Joker, rated R
** (2 out of 4 stars)
My wife Tammy and I have been watching Oscar nominated “Best Motion Picture” films that we had not already seen. We have watched The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Marriage Story, Parasite, and most recently Joker, which received eleven Oscar nominations, the most of any film this year.
Joker is a very disturbing film about the beginnings of the character that will become an enemy of Batman. The film is superbly acted by four-time Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix, who has received a “Best Actor” nomination for his role as Arthur Fleck. But the film has significant content issues, including adult language and violence, and thus is hard to recommend.
The film is directed by four-time Oscar nominee Tom Phillips (Joker, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan). It is written by Phillips and two-time Oscar nominee Scott Silver (Joker, The Fighter). The film, which had a budget of approximately $55 million, has grossed more than $335 million in the U.S., and more than $1 billion worldwide. It is the first “R”-rated film to gross a billion dollars.Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, Walk the Line, Gladiator), suffers from mental illness. He is emaciated (Phoenix lost 52 pounds for the role), often smoking a cigarette, and takes several prescription pills each day. He lives with his mother Penny, played by Golden Globe winner Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) in a run-down apartment complex in New York (Gotham City). They enjoy watching the late-night talk show (think of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson), hosted by Murray Franklin, played by two-time Oscar winner Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull, The Godfather: Part II). Arthur works as a clown, but aspires to be a successful comedian, playing big clubs and appearing on Franklin’s show. Arthur also has a very disturbing laugh, one that he doesn’t seem able to control.
Arthur meets with a social worker for counseling, and tells her that all he has are negative thoughts. He gets his medications from the social worker, but is told that funding has been cut and the office will be shutting down. Arthur asks the social worker where he will get his medications in the future, and she has no answer for him.
One of Arthur’s jobs as a clown is displaying a “Going out of Business” sign on the sidewalk outside of the business that is closing. As he is doing so, a few youths steal the sign and take off, with Arthur in pursuit. They are waiting for him in an alley, and when he arrives, they badly beat him, and destroy the sign. For this, Arthur is reprimanded by his supervisor. A co-worker then gives Arthur a gun to protect himself. While performing as a clown in a children’s hospital, the gun falls on the floor. This is the final straw, and Arthur is fired from his job as a clown.
On the way home, he is harassed on the subway by three men, who he then shoots to death. Since the men were rich, working on Wall Street, the killer in the clown mask becomes a cult hero, leading to violent protests against the rich and powerful throughout the city, including Thomas Wayne who is running for mayor, played by Brett Cullen, who Arthur believes he has a connection with. Wayne’s young son is named Bruce, who will go on to become Batman.
What will become of Arthur, who is now jobless and has no access to his medications?
Themes in the film include mental illness, revenge, social commentary about the rich and poor and physical abuse. Content concerns include adult language, violence, and a scene in which Arthur is sitting next to his mother while she is nude in the bathtub (nothing explicit is shown).
The film features an outstanding – and disturbing – acting performance by Phoenix, including his laugh and dancing. The music by Hildur Guðnadóttir, who received an Oscar nomination for his work, is excellent.
Joker is a well-made and acted, but disturbing film, with several content concerns along with no redeeming value, that makes it difficult to recommend.