The Joker is not a movie I particularly planned to see. I keep a steadfast and enthusiastic eye on what is being produced and released out of Hollywood, and I’ve always been a lover of film, thus watching countless interviews on the craft of acting, etc. over a lifetime, so I knew what to expect with this. It also made it into the news, the non-entertainment news. This intrigued my husband, but I had pretty much all but written off this genre, so when he put it on recently, for me it was background but not the going to be the centre of my focus, or so I thought. From the first frame and opening sequence, I really couldn't take my eyes off of it.
I've seen plenty of superhero movies, but I'm completely done with them now. After more than a decade of total market saturation, for me, they're totally played out, and I could care less, even if they do add 'real life', relatable themes to these fantastical situations. The Joker is not one of those movies. You do not have to have much context to refer back to, to understand this movie or character. For me, it was a concept that stands capably... separately, I will call it, from the rest of the franchise.
After an almost unanimous critical, and certainly box-office success, breaking several records, it’s no wonder Joker 2 is already in the planning stages, but they do not yet know who will play the lead, though it seems unlikely it will be Joaquin. (Call it possible but not probable.) Always craving challenge and never wanting to be locked down, he was, at the time of signing to do the first, resolute in doing just the one character study. And that makes sense to me. Joaquin is a true character and method actor. He loathes to be referred to as that, but his style and method of performing are so immersive and intense, it does not lend itself, or do justice, to being covered up in a suit and tonnes of CGI. He lost a whopping 46 lb for this role, and believe me, you're going to see it. Gollum, anyone? Also, in real life he has a painful issue with his shoulder, and while normally trying to correct and compensate for this on film, here he played into it, exaggerating it beautifully. His physicality is exquisite. His entire being is transformed, and I mean every ounce. It would be inaccurate for anyone to find fault in his performance here. (See his scene, alone, in the public restroom - choreography by Joaquin, with no direction or pre-planning (just the way he likes it. This was my favourite of the film. The musical score delicately yet powerfully in harmony.) And I tip my hat to Director Todd Phillips who had a masterful, deft hand at the helm. His past work is primarily in the comedy genre, but somebody obviously knew that he was capable of something completely outside of this. And, one must accept, push their own ego aside (not an easy thing for directors to do, I’m sure), and understand that you just cannot wrangle Joaquin. To do that too much would stifle him, and then his focus and inspiration dries up and self-doubt overtakes him. Todd and Joaquin have a magical alchemy together. (Todd has signed on to direct the next one. I think that's a good call. Consistency is important and I believe very much in singular visions when it comes to creating art.)
But what people talk about is comparing Joaquin to the beloved Heath. Heath's depiction was also phenomenal, without question. But must we pit the two performances against one another? I personally don't buy into all of these reboots, and I would call it rehashing just as much as retelling of essentially the same story, which looks to me not just like a gift to the newest generation so that they can see it with fresh eyes and with the full glory of today’s special effects, but it's a bit [financially greedy of the studios?], to have all these different angles and actor takes of the same character. But, people love Batman, so here we are. But this time, it truly is close to being a standalone product, and it does a huge service to rounding out this character, showing his origin story.
This is not so much the story of an evil genius or an arch nemesis or a psychopathic killer. It's a social commentary, completely apt for today's world, about a sad and disenfranchised man, who despite all efforts and optimism and desire for a normal life and to be a good person and be recognized for that, it just doesn't come to fruition. He is not the everyman, but he is not an uncommon man either. There are many men today who suffer from some of these same disadvantages. This movie is not a cautionary tale. There is likely little this character could have done to reverse his fortune or fate. More akin to a documentary or a biopic, a 'what if', if at every turn the road diverged, a man is struck unlucky? What leads to his ultimate downfall (or triumph, depending on your angle) was not one thing, but many. A series of unfortunate events. This film is impressive in its concept and execution. It is a movie mostly appealing to men, about men, and what struggles they face. But I believe everyone over a certain age should watch it. You could screen this movie in university classes, supporting various important topical subjects, and have potentially hours of discussion about many social and economic issues facing people today.
True superhero genre enthusiasts may be impressed, but somewhat disappointed. This movie is here to make you think. It doesn't want you to rest easy. Dark, gritty, brooding, cynical only scratch the surface of what it is. Much of our entertainment today centres around the idea of anti-heroes. They are extremely popular now (always have been, to some extent, but they have reached their apex, as of late), particularly with males. It's not difficult to decipher why. This film is sad, but important. It could have come in any recent decade (imagine it as the sub for Scorcese's/De Niro's 'Taxi Driver'), but it feels so exquisitely made for this time, it seems to slide in as if on a knife's edge. And a knife, not some other weapon, seems the only one appropriate. This movie cuts you. I don't think anyone who watches it could not be moved (and disturbed) by it, or feel immense empathy for the plight of this man. It is a reminder of how many other men out there are walking on a knife's edge, and like the totem in 'Inception', you just wonder if and when it will stop spinning. This is not one man's problem, it's society's problem. And we need to make some changes. Major changes.
Joaquin at his finest (choreography his own):
My second favourite scene. (See my physicality comments above.)