By Jossalyn Holbert
The theater in the 6 p.m., mostly sold out, showing of “Joker” was tense, the air in the room constricted from the possibility of… something. It did not seem like anyone knew quite what that something was, but I was shaking the whole time.
I think that there was one possible reason for this: people have been entertaining the possibility of violence during a “Joker” showing. The theaters around me, at least, are taking preventive measures, staffing extra security guards and prohibiting makeup, costumes, masks, and weapons in the theater.
The first time I watched “Joker”, I attended a private screening, admittedly fearful of seeing it with the general public. But, the second time, I watched it in this packed theater. I must say that my first viewing greatly differed from my second.
At first, I dubbed “Joker” two and a half stars out of five. I saw the potential for mass violence and a cheap ripoff of “Taxi Driver”, painting Arthur as a dangerous and actually — ironically — villainous hero. The second time, though, I understood this film much better, and I see its mastery over compellingly strange clown imagery and an homage to great literature and media.
“Todd Phillips draws on Shakespeare, Greek mythology, Camus, Dostoyevsky, and other literary greats to create a story of blind hope and chaos, which is highly commendable in my opinion.”
What complicates this film, for me, is the significant class divide. I realized the second time I watched this movie that Arthur (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes a Robin Hood character, creating absolute chaos in Gotham City. Arthur’s mother, Penny (Frances Conroy), seeks out financial assistance from the Wayne family, true to her name as a penny pincher. Also, in Arthur’s interview with the three men he killed to his own, claiming that if that happened to him, the rich would take no notice.
His ideas reflect the ideology of “Taxi Driver” in an everyday man making a name for himself, finally gaining the attention of wealthy people around him. But, Joker goes about it in a way that ensures a future for his chaotic cause. He incites a riot in Gotham City.
Another aspect that gave me pause was the depiction of mental illness. My second viewing demonstrated the fact that the stigma around mental illness prevents people from getting the help they truly need.
The audience sees the Gotham Department of Health shut down in this film, cutting Arthur off from access to the medication and therapy that he needs. Mental health does not always turn to violence — let’s be completely clear — but we still see Arthur grappling with homicidal tendencies.
“I see the more profound significance of this film, but that was after a fearful second viewing. The possibility of this film falling on the wrong eyes still remains, and with the increase in mass shootings in the US, this movie does pose a threat.”
Although, the Joker becomes more of an agent of chaos than a violent person himself, killing a total of five people and inciting a riot based on his image rather than his actions. Plenty die around him, to be sure, but not by his own hand.
I won’t go into too much tedious detail, but director Todd Phillips draws on Shakespeare, Greek mythology, Camus, Dostoyevsky, and other literary greats to create a story of blind hope and chaos, which is highly commendable in my opinion. I will spare everyone the gory details and move on.
Arthur turns into the Joker throughout this entire movie, eventually understanding his past (repressed) trauma and use that to inspire poor people all over his city to rise up. I see the more profound significance of this film, but that was after a fearful second viewing. The possibility of this film falling on the wrong eyes still remains, and with the increase in mass shootings in the US, this movie does pose a threat.