[2019] Joker

WINK.

Part of Joker‘s allure, and one of the drivers behind its billion-dollar returns, is this cheeky in-joke that Director, Todd Phillips, dangles in front of his audience. “Ah.” He projects. “Surely my audiences will understand that this is more than a comic book movie.” He leans back. “They’ll certainly know that Arthur Fleck is a metaphor for Modern™ life!” He looks disconcertingly over to those sitting 12 rows back. All brows are furrowed. “The world is just so terrible and it’s cruel!”

Joaquin Phoenix breathes lots of life into Fleck aka the “Joker” and his take is eons more maudlin than Heath Ledger’s sardonic villain. There’s nothing about Phoenix’s Joker that’s fun. But does the audience get it? The connection between Fleck’s persona non grata status and the society he’s “forced” into is about as lucid as possible. It’s not supposed to be terrible hard to figure out. DO YOU GET IT?

WINK.

It’ll be hard to tell, but there’s almost certainly a large portion of Joker’s viewership that prides themselves on understanding that Phillips wanted to make this very shallow point. “It’s more than a comic book movie.” Sure, but so was The Dark Knight and Ledger’s Joker also skewered “society” by showing and not telling how chaotic life could be if he simply egged on opposable and immovable forces. Fleck is Thomas Wayne’s secret love child? At least Taxi Driver didn’t try to undermine Travis Bickle’s descent into madness by “revealing” that he was actually Senator Palantine’s long-lost child. Or that he’d been conceived inside a taxi, so he’s having prenatal pangs of violence. Both would have worked as narrative motifs. Both would have failed as poignant plot points.

“Make it make sense!”

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