Despite this film setting a box office record for R rated movies released in October, I can’t remember any movie where I had to resist walking out of the theater on multiple occasions.
To begin with, please be warned that this is one of the most disturbing films that you will ever see. That begins with the fact that it is a well made movie done under the twisted direction of Todd Phillips. However, despite some deserving credit flowing from its focus on mental health issues that are largely ignored in the criminal justice arena, it is tragic when a homicidal mentally ill individual becomes a hero in the eyes of many.
Having practiced criminal law over 40 years, I am well aware that the mentally ill are all but lost in our criminal justice system. Since most are not legally insane, many are shifted off to a penal facility where they are ignored. In other words, if a young man that is a product of family abuse strikes out in a violent fashion, he is left to wallow in his own misery after being housed away in prison. Unfortunately, he is no better off to deal with the complexities of life when he is eventually released then he was before being sentenced.
And that, my friends, is the only value provided by this film. Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a mentally handicapped young man who can support himself only by working as a clown for various businesses. Unable to control an outrageous irritating laughter in various settings, his only hope to achieve a tolerable level of existence is government sponsored counseling where he is provided with prescription medicine that allows him to control his behavior.
Nonetheless, this film loses all of its impact when Fleck’s access ends as a result of a government cut-back on providing resources to treat the disadvantaged. Left with his single mother and roaming the Gotham City streets filled with uncollected garbage, he witnesses a mayoral election where the working class responds in much the same fashion as we witnessed in our last presidential election in 2016.
Gaining access to a gun provided by a fellow worker, Fleck descends another rung into human hell when he is fired. Finding himself consistently beaten on the streets, he responds by pursuing and killing three of his protagonists on a subway. Rather than feeling guilty for his actions, Fleck finds meaning in his miserable existence which leads to him appearing publicly in a clown face and adopting his Joker name.
What happened then became so disgusting that I could only admire the decision of several people in the theater to get up and leave. After shooting a television host played by Robert De Niro on live TV, he eventually becomes treated as a hero by many who want to strike back at the wealthy and influential who are perceived as controlling our everyday lives. I was left wondering if the Joker had a half-brother called The Donald.
However, what made this film so horrific were the scenes where you watch the Joker kill black women who are trying to help him. This includes his next door apartment neighbor played wonderfully by Zazie Beets and his counselor in prison following his incarceration. Though this ghastly film shows the murder of white men as it actually happens, you simply see the Joker leaving the company of these women and walking down a hallway where he leaves bloody foot prints on the floor.
It was these moments that made this movie so forgettable, and I can only hope that receives no meaningful recognition when Oscar time rolls around. Though I fear that Joaquin Phoenix may somehow receive a nomination for best actor, I hope that the voters remember his ghastly, repetitive laughter and leave him and this film in a cinematic grave yard where it belongs.