresponsible and entitled.

Films often have a cathartic effect and help provide a wake-up call when society has veered off the rails. When done well, a film can promote the right kind of social change that can avert disaster. Joker does the opposite and the result is that the rich just get richer… for now.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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