The punch of life

Joker's movie review directed by Todd Phillips.


 "And so beneath the weight lay I

And suffered death, but could not die"


(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Renascence)



A gangly man stands on the car, moving slowly through flickering images of street fights around. Flames and smiling faces of dummy clowns surround him in ecstatic approval, his skinny hands lifted in a gentle, orchestrated way. Police sirens throb, gunshots intertwined with twists, crowded subways with the smell of stale piss and tiredness have been emptied in a riot. Someone might be snapping a neck as this man, with his eyes so hollow, stretches his lips sideways, revealing his grin, more debauched than sinister. This distortion, a secret handshake, a sign of kinship in a world following him down, is his rebirth. The smile eclipses a  no-longer a hitting-sack Quasimodo of Gotham but a true King of Comedy, The Joker.


The sound and fury is becoming to Todd Philips´s character study of Arthur Fleck, a speck on DC´s capital Gotham, as he is ripped through waiting lines, childish handwriting and grey clerks of the social service.  Joaquin Phoenix´s lifetime performance sees him hauling in weight loss, covering bruises he earned from a passing-by gang of teens, with a sick mother on a deathbed. Nauseatingly accurate, the cinematography is plastered with precision on the overplay of basic colours, creating the chilling atmosphere of insecurity, Fleck´s predominant state he tries to recover from in attempts of contact with the outer world. Saturated through dirty windows (that recall Phoenix´s performance of Her, though more solitary than ever), dressing rooms in cheap theatres, confined blues of telephone booths where a bullet in a brain would seem like mercy, Phillips´ camera exudes in a theatrical presence.  


Phoenix is here put to be present, to unravel and throb unravel in a Tourette-studied laugh. The camera is fixed on him as if the only lifeforce is oozing from his eyes into us. Here is our man, almost a Noh-theatre actor and there stands the World, with its pits of shame, insults and rape, and neither can escape the gaping power of the other. This is no comic-book movie and this is neither Nicholson´s razored precision nor Ledger´s much-beloved controlled scarring of the race.  Though it is safe to wonder how, indeed, will his further portrayal bring about Joker´s intelligence in con, no trademarks have been played out as expected. One of the more gripping twists is here the uncontrolled laugh-reaction standing in as Arthur´s serious (though never named or treated the mental condition) coping that reduces even those rare moments of actual human contact to a horror. His existence and purity have been juxtaposed with sexual abuse, landing him in Arkham Asylum at the time of his birth, with further questions to his actual origins. The movie has received some negative remarks making Joker an unsolicited adviser of pro-gun violations - though Arthur is clearly seen rejecting the gun offered to him as protection - and misinterpretation of mental illnesses.  


The axis of Arthur´s world is horizontal as his daily suffering scales and accident passengers decide to lash out. His long travels to the city´s heart where he is beaten and bested by everyone he meets, misread and pushed away at the smallest attempt of contact- are all on a single trajectory path. Walking the line, we are in his proximity and inadvertently able to recognize his scars as our possible doing. I just do not want to feel this bad anymore says Arthur as he glares at an underpaid worker in a stuffed office somewhere on the precinct, his pseudo-sexual energy contained at the rim of his postures. A sad note on the margins of the society, with a card excusing himself, almost for existing at all, this is not the mastermind of horror we have gotten used to seeing. Forwards or backwards, Fleck has no respite. Here is a man in the white mask, with the blue-chequered eyes, who has tried to be happy in spite of his own suffering. He is more confined within the walls of society that owns its victims by now owning up to their pain until his descent into Joker, where we are revealed a different kind of paradigm, the diagonal path. Dragging the camera without relief, as smoke curls in a greenish kitchen or a golden-hour brightness, behind the scenes of madness, hand in hand with Phoenix´s overwhelming dance of death, Arthur´s loneliness is excruciating. The up-and downscale is revealed partially during the first part of the movie, as he is going back to his sick mother (his seven different medicaments in hand, as his slow climb shines in patters of a full-frame. As he fleshes out Joker, which feels like a carefully thought out coming-out story, we  Thus he is finally embraced through his cruelty, through embrace celebrated, loved and, finally, freed.