Joker Review: A Powerful Concept, Terrible Execution


A glance at the top-grossing films of 2019 reveals that action and adventure are movie-goers favorites. “Avengers: Endgame” “Spider-man: Far From Home”, “The Lion King”, “Aladdin”, “Captain Marvel” and their ilks. It seems movie-goers are becoming lazier as the days past, too lazy to trust original ideas, too lazy to follow a story that solves enigmas of and troubles the mind. Rather, they hold unto sequels and the remaking of popular franchises in the action/adventurous genres.

There is near-zero tolerance for psychological and suspense acts. Or so it seems for a long time. Then came “Joker”. The film “Joker” is different. It is a psychological thriller, R-rated with themes of mental illness, parental negligence, murder, mid-life and identity crisis, etc. The plot, the pacing, the dialogues, were largely misfits. It is a mess. This “Joker” review is not going to be fun.

Joker Review: Broken things, deep darkness, and alienation

“I hope my death will make more cents than my life.”

This quote is one of the most pointing facts about “Joker” as a movie and Joker the character. Arthur Flecker played by Joaquin Phoenix wrote this in his journal which he keeps as his mental illness closes in on him and drives him to the edge of his wits and reality.

It is obvious that Todd Phillips is laying the foundation for a snap, for a showdown between the forces within his protagonist. Philips gave us a character that was relatable.

A man struggles with his illness which makes him laugh uncontrollably and maniacally while trying to make something out of his life through the only thing he knows how to do which is being a comedian which turns out to be something he knows absolutely nothing about. But a man has to eat and survive.

People do not understand Joker and they insult him, look down on him, kick him when he is down, and expect him to man up. He loses his job, he loses his time with his shrink as the City (Gotham, they meant New York) stops funding that sector which they deem unimportant.

He lives on medications and his only distractions are the people he meets at the holloway or elevator or trains and tries to make funny expressions at. And he has an uncanny fascination for his pistol. There is bound to be a reaction.

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But when it comes, the plot takes the viewer unawares which is not a bad thing but in this case, in which the viewer is getting to know the character very well and root for him, the reaction is a rude interruption to the audience-character bonding.

Flecker shoots three people dead who molest him on a train. Then the tap breaks loose and the crazy dude became a mad man. He smolders his mother with her pillow in the hospital, brutally kills one of his ex-colleagues who comes to pay their respects. And on and on.

“Joker” is a big story, it is a story that is bound to be miscarried and Todd Phillips who also co-wrote this fumbled immensely. He seemed to be in a hurry to get the film to the dark aspects that have sold very well with “The Dark Knight” and started what Cinemablend calls the “Dark and Gritty” trend – Yahoo claims “Joker” is even darker than the “Knight”.

To get from A to B, the movie sacrificed character development and plausibility and it turns out that B is actually D and that the story slaughtered B and C in their haste to reach it.

The story is about alienation but the filmmakers ended up alienating and shocking the viewer off their hero. Todd Phillips has blood in his hands.

Joker Review: Failings and a vacuum

“Joker” is supposed to be a social commentary but it failed bigly, almost honorably; but failure it is. But there is no one who can claim that “Joker” didn’t make any social commentary, just like one who ate an egg cannot claim not to have eaten a full chicken.

The “I hope my death will make more cents than my life” turns out to be talking about the movie which was made to be a social commentary but earned a billion dollars in the box office for its deaths, shockers, and masses revolt – anything but the commentary.

If you ask the writers and producers of “Joker” what they had set out to achieve they will deny that it is a social commentation and the weak class struggle they threw into the pan.

They just wanted to make a good, dark movie. And they made a good movie, and that is that. That is not that. The Kenyan literary giant Ngugi Wa Thiong’o says that “literature does not exist in a vacuum” that it is given impetus and shape by the society.

Movies as a genre of literature cannot exist in the vacuum of “we just wanted to make a good movie” and no filmmaker should be let to get away with this lie.

Filmmakers make movies for the money and they offer it for sale to the society who feels the movie is about them or for them. If it then, as the case of “Joker”, fails to hit the consciousness of the society, then it is a betrayal of the people’s trust.

How would you rate “Joker”?

The first issue with rating “Joker” is that I cannot in good conscience hate it without feeling guilty for letting a psychological film down, without feeling like I am part of the maddening crowd who only subscribe to fast cars, buildings blowing off, gunshots, espionage, and the rest.

This is a film that demands that you put your ethical hat on and join the debate on an important but often neglected issue, mental illness.

A great concept, you just have to like but, somehow, the delivery plants so much bumps on the way that by the time you finish the 115-minute long movie, you are too exhausted with its weaknesses and poverty to be grateful that you were part of a great idea.

I don’t think I like “Joker” but there is a method in my dislike disagreement of “Joker”. It is a rich, tasty food served in a dirty dish.

See also After Movie review

The question of how to rate “Joker” is a big one for two reasons.

One, it is not a bad movie; two, it is a movie which you will like other people to see because you need help to make sense of it all. For these and for the fact that it attempts a rare exposition at a neglected topic, you cannot give it a negative star.

My cousin gave this film 8/10 because it is an “original story that serves as a brilliant showcase for the star and a dark evolution of the Joker”. Whatever that means.

I will not argue with this but I will take one star off the movie for its failure to give a richer and fuller romantic story between Flecker and the character of Zazie Beets.

I take another star off it for the flashback which shows that Arthur was abused as a child by his mother’s boyfriend as an excuse(?) to his deep darkness.

And I take away half a star for its poor ending which seems to glorify strife and bloodshed.

Image source: Insider



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