Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP
Sometimes I like to dip my toes in what “everyone’s” watching, eating, listening to or reading. It’s usually a fun, inconsequential romp through billion dollar commercial successes. Last night’s particular romp has me reeling and worried. While the laughter sequences carried my interest (actually really well done along with the makeup), everything else was a complete disaster.
To preface – I love disturbing films Amores Peros is one of my favorites, and I watched Breaking Bad to the bitter end which many of my friends could not (it’s a moral compass if there ever was one to watch from the start), and feeling so dizzy and sad as my date had to leave (I stayed) while watching ‘Breaking the Waves”. Discomfort is the mana of artists, and I am a magnet for it. I love films from different cultures commanding me to look differently at the everyday, etc. There is a difference between disturbing and disruptive, and disturbing just for disturbing’s sake.
(Spoiler alert: I will share a big part of the film, so don’t read on if you actually want to watch this garbage pail movie)
Enter “The Joker” – I watched it for two reasons 1. River Pheonix will always and forever be my screen crush, so I religiously watch Joaquin’s (River’s younger brother) movies as an homage; 2. Robert Deniro is also a must watch – my Dad lived downstairs from his dad in Hell’s Kitchen in the sixties and was coaching DeNiro senior to quite smoking (it’s a family thing, I can coach you too). I listened to Terry Gross’s interview with the director, who also directed the “Hangover” movie series, a week before I watched it. I love Terry Gross, I appreciate deeply her specific questions, her neutral tone, and her clever responses. And, she got all the questions wrong in the interview. So much so that I wonder if she actually screened the movie beforehand, or (more likely) the cinema / film owners asked that she not bring up certain angles in the movie.
The movie is about class struggle, and the inability to connect intimately with people due to mental illness. Terry Gross referred to the “odd dances” the joker was doing throughout the movie. She didn’t understand what the dances meant. If you watch the dances carefully, most obvious is the first time he dances with himself, he is enacting a dance of connection – like he is dancing with someone else in a waltz fashion not just himself. His dances are important throughout the film, marking his demise from pill-popping failed clown to mass murderer. The dance sequences’ role as a plot device is most clear as he strolls down the stairs during the denouement where he’s thrusting and gyrating his way down the stairs – alone and never fully aware of the proper streets, avenues and roads to connection – he’s dancing with himself. Like many, many lonely people in America today. And while the filmmaker said he was trying to sneak in a conversation about mental illness into a blockbuster film, this was not a healthy way to do it. Many other celebrities are being smart about sharing mental illness stories as a way to destigmatize. I recommend checking those out if mental illness is a concern or interest in pop culture – there is a healthy movement on its way.
Regarding class struggle, which thanks to our sitting president and business interests, we will forever be making this divide. On the West Coast in the past years, especially in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland the homeless population has sky rocketed. I see it daily and when I travel to California. The movie (thankfully) sets the class struggle in the 80s and it’s clear there is a tremendous divide. Sorry to report that the wealth disparity is wider now than it was in the 80s – NYC has hidden this divide with graffiti-free subways, but don’t be fooled – it’s still a bastion of financial inequality.
The other gem the mass market film accidentally covers is treatment of elders. Specifically treatment of mothers. You begin the movie seeing the main character beaten to a pulp in the city, but still caring beautifully for his mother, so much so that there was a scene where he gives her a bath, and later in the film fondly sniffs the pillow of his mom, as she is recovering elsewhere from some unforeseen injury in the hospital. Later in the same hospital our pitiful main character, the joker, suffocates her with a pillow. There are tangential ideas of motivation, but no real feeling of relief or cause. So if your brain works like mine – causation or correlation – you are left in the dust.
This movie that has been nominated for many oscars clearly and without consequence shows violence against women. Yes she was old, but she’s NOT INVISIBLE SHE IS STILL A WOMAN/HUMAN BEING – they chose to kill her for a side effect, and a feeling. It’s no longer OK to objectify women, but let’s murder our mom’s as a way to show “we really mean business”.
In sum, do not watch this film** and remember that the oscars are giant advertisements for the industry and not really a test of good acting, editing or costume design. So if they are getting many awards, realize that years ago films/MEN would get oscars for movies where women were objectified, and now films/MEN get oscars for movies that glorify violence. The only award given should be to the makeup artist: there was a clear differentiation for clown makeup from the start to the finish, mapping his evil trajectory – and it’s NEVER easy to power through a stereotype like a clown in the movies.
This movie must never have a sequel though given the director’s proclivity to serials, and the big reveal a la Star Wars that actually Bruce Wayne is joker’s half brother, it probably will. Poor taste, no nuance. 10,000 thumbs down.
*** I’m a believer in the Greek School of thinking – they invented the “tragedy” so that you could watch and through empathy you would purge the tragic feelings out of your system. I’m hoping the young peeps who watched have moved on to new, vibrant ways of seeing after purging themselves of the twisted and rotten bile in this movie, and NOT influenced in any way by this film.