By Mollie Campbell
Director: Todd Phillips
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy
Disturbing, moving, sad, violent, profound – all of these words could be used to describe Joker, the Taxi Driver of its generation.
Comic book fan or not, chances are you’ve either seen this film or heard a lot about it…it would be rather difficult to miss the hype and the multiple best picture/actor/director wins. If you are one of the latter, watch this film as soon as you can, whilst it is disturbing, the message is more relevant than any other film portrayal in recent years…a direct reflection of the manifestation of human traits deep within us, provoked and awoken by how people are treated. The film is based solely on the life of Arthur Fleck, despite some very memorable portrayals of the joker in the past, from Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger respectively; this is the first time a movie has made an entire 2 hour space for the one character himself, as opposed to him being a villain in Batman’s story. And the way Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Philips use this space to portray the deep, disturbing personality of one of history’s greatest villains, is true astonishing.
Instead of him just being ‘the joker’, we see the man behind the white paint and red lips, we are given an insight into the timeline of his mind-set and development into this psychotic villain we know so well, the dark yet eerily familiar road he travels on to become the joker, is the scariest part of all. That road isn’t too far from where we are as a society right now, the political system in most countries; the USA in particular, has never been in such turmoil. The battle between the left and right has seemingly overshadowed the utterly consequential battle of right and wrong, demagnetising a lot of people’s moral compasses. This battle between left and right has completely dominated any space we ever had for what truly matters, the party of the people, the idea of putting human kindness and decency before money, politics, power and greed. We, the people who need help, not a political system designed to help a small amount of people at the top, as opposed to the true crux of society. A political system that forces people to act out of character, creating a breeding ground for anarchy and political revolution, whilst Arthur Fleck and the city of Gotham is fictional, this film is accurately reflecting the society we are currently creating. And if we’re not careful, we too will be surrounded by this cloud of darkness that defines Gotham, and the wickedness that lives within its alleyways.
This film is a warning to society on how we treat people, we need to de-stigmatise the shame surrounding mental health, and how the government handles people who fall under this bracket. Mental health has become one of the leading issues we face in our society, and there simply aren’t enough resources and help for people suffering with mental health disorders. The government needs to step up, yes. But we also need to think about what we can do as a society to prevent people with mental health disorders from feeling so isolated, we need to realise how much our words affect and hurt people. In a time of technological rifeness, we have the ability to spread love and positivity, instead we spread hate and anger, which only adds fuel to the fire for some people suffering with mental health problems. This is Arthur Fleck, of course he has some deeply rooted issues, he is a psychopath, but this film makes you ask the question: would his monster have been unleashed if society hadn’t treated him so cruelly? Would he set out on a voyage of revenge if he had more access to proper resources? Or simply, if people would have been kind to him, would he have reacted to society in the way that he does?
In my opinion, Joker is a spiritual sequel to Taxi Driver, in an incredibly similar yet different set of circumstances. In Taxi Driver we see Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, a very troubled young man with clear signs of mental health disorders. Whilst using unconventional and dark methods, he is ultimately a hero, a twisted one, but a hero nonetheless, or vigilante at least. Travis’ unstable mind could easily have developed into a full-on deranged psychopath like Arthur, he is on the cusp. What is scary about Joker is that Arthur is the Travis Bickle of our generation, yet this society seems even worse than Travis’, resulting in a much darker ending, very reflective on modern life. The scene in which Arthur is in his full on Joker gear, standing on a cop car surrounded by chanting looters and criminals is spine-tingling, a thrilling climax to the tale we are all afraid of. But if we ignore it for too long, we will find ourselves in this terrible, dystopian world, full of people we neglected, people with nothing to lose, and by that time, it will be too late to stop it.
Joker is one of the greatest movies I have ever seen, Joaquin’s performance is outstanding, and Robert De Niro’s role is incredible, we would expect no less. The film almost seems like De Niro handing over the baton to Phoenix, one leading method actor of his generation to the next. Travis Bickle transforming into Arthur Fleck, only in this tale, there is a lot more at stake. Todd Phillips managed to deliver a poignant, moving, disturbing and impactful film, in which the character’s presence is bigger than the film itself; there is no doubt that this movie will one day be considered one of the greats, in my mind it already is.