Criticized and idolized, Joker is the most successful comic book movie of all times.
Here follow our two reviews, a most-inspired one by Sofia Brugali, and a “laughter” digression by Virginia Carolfi.
JOKER – as seen by Sofia Brugali
After Joker by Todd Phillips won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival, it has become very popular and has been highly covered by the media, therefore getting plenty of good and bad reviews. Its cinematographic quality is mostly not in question, but the critics are divided by its feature of social commentary, which is expressed by violence, as it often happens.
Scared by such a rough portray of brute force, which the director depicts in an uncritical and crystal clear way, a lot of people cryed scandal. They imagined a lone wolves’ army, ready to justify their deeds by comparing their story with Arthur Fleck’s one. It is pretty much like wertherism for modern men, who prefers the sudden celebrity of a mass shooting to the intimacy of suicide, by which a person remains anonimous.
However, as the very same filmmaker says, Joker “is not a call to action, if anything it’s a call to self-reflection to society”. Phillips’s work isn’t a praise to violence, or the rehabilitation of a supervillain, but it’s a demystification process. Batman’s nemesis is finally free from the burden of his heroic counterpart, he is no longer relegated to the role of the co-star. He can finally shows what he really is: just an anonimous human being among an indifferent society. The duality of good and devil is teared apart, a feeling of empathy with the character argues with spectators’ morality. All of this can happen thanks to Joaquin Phoenix, whose interpretation is of heartwrenching honesty.
Arthur Fleck’s parabola, together with the mentioned critics, made me think of another character, the main character of a well-known short story: I’m talking about Michael Kohlhaas, by the brilliant Heinrich von Kleist. Written in the beginning of XIX century, it is the story of a horse-dealer who seek revenge after being repeteadly oppressed by a local nobleman and after he couldn’t get justice by legal means. One central theme is then the relation between the individual and the collective, between justice and resistence. It is a political matter, which in Joker become an existencial trait, when the right to resist coincide with the right to exist.
By comparing this two works and their lead characters, we can have a better understanding of the movie. Kohlhaas is the role model of the good citizen, he is married and his neighbours think very high of him. It is therefore an understatement to think of Fleck’s actions as the fury of a mentally-ill loner.
The two figures are linked by logic, not madness. When they can’t find a solution to injustice, they fight back first with rage and then with violence: it is a horrible, but rational escalation.
Fleck is an “expelled” as much as Kohlhaas, that means “to whom the protection of the laws is denied”: it is their personal sense of justice that makes them “robbers and murderers”.
None of the two men is a revolutionary, but their action, as every human action, gives birth to unexpected results and they become the symbol of collective struggle. They are the fuse in Fates’ hands, which sets fire to a society which was already on the edge of a blaze. And what is surprising is that the firewood is in both cases the same: inequality and hipocrisy connect our century to Kleist’s times.
Now as it was then, those who just notice violence are unable to see that Joker is first of all a story of suffering. I hardly held back tears while watching Phoenix’s pale body, while he was painfully laughing and writhing in pain as Arthur Fleck. And after watching the movie, on my way back home, I wanted to hugh, and not shoot, all the passersby.
But isn’t it true, that we tend to project a part of ourselves into works of art?
JOKER – as seen by Virginia Carolfi
Adding anything to the thousands of reviews that rained down upon this film is hard, especially if they are as inspired as the one by Sofia Brugali, which is preceding me. All press is good press and the enormous media coverage which invested Joker ever since its presentation at the Venice Film Festival certainly did no harm to it. Arthur Fleck’s story has been shredded to pieces, analyzed, digested and spit back again, demonstrating how “the sleep of welfare generates monsters“, just to paraphrase Goya. However, there is one aspect that more than others struck me in this film, which is rich (even too much) in thought-provoking ideas and j’accuse.
Laughing is a social act. When two persons laugh about something, whether about a joke, a story, a film, immediately create a bond, as if they unconsciously said each other “we found common ground”. This is why humour is characterized by elements such as country and culture of origin, social background, etc… In the words of Goffredo Fofi, Woody Allen owes his success to the fact that he presented a new comedy for his time, making the fancy boys of those days laugh, and perhaps making even those of today laugh. For that reason, I consider one of the most significant scenes of Joker the one in which he takes part in a cabaret show, but ends up laughing out of turn. A short but freezing sequence which makes you want to scream, to make him stop, and finally to hug him. Arthur, who wants to make others laugh more than anything, is actually an outcast of laughter: his isolation dwells in the total distance separating him from what makes others laugh. His jokes, in his opinion hilarious, cannot even be considered as such. People, headed by an unparalleled Robert De Niro, laugh at him and not with him. Arthur’s laughter itself is abnormal, just as the condition that, for a wicked twist of fate, forces him to laugh at the least opportune moments, unleashing the anger of those who feel fooled by him. Because that is what we fear, isn’t it? To be marginalized too, to be mocked, that a no one like Fleck gets away with laughing at us.
Yet, it seems that Phillips is trying to tell us something more. Joker is undoubtedly a drama film but has some comedy traits. Gag slapsticks in dramatic moments (first and foremost the scene in which Fleck slams his face into the hospital glass door), black-and-white comedy film clips, Ginger Roberts and Fred Astaire dancing. The opening and closing credits do not lie, the reference is to the great Hollywood cinema, but why? Nostalgia, contrast, criticism of appearances. Certainly, the director, just like good old Arthur Fleck, seems to regret a time when laughing was much easier than now. And maybe he seems to tell us never to take anything too seriously, in the end, this is just about a DC character.