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  • Review by Leon Mason


The backlash to the backlash, and so on. Some people just want to watch the world burn, so it might seem.

The world has changed, and so with that people’s reactions to art move in line. Before the film was even released, people were jumping on it being a danger to society, saying that if audience members witnessed the acts of the main character they might enact the violence in the real world. For anybody older than 40, this might set off the old de-ja-vu sensors. The difference is, it used to be right-wing Christian protectors telling you what you can and cannot watch. Back when Child's Play and banned horror films were put on a list of what might be a hazard to certain members watching them. And there is also the judgement that it’s always been the underclass who have been suspected of being influenced, because their minds are too fragile to sense a difference between a film and reality.

Here is a film that has not only been slammed into that category, but is also about the issue. Joker himself is disenfranchised, he is a loner, he cannot get a girlfriend and looks after his ill mother. He has a job that does not fit society’s expectations of stability, he has no support system around him. The only example of help that could be used is brutally taken away, when the city’s healthcare cuts mean he will have no access to the medication he has been on all his life, and the one person who will listen to his ills. This is a man out of time and ill-fitting with all around him, best shown in a scene where he watches another comedian and laughs out of time with the crowd, while making notes on what makes the consensus laugh. But he is not to be empathised with, he is a tool to show that without care some will slip through the cracks. We can blame films and games all we like, but if all we do is look the other way and pretend it doesn’t exist then there will be some who break, and the effects will not be pretty.

This film does not glamorise violence and pain, it shows it. There is an argument for how Joaquin Phoenix plays it, and the way the script takes him from an uncomfortable character full of anxiety and never having "a single happy day" in his life, to the point of admiration from a rioting gaggle; that through his excess, the character breaks through to being his true self - a homicidal maniac. Is he content by the end? Has he imagined every moment where people actually pay attention to him, and show empathy. Like the crowd who treat him as their new messiah?

There are hints of many alternatives, and who would want to cement these down. One thing is for sure, it does show an interesting other side of the coin. Here the origins of Batman and Joker’s parallels are shown in a new light. Was Wayne Snr the philanthropist we all know, and Bruce avenges his whole life? Is Arthur Fleck a Joker at all, or just some madman who influenced the real Joker? Questions not to be answered here, but brought up by a film that needs to be viewed more than once, and thought about.

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