Joker ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
There’s no Batman in Joker. Let’s get that clear. Batman is yet to be. The character who will be Batman when he’s grown up, Bruce Wayne, is a child in Joker. Bruce Wayne is the son of Thomas Wayne, mayoral candidate of Gotham City. Gotham City is a sort of fictional New York City, only grittier, uglier and more crime-ridden. Thomas Wayne says he can clean up Gotham City if voters will give him a chance. He doesn’t seem very trustworthy. He seems like just another phony asshole politician who will say and do anything to get elected.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) lives with his invalid mother, Penny Fleck, in a squalid apartment building in Gotham City. Penny Fleck used to be employed by the Thomas Wayne family as a domestic. Arthur bears a physical resemblance to Thomas Wayne. Do you get the connection here without having it spelled out?
Arthur is a study unto himself. You don’t even need Batman. He is a former mental patient (why did they ever let him out?) who takes seven medications and, yet, he “feels so bad all the time.” He is a professional “party clown.” He goes wherever a clown is needed, whether it’s to children’s hospital or to carry a sign on the street to advertise a going-out-of-business sale.
The thing with Arthur is that the world has not been very kind to him. He has been (or believes he has) largely mistreated. Funding is cut off for his psychiatric care and his drugs. When he is savagely beaten and kicked by thugs on the street, a co-worker gives him a gun for self-defense. A mental patient with a distorted view of things carrying a gun? I don’t think so. Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.
One night when he is going home from work dressed as a clown, Arthur Fleck has an ugly encounter with three bullies on the subway and ends up killing all three of them vigilante-style. The three dead bullies are elite Wall Street types. By killing them, Arthur becomes a hero to the downtrodden. A kind of class warfare begins between the haves and the have nots. People all over the city begin dressing as clowns to show their solidarity with the subway killer. This is just the beginning for Arthur. He has had enough and he’s not going to take it anymore. He goes from being Arthur Fleck, the sad little man who lives with his mother in a creepy apartment building, to being the “Joker,” the arch-villain of the city and nemesis of the yet-to-be Batman, who is still just Bruce Wayne, child of an affluent family.
Joker is not just another superhero movie (there have been too many of them) based on comic book characters. It’s not for children; it’s dark, violent and sad. At the core of it all is the characterization of the Joker by an actor who obviously immerses himself in the role. We see before our very eyes the evolution of an arch-villain. He puts on a happy face. He dances. He sings. He kills.
Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp