Q: What do you get if you cross a mentally ill person with a society that abandons them?
A: You get exactly what you fucking deserve.
This is the mission statement of Joker.
Gotta say, when this movie first started, I didn’t think I was gonna like it. The writing is obvious and heavy-handed, to a cringe-worthy degree at times. The directing is likewise, with scenes full of posters or signs with giant letters literally spelling out words relevant to the scene. You can almost hear the director sucking his teeth, and saying, “But do you think the audience’ll get it unless I put in a giant sign saying what the scene’s about?” This film is not subtle or clever.
What it is is bowled over by the shear force of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. The success of this film is entirely down to him – period. Frances Conroy gives a great performance. Glenn Fleshler also gives a strong contribution in a relatively small role. But the centrepiece of this film is the character Phoenix channels with every ounce of his being. Even fighting over the clunkiness of the script to deliver what the lines should have been, what it really means despite the words.
And it just pulls you along. Despite the script, despite the direction, despite how much the movie seems to be talking at you rather than showing you, Phoenix’s Joker just wins you over. And the sheer rage that radiates out of him like liberation is dazzling.
The ending is an obliterating wave of exultation, conquering all reservations I had about the film. It basks in the ecstatics of the freedom that comes with letting go and losing your mind.
So many scenes were identifiable to anyone who’s dealt with mental health services. Sitting in appointments thinking, now I understand why folk stab nurses. The cure’ll make you crazy.
Joker is a juggernaut of one actor’s embodiment of a character over every obstacle.