Does Joker Still Hold up After its Release?: The State of the Movies

It’s been a few months since the release of the film Joker and the legacy the film has held with audiences has been much different than I expected. When I saw it at the time of its release back in October, I loved it. 

I thought the film was an absolute delight and was thoroughly entertained.  In my opinion it was the best movie of the year at that point and although I didn’t expect that to stick, I acknowledged the film absolutely left an impact on me not seen in many other movies. The film had also undergone lots of controversy as many believed the film would inspire mass violence, which to this day I still think is a stupid claim. The movie went onto be nominated for 11 Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix, Best Director for Todd Phillips, and Best Picture.

What was surprising was the negative reaction people had to it receiving as many nominations as it did. Film fans in particular found themselves upset that Todd Phillips got a nomination for Best Director over Great Gerwig for Little Women (which makes sense). So what happened then? Why is it that a movie many film lovers had initially supported is now being looked down upon? Are many of the “haters” of this movie still concerned film fans that believe the film will inspire violence or was I perhaps missing something after my initial viewing? Click here if you want to read what I initially had to say about this film.

I don’t think Joker is THE best movie of 2019, but I still think it’s pretty good and for sure one of the better movies to be released last year. I still think it’s impressive that the film was able to take a comic book story and use it as a means to promote a political message without having it come across too preachy.

I also think the film on its own is very entertaining and even very funny at times. Its little moments like the awkward interactions Arthur Fleck has with his co workers or the other people around him can be really funny yet at times heartbreaking to watch. The way this film builds up tension and leads to its finale is really tremendous and very satisfying. In my opinion, this film both works as a serious psychological thriller and as a comic book origin story.

The biggest issue I found with this movie upon revisiting it is that sometimes it admittedly has trouble finding its own unique voice. 

I’d say although the film stands out in the comic book film genre, it does at points feel like a “What if Martin Scorsese had directed a Batman” video on YouTube. Admittedly, at the time I saw Joker I had never seen Taxi Driver or King of Comedy, but now that I have seen both movies I can confirm that this movie does indeed rip off both quite a bit. 

Gotham City and the way it is presented is very similar to how New York is shown in Taxi Driver and Arthur Fleck is very similar to both Travis Bicke in Taxi Driver and Rupert Pupkin in King of Comedy. Both Rupert and Arthur in particular are similar in that they have a shared obsession with a famous talk show host (Arthur’s being Murray Franklin and Rupert’s being Jerry Langford). I don’t believe the way this all is presented is bad, the filmmakers just should have found a way to present it without having it be blatantly obvious they are trying to mimic the success of Scorsese’s other works.

Some fans have also commented that the film is too pretentious and doesn’t tackle its subject matter (mental health awareness and class division) as well as it should. In fact, some just deny those themes being prevalent in the film in the first place. I will agree that the film does not present its themes in a complex manner, but I also don’t think it necessarily needs to be complex to be successful. The main focus I’d argue lies more in presenting Arthur Fleck and his world rather than preach to the audience the importance of mental health care in America. Those themes and struggles almost seem like a secondary takeaway. And again, this is not bad as I still believe Arthur’s world and struggles are presented so seamlessly.

I can understand why some fans would believe the themes are not presented strong enough here, especially after having seen Best Picture winner Parasite which presented similar themes in a much more complex way. I think it works here though because Parasite sought to explore themes of class division and social issues while still be an entertaining film while I’d argue Joker is trying to be an entertaining film first and have a message to say about SOCIETY second. I think both films do a very good job at exploring these themes, but I will admit one does go much more in depth than the other.

What I believe is very important to bring up, however, is the discourse that has surrounded this film now that the majority of audience members have gotten the chance to see it.

Over the past few years or so film discussion and discourse has been taking a really nasty and even toxic turn that I hope we can soon end. There’s some movies that are released that seem to be very divisive among the film community that it almost becomes like a political position to hold a certain view of a movie. I first noticed this notion taking place in 2017 when Rian Johnson created Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. The discussion that seems to be taking place is that fans either call it the greatest Star Wars movie of all time or think it’s the worst Star Wars movie of all time.

Further, a general theme I’ve seen being thrown around is that you’re either a “liberal SJW cuck” if you love the Last Jedi or an “alt-right nazi troll” if you hate it. This is likely because the Last Jedi is infamous for its strong political themes including the dangers of capitalism and female empowerment even though these are not the elements naysayers of the film generally take issue with. I’ve noticed a similar trend arise among the discussion of this movie where instead “alt-right nazi trolls” are the ones offering praise for Joker while “SJW lib-tard cucks” seem to hate on it. This is a very bad assessment and I’m hoping we can put an end to it.

Liking or disliking a movie does not have to coincide with your political position. It is true that sometimes a movie can speak to some audiences and not others based on the values that an audience member personally holds, but watching comic book movies and Star Wars movies is not the same as doing politics. You can think Black Panther is just an average but fun Marvel movie and be fully in support of civil rights. You can watch Joker and think the film is boring and predictable but still support helping mental health patients and the less fortunate.

What I will say about this movie in particular is whether or not you believe the themes are presented well in this movie, do not deny that there isn’t an attempt being made to present these themes. As I mentioned, I’ve seen tweets, like the one down below, of people in complete denial that this movie is trying to present any of the themes many fans have seen in this movie and I think that ignorance is bad for discussion.

When I look at a movie I tend to view the messages of the movie first and then analyze whether or not I think the film successfully presents these themes. If I miss something from before, I look back at it and think if the film made that message clear or if I think it did a good job of presenting it to begin with. Again, I understand if fans found the messages of this movie unclear or poorly presented, but to make the assertion that this movie makes no attempts to present these themes is close minded.

It’s hard because people online tend to act really defensive either for or against their favorite movies nowadays and I don’t think film discussion should be part of the current political culture war we’re in the middle of. I do encourage differing opinions and respectful discussions of this movie which I really hope fans continue to have. The Last Jedi has had a really bizarre legacy because to this day fans still find themselves aggressively defensive towards their opinions of that movie.

I hope Joker doesn’t leave a similar impact but it already looks like it unfortunately will. My hope is that fans will discuss the themes and the filmmaking of the movie and whether or not they believe it is successful rather than assign labels to fans or haters of the movie. It will be interesting to see where the discussion of the movie goes from here and I am certain that this movie will continue to be discussed for a while which is cool. I do think the film is great but I don’t think it’s the best movie of the year and maybe not as spectacular as I initially thought. I still think the movie has a lot of interesting takes about modern America and I think the film was well made too.

Written by: Christian Scognamillo

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