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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz


Shocking And Extreme

Nearly every review for Joker includes thoughts on it’s controversies, expect to hear my thoughts as well. Todd Phillips, Joker has some flaws but none of them are sharp enough to give the film so much as a papercut. Joker is a brutally intense masterpiece that’s shocking, extreme and long overdue.

In 1981 Gotham City, clown and failed comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) lives with his physically ill mother Penny (Frances Conroy). Bombarded by unemployment, crime and financial ruin, the city is in a state of collapse leaving many in poverty. Arthur suffers from a neurological disorder that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times. He sees a social worker to obtain medication to help with his affliction.

Things only continue to take a turn for the worst. Arthur soon loses his job and the facility he gets his medication from shuts down. Continuously beaten, bullied, isolated and disregarded by society, Arthur begins a slow and murderous descent into psychotic madness as he submerges into who we all know as The Joker.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance was absolutely perfect in the most overwhelming fashion, you can imagine. Every moment is heavily consumed by his artistic immortality. He injects so much soul into Arthur, that every scene of hardship for him is like holding a bloody heart in your hand that’s somehow still beating. Joker may not be the best film of 2019 but Joaquin Phoenix has at least been able to give the year’s best performance. He is a transformative star that shines bigger than the entire sky. He deserves that Oscar. Someone else winning it is just not something I see happening.

Robert De Niro portrays Murry Franklin. Murry is a late night talk show host whose role in Arthur’s downfall comes from nothing but ignorance. De Niro’s performance is a sheer example of someone with a smug nature who sees the word consequence as a foriegn language. He takes advantage of Arthur in vulnerable moments that only contribute to his mental decline. Eventually, things get so out of control and Murry didn’t see it coming, he’s not shocked. Someone who’s not shocked by the violence that surrounds them is someone who doesn’t care. De Niro portrays the commentation of laziness with abrupt sincerity.

Frances Conroy excels as Penny Fleck. She is the biggest reason why Arthur is the way he is and it takes a long time for audiences to know why. Penny is very weak but not in a way that makes you feel sorry for her. In the beginning of Joker, you may find yourself feeling guilty for seeing her as pathetic but than a climax comes into place that leaves you with the knowledge that you may have been right about her all along.

Brett Cullen was an excellent fit for Thomas Wayne, a billionaire philanthropist running for Mayor. Arthur has only one confrontational scene with him and had it been written longer and with more complexity, one would have been enough.

Zazie Beetz’s complete lack of character development is Joker’s biggest flaw. She portrays Sophie, Arthur’s neighbor and a single mother whom he senses to be genuinely kind. They have some scenes together but they never take off. Sophie is a character that could’ve had a lot to work with. She’s the only one in Arthur’s world whose nature is kind, pure and true. She’s clearly the shoulder to be leaned on but this is never explored to even a halfway extent.

Sophie could’ve had scenes with Joker dealing with being a single mother, her past, her loneliness and heartbreak when he completely becomes The Joker. This does not ever happen. The script treats her like a sex worker. She’s there when it’s convenient and disposes of her afterwards. Whenever she is on screen, she can’t even make the most of her time. She’s simply a pretty face. I would think that the writers didn’t intentionally do this, they just never thought about how much Sophie could have given to Joker as a supporting character. Unfortunately, her lack of relevance is a flaw so gigantic, I have to acknowledge it.

Lawrence Sher’s cinematography perfectly sets the stage for Joker’s melancholy atmosphere. The initial night cinematography in particular, symbolizes to me that Joker is just an inch away from madness. Once he reaches it, the city looks more visible and not in the classical Manhattan way we’re all used to. The camera shots of the violent riots explode with hardworking craft and overwhelming passion.

Joker has been the subject of multiple controversies prior to it’s recent release. I’ll address them one at a time. Many feel that Joker will inspire mentally homicidal men to commit acts of gun violence. This is a very reasonable and justifiable fear. What’s unreasonable is how society thinks we should handle it. Society thinks the solution would be to not make films like Joker. I find it lazy, humiliating and disgusting that this is how many people respond to this fear.

Can movies inspire acts of violence? I’m sure they can. Yet, I do not think that this means that they shouldn’t be made. Some people don’t realize that by suggesting that films that could inspire mass shootings shouldn’t be made, that they are just giving those who could commit them more power. These violent people are being given control by these reactions. They’re being taught that they can be feared and this can make them feel powerful.

Many movies have gun violence in them but they never get any backlash and you know why? It is because they are action flicks. Films that no one takes seriously. The gun violence in those films are never portrayed in an honest light. Films like Joker are so current and hit so close to home. I think that society can’t handle this reality.

People may think that if they stamp their feet and complain loud enough, this counts as doing something but it doesn’t. It’s always so much easier to complain than to do something that requires real effort and personal investment and commitment to contend with the issue in a way that will result in actionable change. Somehow many in society always seem to take the easy way out, don’t we? That’s our talent, that’s what we’re good at. No true effort or hard work needed.

Joker is just as much a wakeup call as it is a cautionary tale. Hey, here’s an idea. How about instead of complaining that Joker will cause mass shootings, we actually work together to stop them. How about finally making gun control a reality? The guns in these mass shootings are designed to create mass casualties. These guns shoot rapid fire multiple rounds of bullets. They are war guns. I do not think that people need these kinds of guns to hunt or keep themselves safe. So many people would rather have access to these death machines because they believe it is their right. What about the rights of students in schools, people out watching a movie or shopping in a mall, don’t they have rights too?

These people are stubborn and to me they are at the root of the problem. Not the filmmakers. Filmmakers are just trying to honestly portray what’s already happening. Again, I’m not saying Joker couldn’t inspire mass shootings, I’m saying that there is a better and more effective way of handling it. In the meantime, theaters that show films that could inspire gun violence, need more security. There were lots of police security when I went to go see Joker. It was sad that they were needed but it was good that they were there keeping moviegoers safe.

The second piece of backlash Joker has gotten is that it’s too sympathetic towards those who commit violence. This is another example of society taking the easy way out. Once mass shootings happen, it’s always so much easier to see the murderer as a monster than someone that society could have helped, right? I do not see a lot of acknowledgment out there that some mass shooters could have been helped. Honestly, I think many people do not want to take responsibility, they don’t want to get involved. It is easier to say that is not my concern. Let someone else handle it. This country is full of self righteousness.

The people who lose their lives to gun violence are always the biggest victims. Most of my sympathy lies with them. Society owes it to them to stop gun violence and knowing and understanding the kinds of people who commit them is a part of the solution. If you looked inside the world of some mass shooters, do you really think you’d feel no sympathy?

Many mass shooters are monsters. I still have some sympathy for them. Many mass shooters are sympathetic. I still see them as monsters. Sympathetic people can be evil and evil people can sympathetic. These issues don’t happen on one way streets. We just pretend it does because for some reason, it makes us all feel better.

Society can’t stand the reality that some mass shooters just might be more human than we think. How could they do these terrible things if they never feel anything? I am not for one second excusing their actions. These people have destroyed countless lives and for that, they should be punished to the highest extent. I’m simply asking people to see that the mental health reasons behind these horrific acts should be explored.

Arthur Fleck was a very sympathetic murderer. That doesn’t mean he did nothing wrong or that he shouldn’t be locked up. People need to realize that people don’t need to be unsympathetic in order to do evil things. If provoked hard enough any one of us may be quite capable of doing things we thought impossible and unimaginable. Feeling sympathy for someone makes it much easier to reach out to them so if you have sympathy to give, than give it. You just may help someone who was about to do something horrible that they can never take back.

The more mass shootings happen, the more I stick to everything I’ve been saying. So many people will read this review and say, oh what a naive kid. He has no idea what he’s talking about. He doesn’t understand the gravity of gun violence. You know what? I don’t understand, but the thing is I don’t have to. I couldn’t possibly understand it. I’ve never experienced it. What I can do is respect the suffering and take the issue seriously, both of which I completely do and pray that I never have to experience the kind of tragedy that rips apart hundreds of families in our country on a daily basis.

Joker is not 2019’s greatest film but it’s without question, the most honest. The truth is not always a pretty sight but sometimes, the truth’s not suppose to look pretty. Its suppose to inspire people to make better choices instead of continuously repeating nonsense from the past. I truly hope that Joker will inspire people to work together to stop mass shootings instead of causing more. I believe this was the kind of influence the film intended to make. Sadly, many of us are too blind to see it. Hopefully your sight is clear enough to see Joker and internally consume its relevance.

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