I can’t remember the last time I hated a movie this passionately, and I don’t expect I’ll pay to see a ranker, nastier cinematic turd this year.
True, I have no intention of watching Sly Stallone’s latest movie violence orgasm. And I’ve given up on Clint Eastwood, now that his directorial devolution is wholly committed to reactionary racism and fake news paranoia. And though I could surely generate copious clickbait if I did, I seldom bother to watch and review the predictably lame offerings from the Christian movie industry. As a vegetarian, I’m morally opposed to shooting fish in a barrel.
But Joker is something wholly other. It has pretensions to greatness. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Word of mouth publicity has compared it to Scorsese. It’s got Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro, for Christ’s sake!
Let’s get the easy part out of the way now. Joker director Todd Phillips is no Martin Scorsese. Sure, his plot of a mentally ill stalker obsessed with a NYC talk show host is a ripoff – I mean, homage – of The King of Comedy. As such, it’s pathetic to see De Niro – so kinetic in Scorsese’s 1983 film as the stalker – dishonoring the great director’s legacy by playing Joker’s late night comic so woodenly and charmlessly.
But where Scorsese managed a darkly comedic satire of celebrity culture, Joker is deplorable in its messaging. Let’s review all the socially irresponsible boxes that director Todd Phillips and his co-writer Scott Silver manage to check off, shall we?
First, by having their Arthur Fleck/Joker character be a longtime denizen of a state hospital now living an overmedicated but still delusional life in a New York housing project, Phillips and Silver caricaturize mental illness. As a psychiatrist busily treating patients who put off their treatment due to stigma, screw you for that, Phillips and Silver.
Next, when Arthur Fleck goes vigilante on a trio of Wayne Enterprises douchebags on a nocturnal subway trip, he implausibly inspires a city-wide “kill the rich” campaign. Joker checks two boxes here: one, in propagating the myth of the dangerous mentally ill (they’re far more likely to be victims than perps); two, in showing protest against income inequality as deranged and easily triggered to physical aggression. Phillips and Silver even betray their political ignorance by labelling Thomas Wayne (Batman’s daddy) a fascist; yes, he’s elitist and exploitative, but unlike President Trump, there’s no evidence he’s a Mussolini wannabe.
Worst of all, with Joaquin Phoenix’s character internally flipping a coin between public suicide or live-on-TV homicide, Joker offers masturbatory fantasy material for incels nationwide. I have little doubt we’ll see copycat murders inspired by this film, as loners ignore the ugliness of Arthur Fleck’s life and focus instead on the orgiastic, celebratory climax of Joker. There’s good reason for the FBI’s urging of extra security at movie theaters this weekend.
Despite all the pre-release buzz, I should’ve expected nothing better from the genius director who brought us such arthouse classics as The Hangover trilogy, Due Date, and Starsky & Hutch. But shame on Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro for lending their prestige to such a reprehensible endeavor. I sort of understand it when accomplished actors take throwaway roles – say, Ralph Fiennes in the upcoming Kingsman prequel – to buy that extra Caribbean island. But this is not financial advantage-taking, this is social irresponsibility to an exponential degree. If there’s a killing spree at a cinema this weekend, will Joaquin and De Niro visit hospital beds of the survivors, like Christian Bale did in 2012? “Hey guys, we’re sorry Joker was the direct inspiration for your shooter, but you liked our movie, right?”
(And how about Marc Maron, who famously, hilariously dissed comic book culture on his WTF podcast? How much did they pay him to sell his integrity for 45 seconds of screen time standing next to Robert De Niro?)
I was tempted to end my review with a round of shaming in the style of The Handmaid’s Tale. But this fecal stew deserves something stronger. So in homage to De Niro saying “f**k Trump” at the 2018 Tony Awards, I’ll conclude similarly. F**k Joaquin. F**k De Niro. And F**k Maron.
(Image credit for star rating: Yasir72.multan CC BY-SA 3.0 )