To say that Arthur Fleck, the character played by Joaquin Phoenix in «Joker» (Joker, 2019), is the definitive reading of Bat Man’s most famous nemesis may sound a little extreme, or not so much, for the times ahead. But, without a doubt, it is a version more than interesting and prone to open up the debate, not only among the fans of the crime clown, but among the movies in general because the drama directed by Todd Phillips exceeds the ‘genre’ communato to immerse us in a story of different origin and, at the same time, full of some coherence that suits this mysterious villain very well. We say mysterious because the Joker is one of the few characters within the mythology of the Dark Knight, whose real name and origin are not fully defined within the canon. Of course he had countless stories that tried to decipher it, but it’s this same aura of ‘anonymity’ that makes it really dangerous.» It only takes one bad day to plunge the world’s sanest man into madness. That’s how far the world of me is, just a bad day away,» the clown says from the pages of «Batman: The Killing Joke,» the opus of Alan Moore, Brian Bolland and John Higgins that best defines the character in his ‘modern’ version. Taking this great phrase as a starting point we can say that Arthur did not have a bad day, but a bad life that propelled him to that insanity. Of course, in his case there are also other factors, those who decide to explore Phillips and Scott Silver want their script, a story that talks about social alienation, mental illness and that small (not so small) push that transforms order into chaos.
Phillips and Warner Bros. they play it for several reasons: on the one hand we talk about a relatively small movie (its budget barely exceeds fifty million dollars), not suitable for minors, precisely because of the level of violence it exposes, centered on the villain – we are looking at you «Venom»-, with the success of not wanting to glorify or justify it. Instead, the filmmakers are in charge of presenting us with a thorough study of the character, which goes through different mental processes and social rejection, in a decadent city and a time, where the rich (as always) have a good time and those who have the least trying to survive… until they decide to turn the tortilla over.» Guasón» drinks without a look much of Martin Scorsese’s filmography, especially «Taxi Driver» (1976) and «The King of Comedy» (The King of Comedy, 1982). To be sure, Fleck bears some similarities to Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, but they are nothing more than small nods that enrich this subversive account from the themes and forms. The Gotham exhibiting «Joker» is no different from the dirty, chaotic New York of the early 1980s, so opposed to the tourist city we know today. There is a reaganist air permeated throughout the film, with its high society and its young, all-powerful yupis who believe they can take everything and everyone ahead. In this context of disparity and socioeconomic unrest, Arthur is dedicated to stealing some other smile, either as a multipurpose clown or as an aspiring comedian, who tries his luck at stand-up clubs fantasizing about fame. Fleck is already a big man who lives with his mom Penny (Frances Conroy), a fragile health woman (physical and mental) who does not always encourage her son’s ambitions. His best connection moment is during the show of Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), a famous late-night driver who will end up playing a pivotal role in the birth of the ‘Joker’.
Agent of Chaos
Arthur is primarily a discarded: by the society that turns its back on him, by his peers, and even his own family. This finger in constant sore is the first trigger for a movement for which the germ of a revolution that somehow has it as a leader, but also exceeds it, is responsible. If Nolan’s Joker is an anarchic terrorist and Burton’s, a cartoonish, boundless criminal, Fleck is what came before these versions solidify, and we can’t know for sure what’s to come after it’s completely released. Phoenix takes over the character and gives no concessions to those who preceded him. He assembles his own universe around this clown wanting to make him laugh, but lacking in love and companionship, and a father figure who guides him. This is where the writers most play with the canon and can make diehard fans angry, but ultimately no one should care because, like so many others, this is a new vision of the iconic villain. Or have you forgotten that Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) is also responsible for the death of the Waynes in the 1989 film? Just as every Batman movie insists on showing us the murder of Bruce’s parents so that we don’t forget how and where the Dark Knight was truly born, «Joker» contends to give a background and context to the ‘follies’ of this antagonist, having the tact necessary not to exalt or celebrate its worst characteristics (especially its disdain for life and its love for excessive violence), and to deal with mental illness with respect – here Arkham is a psychiatric hospital and not the Gothic asylum we know. In the middle we have a character that derails, pushed by some, while pushing others.
For every laugh there is a tear
Phillips – yes, the man responsible for the «What Happened Yesterday» trilogy? (The Hangover) and so many other irreverent comedies- he forgets superheroes and concentrates on the story and, above all, takes a risk to put the villain at the center of the story without getting carried away by the effect. The photography, the plans, the staging and the music of Hildur Gusnadóttir form a sordid and repulsive whole, dirty and decadent, so that in the end there is no doubt and we do not commit (us) the madness of empathizing with this dark character. This Joker could be called in any other way and emerge triumphant with his narration, but there is a coincidence that he fits very well in the most refined batiitity and a juncture that cannot be overlooked when reading between the lines. In this note: