EDITORS NOTE: While SANDBOX EIC Dan Berry also posted his thoughts on this new Warner Bros./DC film shortly, we also have a new member of the team, Alanah Cervantes, casting her eye on Todd Phillips take on the Clown Prince Of Crime. Two reviews for the price of one! Let’s see what she made of it…
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy
Movie length: 2 hours 2 minutes
What It Is: A retelling of the origin of the villainous Joker, set in loose, undermined period but with a definite ’80s edge, taking place long before Batman takes up his mission in Gotham. The movie is the first film in WB’s series of DC-based standalone films, placing characters and stories outside of the established cinematic canon and told by individual filmmakers.
It cannot be ignored: this picture is incredibly disturbing.
It’s difficult to quantify how I feel or think about this film. When I consider it on a technical level, it is undoubtedly perfect. It’s carefully shot, beautifully acted, wonderfully written, well-paced, well-scored, well-costumed – even the production design of a Gotham permanently stuck in the past is lovingly detailed, in both its social and racial aspects. It’s a fantastic piece of work.
However, when I consider JOKER thematically, I can only draw problematic conclusions. If this film had come out ten years ago, I would probably only have praised it. However, within the context of our current reality – and it’s impossible not to receive any work of art without acknowledging the reality in which it was made and the context with which it is presented – it only feels dangerous.
I don’t believe in censorship or legalistically trying to allow or disallow specific kinds of stories being told. Still, it’s increasingly difficult to see this film as purely a work of fiction. On some level, this movie is actually about the consequences of giving dangerous people and violent ideas a platform from which the masses are not able to identify what they truly stand for. We already know how easy it can be for the downtrodden and desperate to elevate a clown among themselves as a leader.
At the same time, I find it confusing to look at this as the beautiful and impressive origin story that we all hoped it could be – because it is that! This film is about one of the greatest comic book villains of all time – and what does any comic book story do but aggrandize both villainy and vigilantism? But when I remember the way that Fleck fantasized about being on television and about being seen – convinced that finally, now he truly existed because people had begun to pay attention to him – it only feels dangerous. It seems akin to the scene in which Arthur was playing with a gun. That’s what this all-too-real movie feels like: a filmmaker, irresponsibly playing with a loaded gun.
I can’t help but recall the last film I saw a midnight showing of, back in the July of 2012: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. On that auspicious night, inside a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, a heinous shooter conducted a horrific attack on the audience, killing twelve and injuring nearly sixty with automatic weapons; this maniac eventually identified himself as the Joker upon his arrest.
In the wake of such atrocities, we have to consider the capacity to inspire that stories like this – whether set the comic book world of Gotham or otherwise – have, their ability to bring out an almost insane devotion in all sorts of people if not handled absolutely correctly: in the mentally ill, the mentally well, and even the well-meaning.
I can acknowledge that this film is very much like its central character: both well-crafted yet terrible, compelling yet dangerous. I can’t recommend it, and I simply must recommend it, and I don’t know what to do with that. In a sick way, this movie feels like it honors and embraces that midnight shooter, and I despise it for that.