Joker is a long series of tipping points for a deranged man, and the further we go with him, murkier the memory gets of where it all started. There’s a nice flow to how the whole thing ascends from one incident to the next. There’s a lot to like here, but the whole of it didn’t blow my mind. The film wants to say we are living in a shallow society, but in a few ways its existence is also an example of similar shallowness.

I am wondering if truth, in today’s time, can only be sold in “mainstream” vehicles. It is, for the lack of a better word – weird, that off late even “deep”™ has to be accessible. The tipping points I mentioned are basic – in the sense that they don’t offer drama we haven’t seen before. But the thing that keeps you hooked is who these events are happening to. In other words, the character’s mythical weight does more to the script than the script is doing to the character.

Yes, I personally have a problem with Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy being retold in a millenial comicbook film, (and I also had a problem when Mersal retold Aboorva Sagotharargal/Appu Raja, etc) but that shouldn’t take away the merit of Joker. This is me taking a dig at the society, than at the films it is watching. Or should I be blaming both sides equally? I’m not sure.

Arthur Fleck keeps being handed a bad deal everywhere in life, and he’s only had negative thoughts, according to him. I notice that this film says out loud very internal things (“You don’t listen, do you?”), while Phoenix’s performance also comes across as largely external (and a phenomenal one at that). He mouths dialogues that say what he is feeling, while at the same time he is baring it all out physically to show what he is feeling. This is a monstrous performance, and a very memorable one too, but to me it does feel like it could do with a slightly toned down outlook from the director. We only get as much as is being shown, and there’s nothing to look beyond that. But I would also give the makers the benefit of doubt with respect to the fact that there’s only so much depth to reach for in a character whose personality is already familiar to us.

I have to admit to the bias of worshipping Taxi Driver, and thus having the feeling that this film has scratched only the surface of the former’s political ideology. There’s nothing left to subtext here. I feel like a snob for rigidly expecting more to decipher from the film than being served such a pronounced tale. But in terms of visual prowess it has definitely recreated and honoured the crowded colours and noir canvas of Scorsese’s classic, while also evoking a very similar, feeling of isolation which is extremely cinematic. The film builds up to a cracker of a climax, one that feels – very unexpectedly – larger in scale. This is where it gets gloriously comicbook-y, resulting in a grand payoff to the character.

My problem with the film is how Todd Phillips doesn’t seem to have worked on – in layman terms – a USP for this project. The story and the aesthetic borrow heavily from Scorsese. Joaquin Phoenix is a bonafide performer. The link to the hero of the universe (Bruce Wayne), feature a moment that is being depicted for the third time in a DC film. This connection doesn’t work for me because I feel like they are overdoing the entire “rounding off” routine. Fans went gaga over it at the screening, but I’d have preferred things to not be so elaborately connected.

I might be coming off as severely condescending when I say that this isn’t anything new to me. Films like First Reformed, Dog Day Afternoon, The King of Comedy, in my eyes, are greater examples of in-depth spiralling down of characters. I will be happy if this story is resonating in the right way with people, but I am just hoping that it paves way for interest in similar stories of non-mythical characters too.


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