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Year : 2019
Country : United-States

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DokBrowne  [ 9.5 ]    [ add to preferred ]    [ email this review to a friend ]

To summarize: as a supervillain origin story, and as an arresting work of cinema, this towers with greatness. As an exploration of character it's heartbreaking, as a thermometer of a society under pressure it's galvanizing. As a performance piece it is astonishing. As a major prestige studio film of the 2010s, it dances around wearing an earlier film classic from a previous era as a costume like many have lately. As a study of a severe social crisis in America today, it's problematic.

A yearning for the full-throttle, ultra-dark edgy hipster art-house potential of the Joker has existed for decades now, so like when Freddy and Jason finally faced off or all those MCU movies finally brought an entire ecosystem of comic book lore to extravagant life on screen, this dank, R-rated, Oscar-hyped movie focused exclusively on the ultimate Batman adversary is a singular event even apart from the real-world controversies. In its stylistic similarities to Heath Ledger's version it also bears the semblance of a direct follow-up (well, prequel) to "The Dark Knight" that finally elaborates on that particular interpretation of the Joker by whom we were all so mesmerized 11 years ago. Lots of ways of looking at this movie and considering the contexts by which it might be perceived and valued by viewers. What were you hoping to get out of it, if anything?

Yes it does consciously, actively trace the Joker's story right over both "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy", maybe because Todd Phillip idolizes those movies and can't help himself, maybe because he wanted to share their dramatic power with modern audiences who are less likely to remember or even recognize the identity of those movies 40 years beyond, maybe because he saw an uncanny relevance in their depictions of angry outsiders and the effects of isolation and delusion and realized he'd struck thematic gold by reviving them as his aesthetic and narrative playgrounds. Hard to deny how stunning this re-creation of rotting '70s NYC is and how grandly it represents the Joker's decaying soul.

If anything compromises the blustery vision, the admirable stretches of screen time that let Joaquin Phoenix conduct his own symphony of tilting madness, melancholy and rage, the devious re-imagining of the Joker's motifs (like turning his laugh into a painful medical condition), all that good stuff, it's the script's timid whitewashing of Arthur's nature. The worst that you can say about this guy is that he's weird and doesn't fit in, and even that has roots dating back to childhood trauma. The man is pure victim and when he finally goes too far, it's still conservatively targeted only at those who hurt him first. In his breakdown of impulse control, his burgeoning psychological liberation through cartwheeling insanity and chaos, he still adheres by a pretty strict eye-for-an-eye moral code, the movie implicitly justifying his behavior.

And while understanding where evil comes from is of course wise and humane, and this movie surges with compassion, it, like all attempts through movie history to re-tell a famous story from the bad guy's point of view, plays too safely with its demon, de-clawing him because they're afraid we won't sympathize once his later crimes begin even despite the exhaustive defense it establishes for all of them. Let him be flawed! Let him hurt people sometimes (if only emotionally, however) the way we all do at one point or another. Make him more conceited or ill-tempered or even unable to manage his sexual frustrations in a healthy way, as unpleasant as that would be. Anything to make him more human. He's tragic and we feel awful for him, sure, but he's practically Jesus in this movie. It's like we're watching "Passion of the Christ" only with the twist that he goes on a homicidal rampage after hanging on the cross for a few hours and losing his cool over it.

Doesn't seem like the most responsible message for the crowd of incels/potential mass shooters/disturbed people seeking validation. Just seems like it's giving an entitled, self-perceived victimization disorder too much credibility. Is that the kind of movie we should be making, one that doesn't take its terrorist to task for any character flaws whatsoever, one that invites him to feel empowered and even heroic via acts of exhilarating massacre? Am I simplifying the movie's essence too much by implying that? I'm not saying movies have to represent proper values or anything dumb like that, but if you're gonna choose to tell a story from a certain perspective, especially a story that resonates strongly in the world at large by referencing immediate fears that we're dealing with, have the courage to dirty it up a little, make it more real and messy and contradictory, the way each of us human beings really are. Challenging our pre-conceived notions of a serial killer is the first step to an interesting movie, but don't just stop there. Dare us to fully sympathize with this person by adding some fucked-up details that are harder to forgive. "Breaking Bad" did a pretty great job at that. Walter White's motives were understandable but his innate arrogance, fury, mistreatment of the people he cared about, and growing ease with ruthless measures kept him from ever being any kind of hero (never mind the misguided sentimental validation the show lends him in the series finale). Though to be fair they did have like 6 years and dozens of hours to tell that story, whereas "Joker"'s gotta do it all in 122 minutes. I dunno, maybe this movie didn't need any of that. It wants us to like Arthur and even get to a point where we're practically cheering for the spread of anarchy, which is a pretty bold move in itself, so maybe that's all that needs to be considered here. This is his movie, from his point of view, how he sees his own life. There are still many other nuances worth noting (like how he's sometimes quite lucid in-between bouts of hyperventilating laughter and mental distractions).

Either way, otherwise: a movie we'll remember and talk about and marvel at into the indefinite future. An amazing experience, shattering, blood-boiling, exciting, frightening, artful, but with one core creative choice that I fundamentally question...kinda like "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", not that most people seem to agree with me on that one.

Corto   7.0  ]

Weighted Rating : 7.1
No. Ratings : 2
No. Reviews : 1

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Ranked by Rating
2019 4
2010's 73
All-time 2177

Ranked by No. Ratings
2019 2
2010's 243
All-time 5508

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