After two abortive attempts to watch “Joker” we got third time lucky today and managed to actually get tickets and see “Joker”.
It’s a film set in the 80s with its issues firmly lodged in the here and now: societal breakdown and mental breakdown at its core. It’s a beautiful, moving, dark elegiac journey into madness and the events that caused it.
The film opens with violence and ends with violence but this is no Tarantino blood and gore fest; it is more akin to “Taxi Driver” than “The Hateful Eight” or “Django Unchained.” Arthur Fleck is the 80s equivalent of Travis Bickle with De Niro thrown in the plot to further cement that connection.
Arthur Fleck or “Joker” is the titular character – a man so crushed by his past and environment that it manifests itself in social disconnect, maniacal laughter, victimhood and serious violence. He’s broken. He’s a man shaped by events with a mind that is deeply fractured and troubled.
The incongruity between his laughter and misery is like some sort of Tourettes, where he carries a card to explain his neurological disorder.
I’ve been there myself – not to Gotham City, which is like 80s Manchester in its vastness and grime – but with breakdown.
I wish, just as Joker carries a card, I’d have had that typed explanatory note, which would have read: “I’m suffering from PTSD from work; I have odd behaviour which manifests itself in mania and alcoholism.”
Would have probably helped me in 2013 – though not in education, which had about as much empathy as Nurse Ratched, another character and film that “Joker” nods to, even with the paralleled smothering or suffocating.
Joker gets little sympathy for his condition, which we only learn later on is caused by a brutal childhood, where his brain was damaged by trauma – events he doesn’t recall, perhaps oddly.
He meets a counsellor who half listens and keeps a journal for jokes and thoughts, which resonates with me as I used writing and medication in my 9 months off work as self therapy.
We don’t know and are never told what medications he’s on – though I can reveal I was on betablockers, Prozac and sleeping tablets, diluted with copious daily drinking.
I’ve no puritanical zeal agains medications – I take Omeprazole daily for acid reflux, so anti-depressants and betablockers have zero embarrassment to me.
Joker though, superbly played by Joaquin Phoenix, suffers from societal disconnect as his mental illness is so obvious. He brandishes the card just once, but apart from the fictional romance and the vertically challenged colleague he releases, he has no affection for anyone, other than his mother, until he finds out the truth about her.
Again, there are parallels here with friends I know who have troubled relationships with family. I have these too and disconnected many years ago now.
Joker though doesn’t have those choices – he’s a comedian who is not funny, a clown with real tears and a gun. He can’t choose somewhere away from his mother or Gotham because he’s not equipped with skills to do that.
Arthur Fleck is a defeated man. His stardom on TV happens because he is so unfunny. The murders of five people is though, in my eyes, largely moral.
Joker kills because people have killed him. He’s ridiculed, mentally stricken and void of love, yet oddly his retributive actions to me, at least, seemed justifiable.
If you’ve not seen “Joker“, do go. It’s not often a film moves me to write but this one did.
It is nothing short of a masterpiece; trust me.