Disclaimer: I’ve not read any of the DC comics. Any knowledge I have (of both the Batman and the Joker) is based on the various movies and cartoons out there.
I just came out of the theatre after watching Joker. And if I were to use one word to describe the movie, it is this – hard-hitting.
What surprises me the most is that you feel sorry for the Joker. All through the DC Universe of seeing him as the villain, you begin to see that the Joker exists because of the people around him – we created him.
Batman came into existence because Thomas Wayne, a good guy who only wanted the best for Gotham, and his wife Martha, got killed. Before the eyes of poor young Bruce Wayne. All through my childhood, and up until I watched the movie today, I always held the Waynes in high regard – that Thomas Wayne was a billionaire who wanted to do good for the people of Gotham.
But, were you to look at things from a different perspective, from the eyes of the poor, the Waynes only appear as gluttonous pigs who think they are better than the “clowns” of Gotham.
The movie begins with Joaquin Phoenix getting thrashed. And that is not the first or the last of the beatings he gets. Your heart goes out to the guy. He is lonely, with more bones than skin on his body, without any sort of companionship. With a frail mother to take care of and a job that doesn’t pay much, you only wish something good happens to him.
But it is not just poverty that’s the reason behind this sorry state of affairs. Arthur Fleck (yes, that’s his real name) is mentally ill. He is delusional. He also suffers from a condition where he laughs at the most random of moments, which has nothing to do with how he actually feels then. And these sudden laughter bursts get him into trouble on many occasions. You sympathize with his predicament.
Only when Arthur is not Arthur anymore, and transitions into the Joker do you stop feeling sorry for him. Once he embraces his inner madness and lets it see the light of day, you actually start seeing the Joker we’ve known all this while. But that doesn’t happen till the final 15-20 minutes of the movie.
I’d have liked it if there was more of the Joker in the movie than just how he became the Joker. But this is perhaps one of the best ever origin movies an antagonist has got. And Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant. I hope they build upon this!
The Joker says – “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?” You get the Joker.
(But that the movie relates mental health and violence is not the right message to put out there. I am not going to talk about that here because I do not think I am qualified enough to do so).
Coincidentally I watched the movie on World Mental Health Day!