'There's always a joker in the pack, there's always a cardboard clown. The poor painted fool falls on his back, and everyone laughs when he's down!' – Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, The Roar of the Greasepaint " The Smell of the Crowd (1964) My 13-year-old daughter wanted me to buy tickets for 'Joker' for […]
'There's always a joker in the pack, there's always a cardboard clown. The poor painted fool falls on his back, and everyone laughs when he's down!'
– Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, The Roar of the Greasepaint " The Smell of the Crowd (1964)
My 13-year-old daughter wanted me to buy tickets for 'Joker' for her and a friend so they could see it, but the friend cancelled " and I'm glad. Because I went to see it instead.
I'd been hearing about it, and I'd heard a lot of political commentary read into it. That's par for the course for a lot of movies these days. But there was something odd about it.
There are conservative voices who loathe it, and conservatives who rave about it. Leftist reviewers generally tend to dismiss it as meaningless.
One leftist friend warned that if you see it you might be contributing to the music royalties of one Gary Glitter, currently serving time for sexual assaults on minors. (That is yet to be determined. It occurs to me it might contribute to restitution funds but again, no idea.)
But Arthur Fleck the Joker himself denies he's trying to start a movement. He does anyway.
I must admit I sat through it in an almost empty theater, enthralled and disturbed.
A lot of other people must feel something similar because it's making money hand over fist, equaling or surpassing Avengers: Endgame box office. That's not meaningless, though what it might mean I'm still not sure.
Fears it would provoke violence caused New York City to stage a conspicuous police presence at screenings, but so far no disturbances have been reported.
However it has been reported that protestors in Beirut and Hong Kong have adopted Joker face painting as a symbol of heaven knows what.
Joker takes place in Gotham City of the DC comics universe, but in roughly the Nolan family Dark Knight version. There are no fantasy superheroes. Bruce Wayne is still a little rich kid on the cusp of the events that will cause him to recreate himself as The Batman.
This is the origin story of his arch nemesis the Clown Prince of Crime. It's in the descent into madness genre with horror story elements.
Except Arthur Fleck's descent into madness pulls a city teetering on the edge of madness with him into the pit. And the schlock horror convention is violated when it hints at but does not show the death of innocents.
There are two notable lines, one written one spoken, that cause me to pull a meaning out of what some describe as a meaningless movie.
One is a notebook entry that appears near the beginning of the movie, 'The worst thing about having a mental illness is everyone expects you to behave as if you DON'T.'
I've heard that before, because it's true. Our society is not kind to the mentally ill. After early 20th century reforms in housing the mentally ill we seem to have gone backwards, turning them loose on the streets to become homeless and chemically addicted.
The movie then comes back to this near the end with a riddle, 'What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?'
The answer comes with a bullet, 'Exactly what you fucking deserve.'
So here's what I think. The Dark Knight trilogy was based around the idea that Gotham, our civilization, was worth saving in spite of everything.
Joker is the case for the prosecution.