Sometimes, you go to the cinema to see a movie (yeah, I know, when you go to the cinema, it is usually to see a movie), you go in the evening, you wake up the next morning and the movie weighs heavy on your mind, sometimes in your heart, sometimes in your soul. Sometimes, I’m so affected or moved or troubled by a movie that I have to write a blog about it. ‘Joker’, a work of art brought to us by the Director, Todd Phillips and His crew, is one such movie.
First, let’s get the acting side out of the way. Joaquin Phoenix, if he hasn’t taken acting to a new, to a higher, level, he has surely taken it into new territory. I was awe-struck by his acting performance. When the movie finished, my daughter asked me “how did he DO that?” and, quite frankly, I don’t know. I don’t think one can learn how to act like he does in this movie. This was personal, this performance comes from deep within his soul. Yes, he’ll have been taking instructions, he’ll have been told by the Director to do it this way and that, but there’s an authenticity that comes from something inherent in him. He is mesmerising. He is hypnotic. I watched this movie aghast, with my mouth open, I couldn’t quite digest what I was seeing. Staggering acting!
Robert De Niro has a relatively small part in the movie, in terms of screen time and dialogue, but in terms of his importance, his role, his function in the film, he has a huge part in it. If Arthur / ‘Joker’, the character, is a microcosm of America’s disenfranchised, of America’s downtrodden, of the sections of American society which are ignored, De Niro’s ‘Murray Franklin’ – and Brett Cullen’s ‘Thomas Wayne’ – are microcosms of the people who ARE valued in American society, who ARE seen as having value/relevance, microcosms of, I guess, the oppressors and this is a segue into the controversy that has engulfed the movie.
Bottom line: Arthur is a very dangerous man. He is a sociopath, possibly a psychopath, he kills people, and regardless of the fact that the people he murders are not pleasant people, Arthur needs to be removed from society (there’s an irony in my saying that because Arthur already, with justification, feels that he HAS been removed, kicked into the gutter, by society).
However, because Arthur has suffered in his life, has been abused, because he suffers from and lives with the consequences of brain injury, because he is this microcosm of the disenfranchised, mentally ill, poor, he is portrayed, perceived, as a sympathetic character. The sympathy is reinforced by the kindness that he showers on his mother (yes, I know, the kindness does not last throughout the film).
BUT here’s the rub: for many people, Arthur Fleck will be a hero, a man revolting, rising up, against a perceived cruel, cold, heartless, unsympathetic society, a society devoid of kindness, devoid of empathy. My fear is that Arthur will embolden a lot of very dangerous people in America, and elsewhere. I expect that there will be copycat murders. There are lots of Arthur Flecks in America, in the world!
There is, undoubtedly, a lack of empathy and kindness in society. Selfishness abounds. Society prioritises specific demographics over others. Society is harsh and sanctimonious in its definitions of who is ‘normal and who is ‘abnormal’. Society sets boundaries within which live those who it considers ‘normal’ and of value, and outside of which are those it does not: the mentally ill, the poor, the uneducated, those who, through no fault of their own, were simply born on ‘the wrong tracks’, those who were dealt a bad hand when they were born. We live in a cruel world and a lot of sores are festering. Society, certainly American society – western society – needs to hold a mirror up to itself. There needs to be more ‘us’ and a lot less of ‘them and us’. So, so many of ‘us’ – ALL of us – could find ourselves becoming ‘them’. A lot of ‘them’ were once ‘us’!
However, whilst this movie is an appeal to ‘us’, it will also excite ‘them’. I have no doubt that, for a lot of the angry disenfranchised, Arthur will be a wake-up call, a focus, an inspiration, a hero, that he will awaken a sleeping anger, a sleeping appetite for revenge, that he will be perceived by many of society’s downtrodden as the good guy, a vigilante whose mission to fight back against an intolerant, cruel, unforgiving society is morally justified. IT IS NOT. In Arthur’s world, there is no Rule of Law, vigilantism dispatches justice and rights wrongs: in Arthur’s world, there is chaos.
This is an important movie. It is a warning. It must be a wake-up call to huge swathes of society who still don’t ‘get it’. We devalue human life, we ignore those in need, at our peril. Why is the protagonist called ‘Arthur Fleck’? ‘Arthur’ is a common name but, unlike other common names, like, say, John, ‘Arthur’ (and I mean no disrespect to the Arthurs who read this!), it says ‘normal’, ‘boring’: behind many ‘Arthur’ exteriors, there lurk many surprises. ‘Fleck’? Arthur, the microcosm that is Arthur, it is regarded by many people as being as worthless as a fleck of dust. Perhaps the surname ‘Fleck’ is intended to reflect the low value that society puts on some people??
I sincerely hope that a lot of people will wake up and conduct themselves more in accordance with the values of empathy, kindness, tolerance and forgiveness. If they do, this film will have done more than merely entertain. However, as day is day and night is night, I just ‘know’ that ‘Joker’ will, at this very moment, be winding up, exciting, thrilling, a lot of dangerous people and that is a seriously chilling and frightening image that is embedded in my mind at the moment…