The Joker is a very good film but not a film for everyone…
It requires a high tolerance for grit and violence. For those with mental illness, some of the actions of the protagonist could very well be triggering and upsetting. Also, anyone expecting to have a direct to the Batman franchise you would be mistaken.
Seeing a film with the knowledge that a review is forthcoming can poison the experience. Scrambling to keep track of all the characters, the best plot twists, clever allusions to the genre can distract how the film makes you feel. Thankfully for Joker, I entered Alamo Drafthouse with no thought of sharing my analysis.
So instead of writing a full-on review, I’ll concentrate on how the film made me feel and what I think it got right and wrong. The Joker and his ailing Mother are clearly suffering from mental illness (what diagnosis is not clear). The film was quite genuine in showing their daily challenges. Joker’s slow descent from the bounds of society is prophesied by that society’s inability to treat and help him.
Buoying the sensitive story-telling are some outstanding performances. Joaquin Phoenix should be now enshrined as one of our great actors (I fully expect an Oscar nomination here). A lot of the subtleties of his performance ring true. Several scenes he would manifest a twisted torso that mirrored his tormented psyche.
The question everyone, particularly in the mental health space, is asking is whether the film is “accurate”, “fair”, and “balanced” or does it further stigma-induced stereotypes. To address the issue you need to assess the shocking ending (I will not provide a spoiler here). The Director clearly does not waver and paper over the gutsy story with anything uplifting that ties difficult strands together.
Having come into the film with few expectations (I did know of some controversy), I experienced it as a “Hollywood” movie and found myself believing in the characters and engaged by the plot. The Joker himself evokes an eerie sympathy that sustains your interest.
So do I think that the film portrays mental illness in a sensationalized or inaccurate way? Does it further stigmatize the mentally ill? For the most part, I don’t think so. I think most will see this film as the story and actions of one deranged person. If anything the clarion call should be for society to do better in treating mental illness so downward spirals such as this can be thwarted.
On a final note…if you’ve never seen the 1970s film “Taxi Driver”…get the DVD now. There are several strands that mirror the Joker. And here I said no genre allusions. I hope you will excuse my indulgence.
- Jim Leftwich, CEO.