Joker is a film that could have been set anywhere, in a universe without Batman, Joker, or superheroes of any kind, and the characters and plot would still work. What is the point of a tale like this? A tale where the setting no longer directly informs the plot?
With a wandering plot and ambiguous detail, I can only speculate about the point director Todd Phillips intended for audiences to see. Nevertheless, as a memorable and gripping story of mental illness, and as a display of the extremes people will go to be noticed in a society that promotes and accepts loneliness, Joker succeeds on all counts.
Arthur Peck works as a clown by day and dreams of being a stand-up comedian by night. The only problem? He’s not funny, and he is crippled by uncontrollable laughter, a result of childhood trauma, that makes him socially awkward. It’s very tragic to see him laughing, at times almost wheezing and crying at the same time, while onlookers only see him as creepy and awkward. The stigma he feels is something relatable to anyone who has ever been judged for something about their manner or appearance that they can’t help.
The film inevitably takes a darker turn as Arthur descends into the persona known as Joker (for those squeamish about violence – be warned!). Inspired by elements from the film The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, this is a film that has generated a lot of discussion and buzz, both positive and negative. Almost as if the movie is a mirror, reviewers have seen everything from depictions of Antifa to a glamorization of incel culture (if you have to look up the term incel as I did, you are not alone) in the frames of this dark character portrait. My opinion? Todd Phillips wanted to shock audiences by mixing a bunch of interesting themes into his film without committing to a single one idea. The result is something that is well-acted, thought-provoking, yet ultimately wandering and bleak. But memorable cinema nonetheless.