*Minor spoilers ahead*
Over the summer, Universal Pictures canceled the release of The Hunt, which promised a satirical look at the deepening political divide plaguing the country. The violent nature of the film seemed too hot for most to handle, so the studio, fearing further backlash, decided against releasing it. Flash forward a few more months and we’ve got Joker on the the docket as the latest film for the perpetually offended to scream “Won’t somebody please think of society?!” from their Twitter accounts, which seems to be a weekly, if not daily occurrence. But this one made it to theaters, despite an uproar from the viewing gallery of those who think they know everything there is to know about the human psyche.
Despite the mainstream telling me what extra security measures were put in place should an “incel shooting” break out, I decided to take the huge risk and head to the theaters on a Saturday evening. It was mostly due to my own personal boredom, but I did want to see if the two-hour-one-minute long flick would have the impact all the Obscure Blue Checkmarks on Twitter said it would. After all, we live in a society that’s so consumed with entertainment, we think it controls any and all decision made by those we deem “lessers,” don’t we?
And Joker was…good. Wasn’t bad. Very well acted. I think it was longer than it needed to be and some scenes seemed to drag. But chalk that up to director Todd Phillips wanting to get in all his most favorite camera angles. The cinematography was at least good. The viewer never really knew where he or she was at any given moment, and the mood felt stuffy and uncomfortable, a tip off to what’s going on in Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix)’s head at any given moment. One of my favorite shots that was used frequently was watching Phoenix walk away from the camera and into a brightly-lit section of the scene, largely in the middle of the shot. These acted as transitional scenes as he stepped further down the dark staircase of his broken psychology. However, the one time he’s walking right at the camera, away from the light, is when he fully emerged as Joker, finally ready to tell the whole world exactly who he was. It was a nice touch for a movie whose tone is inherently bleak.
The story of a man’s descent into madness was at least gripping enough to keep me awake the whole time. But after the lights came on in the Lincoln Center IMAX theater, I felt like something was lacking. Something that would have explained away all the pre-outrage this film received before even hitting the silver screen. But nothing came, and I was left wondering what the big deal was, or if there was any to begin with.
This movie was dark. There was no one to root for. It was a clash of fantasy versus reality, watching a man craving the spotlight but constantly coming up short, all the while attempting to figure out what was real and what was not. This, as the world’s tensions between Wall Street fat cats and the marginalized ‘little’ people finally came to a head. I felt that connections made as to why there was so much tension between the two groups could have been better explained away, as I did think there were some things retrofitted in order to move the plot point along. But that just proves there were several battles to be fought throughout this movie, not just the “loner versus The World” plot point the mainstream was extra worried about.
It feels like there were so many people warning us against going to see this movie, but at the end of the day, critics weren’t too impressed. Many found it flat and uneven, and of course issued plenty of warnings of all those “incels” ready to get their hands on a catalyst to perform all their dirty deeds. DailyMail, the publication which never disappoints, pointed out the scant few online who think this movie was glamorizing gun violence and mental illness. And that, in the wrong hands, would certainly cause another one of these shootings people so badly want to happen in order to prove themselves right on the internet.
“Glamorizing” is not the world I’d use by any stretch of the imagination. There was nothing glamorous about this movie. The violence was shocking and disturbing. The grittiness and random acts of violence made me happy that my daily life routine is nowhere near what Fleck experienced. I walked out of the theater not even sure how I should feel; bad that people have it rough out there and live in a graffiti-filled dirty nightmare? Sad that some people don’t get the proper help they need for their mental illnesses? Angry that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? The only thing I felt was that I got out of the house for a bit and was transported into someone else’s story for a bit. And that’s okay.
What movie or piece of art exists out there that is for “everybody?” Is there something universal enough that it can appeal to absolutely everyone? It’s possible, but hell if I’ve found it yet. We seem to live in a
society world that seems to tell us what is okay and not okay to consume. The choice still lies within us to watch what we like and ignore what we don’t. I don’t need people, especially the news media, to tell me how I should feel about a subject, especially over something as subjective as humor or entertainment. It’s up to us to make a choice and deal with how we feel about it later. And sometimes, that involves us actually seeing something for ourselves first before we make an assessment about how everyone else is going to react to it.
As Arthur Fleck is laughing madly from an insane asylum in the final scene, his case worker asks “What’s so funny?” And at the rate we’re going, the answer will soon be nothing. Ever again.