Since its release last Friday, Todd Phillip’s latest movie "Joker" has received a slew of negative reviews from prominent outlets like The New York Times, The New Yorker and NPR. One cannot help but feel this is at least in some part due to the “controversy” surrounding the film’s “political” elements. A.O. Scott of The New York Times referred to the movie as a “foggy exercise… in second rate philosophizing.”
NBC wrote, ”if the new Joker movie actually had a real message, it might have been easier to defend.” Therein lies the fundamental problem.
Despite the hype concerning the film’s purported theme of “white man turned violent by society," making him not the clown prince of crime but of Columbine, Arthur Fleck indeed has nothing political to say.
Perhaps as a nod to our inevitable response to the film, characters throughout continually ask Fleck what his message is, to which he responds he is not political. Everyone is so concerned with trying to place the burgeoning Fleck (and the movie itself) into some neat category (white male rage, proletariat rebellion) that they ignore what he actually has to say, which is, for instance, a simple hug from the man he believes to be his father. He instead receives a punch to the face.
We must keep in mind that the cinema is not the lecture hall. When The New York Times talks about how the movie’s philosophizing is poor it sounds as though they’re confusing a comic book backstory with a master’s thesis. "Joker" is a character study. Fleck is not a professor or a prophet; he is a deeply lonely, deeply ill human, whose every effort at happiness is thwarted either by his illness, or exacerbated by an unfeeling society.
For all of the talk of the movie’s “message,” does anyone recall that Fleck’s descent begins after he is forced to stop seeing his therapist because the funding was cut? If we’re going to derive political messages from the guy who gave us "The Hangover," why not start there? What about Fleck’s sense of hopelessness being fueled by derision from his late night T.V. host hero for a medical condition over which he has no control? Is there no message here, in our own age of cyber bullying and revenge porn? Why do we hear so frequently of Joker’s demographics, as if childhood trauma discriminates on the basis of sex?
The film reveals as a boy, Fleck was tied to a radiator, starved and beaten mercilessly by his psychotic mother’s boyfriend. These seem to all be conveniently overlooked when examined by the critics.
However, with an audience score of 90 percent, "Joker" might get the last laugh.
Movies— at least the good ones— are for the fans, not the anointed contributors to The New York Times. But lest I be dubbed an incel for enjoying a comic book movie, I better stop here— I have a girlfriend, I promise!
Domenic Cregan is a junior english major. Contact him at email@example.com.