Joker movie review: Joaquin Phoenix delivers Oscar-worthy performance in dreary and distressing masterpiece
Director – Todd Phillips
Cast – Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Marc Maron
“All it takes,” the Joker famously said once, “is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.” And that is all that separates him from the rest of society. One bad day.
This quote, as fans of the Batman comics would know, comes from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s seminal 1988 graphic novel, The Killing Joke, which is one of only a handful of recognisable comic book influences on director Todd Phillips’ Joker. I couldn’t think of a more thematically relevant quote to sum up this incendiary new film, which is at once a fable about moral decay, and a cautionary tale about societal division.
Watch the Joker trailer here
Besides a couple of tacked-on moments (including a cute speech by the Trumpian Thomas Wayne about men who hide behind masks), Joker has very little to offer fans of comic book movies. It is, instead, inspired (heavily) by the bleak philosophy of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy; an unrelentingly distressing drama about loneliness and unchecked mental illness.
From its gloriously gripping opening scene to its jaw-dropping final moments, it is nearly impossible to take your eyes off Joaquin Phoenix’s incredible performance as Arthur Fleck, as much as you might want to. But it is this very repulsion that Phillips, I believe, is attempting to tap into.
There were several moments in the film, including Arthur’s introductory scene, when I wanted to avert my eyes, as many of us do when confronted with things that make us uncomfortable. Our first instinct, understandably, is to get as far away from the discomfort as possible. But no matter how far we run, the source of our problems will remain, festering in its own misery; drowning in its own despair.
Phillips looks at Arthur, a mentally ill loner, not with judgement, but with a mixture of pity and empathy. Despite his troubles, Arthur — crucially and controversially — isn’t a bad person. He is eternally ridiculed, bullied, and beaten up; living at the mercy of a system that doesn’t give two hoots about him or his ailing mother.
Now this may well be problematic for some audiences. God knows I’ve struggled with what to feel about it myself. A sympathetic portrayal of a someone who is clearly modelled after one of those mass murderers that we hear about on the news, especially in 2019, a year in which there have been a reported 334 mass shootings in America, seems highly irresponsible.
Joker isn’t an easy film to watch; nor is it particularly easy to understand. It isn’t meant to be. For instance, I don’t for one second believe that Phillips could be tactless enough to glorify a psychopath in the manner that his film suggests. Arthur is most certainly humanised, but he is never idolised. He is a product of the same civilised society that has dedicated itself to pushing him to the fringes of existence and ignoring his frequent cries for help.
After an unrelentingly grim couple of acts, Joker transforms into a broad (but pitch-black) satire towards the end. This switch in tone, in my opinion, is what pulls the film off the ledge that it was fully prepared to leap from.
And Arthur is, lest we forget, a highly unreliable narrator. Coupled with the knowledge that he is prone to imagining things — like Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, he has a tendency to bathe himself in delusions of self-grandeur — I fear that there is a very real chance for the film to be misinterpreted by precisely the sort of people who shouldn’t be seeing it as a validation of their dangerous feelings.
The risks, tragically, are quantifiable. A Taxi Driver fan tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan. Mark David Chapman had a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in his pocket when he shot John Lennon. Charles Manson heard secret messages in the music of the Beatles. And only Shahid Kapoor knows how many sexist Tik-Tokers Kabir Singh has spawned.
That being said, I find it ridiculous that the same people who reject the notion of movies being responsible for inciting real-life violence are the ones panicking about Joker inspiring mass shooters. This is a reductive theory that wastes everyone’s time by diverting attention from where it should be (gun control and mental health treatment) to where it shouldn’t (movies, books, video games, etc). No sane person will watch this film and feel compelled to assassinate their least-favourite politician.
But then again, aren’t we all just ‘one bad day’ away from pulling the trigger?
It is possible, however, that Phillips might have overestimated the intellect of his audience. By leaving such a crucial aspect of the film open to interpretation — that finale can stoke exactly the sort of polarisation that Phillips is trying to pulverise — the filmmaker might have bitten off more than he could chew. He ditches his typically playful ‘A Todd Phillips movie’ credit in favour of the infinitely more self-serious ‘A film by Todd Phillips’, but these are just cosmetic changes, not unlike Arthur slathering his face with makeup to mask his damaged psyche.
But despite pretentious flourishes such as this, Phillips must be celebrated for extracting an all-time great performance out of Phoenix. Much of the film frames him in painterly portraits shot by cinematographer Lawrence Sher, highlighting his sorrowful eyes; his distinct features; and the pain on his face as he erupts into involuntary bouts of mirthless laughter. Observe how the camera switches perspective as the film goes on, surrendering its position of superiority as Arthur’s transformation takes place. And do not miss the subtle shift in Phoenix’s body-language, as he sheds Arthur’s skin and slaps on a thick layer of clown makeup.
This is largely a one-man show, and the supporting actors, including Zazie Beetz and Robert De Niro, appear mostly in extended cameos. They’re solid, just underused. The biggest presence besides Phoenix, you’d be surprised to learn, is the eerie score by Hildur Guðnadóttir, who honed her skills under the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson. Her wailing cello perfectly captures Arthur’s fraying mental state.
Joker is a great film, not because of what it provides, but because of what it withholds. It’s brave, beautiful, and bound to annoy some people. Expect Oscars.
Books & Authors
Book Review of Debutant Author, T. Shree, ‘What If….’
|Title:||You’ll Always Be My Favorite “What If”|
This was the book we had mentioned in our article of last month ‘What If…’ The book is a romance based on contemporary times. If we look at romances and novels we have a preconceived notion but this book drags down that notion and brings in space for so much more. Romance is the most versatile topic and it has been beautifully expressed by T. Shree in the book. It’s a fairytale-like pretty story bringing in the different emotions at different moments.
The book will blow one’s mind, it’s a book filled with a variety of characters, the building of the characters, the plots, and their twists put you to think more about this story. It’s a book on the details are kept to the story there is no loose end in the story making it a blissful read.
Amisha & Avyansh had met up in an arranged set up but the marriage never happened because of Avyansh’s abrupt refusal to the marriage proposal. The protagonist of the story faces tragic situations in her day-to-day life. She has herself a social network and then she has her true own self. Managing two different personalities, two different images becomes a task for her. She has a big void formed inside her, as the social image of her being this happy, bubbly, and cheerful girl has completely taken a toll over her personal life making her empty of all her emotions and feelings. The book is settled in a middle-class family, talks about the pressure and Amisha was married to Nikhil forcefully and Avyansh was married to Sunanya but there was something between them. Destiny got them again into the same settlement after 15 years; professionally in the same company. Avyansh was President Band 2 and Head of Business Development for APAC and UK. He was famous as “The Forbidden Fruit aka Tempting.” He had already proved to be the one of all the ladies in the company with his intense looks and attitude. Amisha also joined the company as a VP- branding and social media strategy in the same company and she had looks and style to turn a million heads around. It was all fine until they met each other; it was the silence before the sea Strom.
The book is based on a beautiful saying, what if it happens? And it says it all. There is such a deep connection with the characters in the story that you at one point will feel like being part of the book. It’s a great experience to read something this connective. It’s that one piece of contemporary romance that’s filled with thrill, bits of aww moments, and lots of hows and what’s.
Life is the result of our decisions taken at every point in life. Amisha, who was 18, and Avynash, who was 21 were in love with each other; it was love at first sight. They had planned to spend an entire lifetime of togetherness. But none can do their will against destinies play. Amisha’s family got her married to someone else, the marriage couldn’t stand for a very long time. Destiny had its plan of crossing their paths after 15 years.
The book is very engaging, The little notes at the beginning of each chapter are super adorable and the highlighted dialogues and quotes make it very interesting. This book basically tells u- “If it’s meant to be, it will be” The book is full of suspense and makes us so much familiar with the protagonist of the story. It’s like indulging in something so much interesting. The author deserves appreciation for the small details and the well-put story making it a beauty in itself.
This YA Yarn Would Be A Bit More Bewitching If Its Witch Made Better Choices
The Fourth of July has come and gone, so *checks calendar* it’s time for everyone to start decorating for Halloween, right? Yes, I am That Girl who uses spiders in all of her decorating. But really, who couldn’t use a little magic in their lives right about now? Time to break out the Hocus Pocus and pick up books like Laura Sibson’s Edie in Between.
Edie in Between was touted as “a modern Practical Magic.” An intriguing idea, as Alice Hoffman’s bewitching Practical Magic is not only a critically-acclaimed classic, but one of my favorite films of all time. Having read Edie, I think a more realistic comparison would be The Craft — still a lot of fun, but far less nuanced and ambitious.
Celtic/Wiccan magic runs in Edie Mitchell’s family. The Mitchell women dry herbs, note the solstice, and hide secret forests with rhyming spells. Edie herself can see dead people, among other things, but she’d rather just be a cross-country jock that has nothing to do with any of it. Which she got away with, until her mother’s death outside their home in Baltimore almost a year ago, at which point Edie moved onto her grandmother’s herb-covered houseboat in the Chesapeake Bay.
Despite being a socially awkward person who loathes this small town, Edie does make a couple of friends: Tess, who runs with her, and beautiful Rhia, who works at the local occult shop. It’s Tess who tells Edie about the “haunted” Mitchell property, so of course Edie has to investigate. Her presence bungles some sort of spell there, triggering a chain reaction of dangerous magic that goes from bad to worse. With the help of her new friends, GG (her grandmother), Edie’s mother’s journal, and a lot of magic, they manage to unlock these secrets of the past one by one.
Now, my upbringing was heavily influenced by Greek culture, so I am predisposed to have certain views on superstitions and the supernatural. I’m also a poet, so I have strong opinions on rhyming poetry. I acknowledged both of these things, and then set them aside so I could enjoy Edie’s story with an open mind. And for the most part I did, apart from Edie’s willful disregard for meter — I wish she’d thrown that out the window a lot sooner — and blatant ignorance.
For whatever reason, Edie’s mother allowed her to have a childhood without the “burden” of knowing how to properly harness magic that is powerful enough to kill a person. Even after she bumbled into that old house and screwed up a spell she didn’t know was there, Edie continued making one bad decision after another. By halfway through the book I was as mad as GG, as concerned as Tess and Rhia, and yelling at Edie like she was a character in a horror movie that should NOT go into the dark basement. Which did lead to considerable personal enjoyment, but I suspect it wasn’t what the author was going for.
I did appreciate that Edie’s story was about fear and the power of grief — appropriate themes for the current time. It highlighted the importance (and frustration) of communication within a family, no matter what the generation. When there are words you can’t say, it definitely puts the words you won’t say into perspective. But I really would like to have known more about the Mitchell family’s history and the origin of their magic, and I wish Rhia and Tess’s characters both had had a bit more substance.
So if you’re craving cooler weather, hot apple cider, and the classic Charmed TV series, Edie in Between is a magical adventure right up your dark alley. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve already got Practical Magic in the queue anyway.
Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It by Oliver Burkeman – review
This wise meditation on human transience strikes a perfect balance between self-help manual and philosophical odyssey
In the current average human lifespan we get 4,000 of each day of the week: 4,000 Saturday nights, 4,000 lazy Sundays, 4,000 Monday mornings. When we are young, that might feel like a dizzying number of tomorrows. As the years go by, not so much. Oliver Burkeman’s midlife inquiry into how we might most meaningfully approach those days is perfectly pitched somewhere between practical self-help book and philosophical quest. Having been the Guardian’s resident “pursuit of happiness” correspondent for a decade, offering the weekly promise that “This column will change your life”, this is something like his accumulated wisdom.
It starts with some necessary caveats. The day will never arrive when you have emptied your inbox. There will always be too many demands on your time, or nowhere near enough. Anything might happen in the next half an hour. Burkeman’s own journey as he describes it over the past years is perhaps a familiar one. He started out in his adult life believing there might be a trick to optimising personal productivity. He was a planner, a to-do lister, a buyer of highlighter pens. He was half-persuaded that there might be three or seven or 12 robust habits that allowed you finally to feel in control, on top of things.
Slowly, as plans never quite went to plan, and choices were made, and kids arrived, he came to understand that in any interesting life, time will almost never be your own to “spend” efficiently, and that most of the secret lay in embracing that fact. As he works his way towards these truths, Burkeman provides a brief history of human ideas of time. The definition that we are most familiar with, the stuff that might require urgent management, was really, he suggests, the product of two things: the sharp decline of faith in an afterlife, and the Industrial Revolution. Our acceptance of finite time – of this being all there is – roughly coincided with clocking on and clocking off. This made time more pressured and precious. Most of our anxieties, Burkeman argues, derive from the fact that “every moment of our existence is shot through with what Heidegger called finitude”, or a nagging sense that we might be wasting what little time we have.
As he explores more closely what this might mean, he also proposes some strategies, or thoughts, to counter that anxiety. The traditional airport-bookshop volumes about time-management tend to emphasise the importance of finding focus. These concerns have been exacerbated by the great global engine of digital distraction; social media companies make their billions from the time you aimlessly, addictively provide them, “making you care about things you don’t want to care about”, as Burkeman says.
It helps, he suggests, rather to understand certain basic human limitations. Procrastination is unavoidable, though we can get better at ignoring the right things. Fomo – fear of missing out – is only debilitating if you fail to realise “that missing out is basically guaranteed” in life, the inevitable consequence of one path chosen over another. The self-help gurus might tell us never “to settle” in a relationship or a job. Burkeman argues rather that “you should definitely settle, or to be more precise, you don’t have a choice”. It is inevitable that you come to realise any chosen partner or job is not all other potential partners or jobs. Happiness is a factor of what you do with that information.
Productivity is also revealed as a fairly dubious modern virtue. “The Latin word for business, negotium, translates as not-leisure, reflecting the view that work was a deviation from the higher calling [of ease],” he says. If we make leisure only another arena for self-improvement then it sacrifices the present in favour of an imagined future. One hero of this book is the hobbyist, who can steal an afternoon for no purpose; another is the person who “develops a taste for having problems”, in the knowledge that the state of having no problems only arrives postmortem. Burkeman ends his book, as his publisher perhaps insisted, with 10 tips to take away. The how-to is not necessary; as with all the best quests, its many pleasures don’t require a fast-forward button, but happen along the way.
Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It by Oliver Burkeman is published by Bodley Head (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply
Source: The Guardian
Enter your email address to get latest updates