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

Twitter:
https://twitter.com/christianscogs

Letterboxd:
https://letterboxd.com/christianscogs/

Joker: Is it Really Worth all the Trouble?

Joker is a new comic book movie that recounts the origin of renowned comic book villain Joker. It stars Joaquin Pheonix as the titular character and is directed by Todd Phillips, the director of the Hangover Trilogy.

If you roam social media at all you’ll know that many are almost afraid of this movie. They argue that this will inspire more mass shootings from disgruntled individuals which is something nobody obviously wants to have happened. When I first heard these arguments made though, I shrugged them off and thought we would stop talking about this once the movie actually comes out. I never was one to believe that media will cause violence, and I still hold that stance to this day. But then more users started weighing in on the discussion and they started getting intense about it too. This is something that tends to happen whenever you browse a social media platform, especially Twitter. A person with extreme opinions will usually be rewarded with clout and it makes for an incredibly toxic place to have a public discussion. I for the most part never chose to comment until I actually saw the movie but I still held my argument that media does not and will not cause violence.

The MSM began to almost slander the movie in any way they could in an effort to make film-goers “beware the joker movie”. Article after article was released with varying headlines some of which included a report that the US Military issued a warning for Joker screenings and that NYPD officers would be going undercover attending screenings of the movie to stop anyone who has any tricks up their sleeves. They reported on it so much they were almost subliminally begging for someone to shoot up a screening of Joker just so they could get those “I told ya so” clicks. It felt really uncomfortable to browse and even a little scummy.

The movie finally premiered last Thursday and the 70mm screening I attended at the Grossmont Center was equipped with more security than normal. Before the film started, employees went up to several audience members and asked to inspect their bags on the spot. It was safe to say for theaters, safety was a number one priority, which is great. I just question the media’s rampant reporting of the film in such a way.

An example of a headline warning its viewers about the “dangers” of Joker.
This one came out after the movie was released, likely because people had now seen the movie and they were no longer able to frame this movie as a dangerous one. This is clearly reaching for any amount of outrage to be generated and is extremely meaningless at that (just so we’re clear, statutory rape is bad, but this is not relevant to the movie in question).
The most accurate way to describe the way the MSM is treating Joker at the moment.

Having seen the movie now I can understand why critics do not like this movie. I don’t agree with them at all, but it is understandable. The movie is very critical of modern SOCIETY (as the meme goes) and even the media and the facade of wholesome values they try to display. The film was shocking for me not because I found its message controversial but because I was surprised a major film distributor like Warner Bros. went ahead and released a film with this message. I’m really glad they did though because I think this is a movie that will be talked about for a long time.

This is a bold and daring picture that asks its audience harsh questions about the way we treat others and the effects those actions have on our modern world. It also highlights the dangers of what can happen when one disgruntled person feels as if they’ve been abandoned by society and even what we can do to prevent this from happening. I would say this film promotes mental health care and the coming together of classes more than it does violence.

In order to make a case in point as to why I believe this is not only a phenomenal but important as well, I once again will want to discuss this movie with SPOILERS. If you’re at all curious about this movie, you should definitely rush out and see this movie. It has a brilliant and even at times challenging message that is complimented by gorgeous cinematography, great acting, and extremely tense and uncomfortable moments. It may be challenging to watch for some viewers, but it’s definitely worth your time and attention.

*****SPOILERS*****

Joker is a movie about a man who slowly discovers who he is and how the world truly feels about people like him.

From the first few moments of Joker we’re told that Gotham City is in its worst state yet. The city is run by loads of trash and super rats (Google pictures of them, they’re disgusting), and the working class are struggling to live and survive in such horrible conditions. We are then introduced to Arthur Fleck, a clown for hire, who lives with his mother in a disgusting dilapidated apartment in the middle of the most trash-filled areas of Gotham. We also are told that he regularly attends his therapist sessions in which we find out that he has a mental condition in which he laughs hysterically whenever he gets nervous. The therapist asks to see his journal and she finds the statement, “I just hope my death makes more cents than my life”. This suggests that Arthur possibly suffers from frequent suicidal thoughts as well.

From the first moment Arthur arrives home, we see his mother ask him if they have received a written response to her letter from Thomas Wayne, a very wealthy businessman running for mayor who she once worked as a maid for in their manor. We find she writes to him in hopes that they can get them out of the old apartment and maybe into a newer cleaner place to live. The mother, Penny, insists to Arthur that Mr. Wayne and her have a “very special connection” that she simply cannot explain.

Things start to turn worse for Arthur though after he’s fired from his job as a clown after he accidentally drops a gun a co-worker gave to him for protection during a performance (the opening scene of the film involves Arthur being jumped by a group of street kids). The first moment of “grace” comes for Arthur while on the way home on the subway when a group of wall street boys harasses Arthur which leads him to use the gun he was fired over to shoot and murder them on the spot. He also finds out that Gotham has cut funding for mental health, meaning he will no longer be able to talk to any doctors or receive his medication.

Arthur also finds a new letter that Penny writes to Thomas Wayne that reveals that he possibly is in fact Arthur’s father. Arthur becomes understandably distraught that his mother never told him about this and he takes action into his own hands and visits Mr. Wayne himself. He is sent away by Alfred after he performs magic tricks for a young Bruce Wayne but Arthur is able to eventually track Mr. Wayne down in the bathroom of an old movie theater. This is when Mr. Wayne reveals to Arthur that Penny is actually mentally insane and adopted Arthur.

This leads him down an even deeper rabbit hole as he gains access to Penny’s personal medical files while she was incarcerated at Arkham Asylum. This is when he realizes that his adopted mother abused him as a child as he was tied to a radiator and beaten over the head. To make things worse, after Arthur finally has the courage to go on stage at a comedy club and pursue his dream of stand up comedy, the clip of him bombing on stage is found by famed talk show host “Murray Franklin” who mocks Arthur for his uncontrollable laughter and unfunny jokes. The stage is now set for Arthur as he slowly begins to realize that nobody actually cares about him and that his life has been a lie.

Arthur finding out the way he has been mistreated is ultimately what causes him to snap and seek revenge.

The more information Arthur receives about his life and the world around him, the more he boils and eventually reaches a breaking point. He first seeks revenge on his mother who is in the hospital as a result of a heart attack and suffocates her with a pillow. He then shortly after receives a phone call from a representative for “The Murray Franklin Show” who mentions that Murray wants to invite him to the show. As he’s getting ready for the show, a few former co-workers come by and visit Arthur just to check in on him to see how he was doing during these times. One of these co-workers, the man who gave the gun to Arthur, also framed him as he told their boss he asked him for the gun which was never the case. He gets revenge on this man and stabs him in the eye and throat with a pair of scissors, and the other co-worker, who happens to be a little person, runs away in fear.

In one of my favorite moments of the film, Arthur dismisses the man as he “had always been nice to him” and as he tries to leave, he realizes he can’t reach the lock on the door to open it. This is an incredibly suspenseful scene and one that seems accurate to the persona of the Joker. You never know what he wants to do next or how he’s going to treat his victims right before he ultimately does his worst onto them.

Arthur finally arrives on the set of the show afterward in his clown get up and he admits to everyone on national television that he was the one that in fact murdered the boys on the subway, a moment which this movie earlier explains has started a riot in the city of Gotham. Rioters wear clown masks and cause chaos on the streets as they finally begin to protest the horrible conditions they have been forced to suffer for so long.

Once Arthur admits to every one of his crimes, he challenges the audience’s horror as he says “if it were me being killed you’d walk right over me and no one would bat an eye”. He then shoots Murray Franklin in the face on national television and everyone runs away in horror. The movie ends with rioters lifting the Joker in celebration of everything he’s done for the common man and he is eventually incarcerated (likely at Arkham Asylum as well) where he murders a therapist there who only seeks to help Arthur.

Joker is a film that teaches you to love and respect others rather than incite pain and suffering onto them.

One of my favorite aspects of this movie is its themes about the actions we inflict on each other and the possible consequences of those actions. The truth is in this movie there are no good guys. Obviously Arthur Fleck is not a good person, but neither is Thomas Wayne, Penny Fleck, or even Murray Franklin. They all represent a form of evil that really shapes the chaos that is society in Gotham City. Thomas Wayne and Murray Franklin act as the rich elite who put on their own masks as they pretend to care about the working class below them in an effort to win the sympathy and respect of society. Penny and Arthur Fleck both represent the evil that rises as a result of a society that seemingly abandons those who need help the most.

One of the biggest messages I personally picked up from this movie is no matter who you are or where you stand in the world, always show love and respect to all your brothers and sisters around you. Your actions towards others really could mean more than you possibly realize. The film forces you to consider if looking down upon those less fortunate than ourselves leaves us responsible for the madness and chaos we bring onto others even if we aren’t the ones pulling the trigger. It’s understandable if some may find that idea abhorrent as that is admittedly a very controversial concept to promote.

I loved though that this movie actually had the balls to give this harsh reality check to its audience. It’s especially a different and even harsh take on the ongoing debate of what our government needs to do to prevent more mass shootings from occurring. I truly think we need a movie like this to really highlight what really causes a monster to rise and what we, the average person, can do to prevent it if the government refuses to get involved.

This film is very controversial but I would argue that Director Todd Phillips intentionally designed the movie to be this way.

Without delving too much into modern politics, this film widely ignores and even rebuts talking points that the MSM today chooses to continually regurgitate onto its viewers. The film is mostly anti-rich liberal elite and anti-media. One argument some commentators have pointed out is that the movie possibly argues against cancel culture when Murray Franklin mocks Arthur for his bad jokes on stage.

Although this is possible given that the director Todd Phillips did come out recently criticizing the sensitivity of “woke leftists” (as he puts it) when it comes to humor, I would argue this moment more serves as a way to express that big elite personalities really only care about the common man when they can benefit in viewership and profits. I think this is a bigger blow to obnoxious late-night talk show hosts like Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert who really only seem to discuss politics and issues in American society as a way to generate more viewership rather than toxic cancel culture that celebrities and random internet users love to promote.

Thomas Wayne too represents every fake politician who claims to serve the public but instead only really cares about themselves. Some may argue this is a blow to Donald Trump, and while that is the easy go-to person to compare Thomas Wayne to, I think it more accurately reflects the fake nature of any politician and even the MSM. The media similarly seems to only care about issues, just like late-night talk show hosts, to generate clicks and traffic onto their outlets.

The people of Gotham City are suffering from trash and rat infestation and all anyone can think about is how three white wall street boys were murdered on the subway. This hit home for me too because as someone who is from Los Angeles, I see the growing amount of trash on the streets due to homelessness and even the growing number of rats in the city. I just wished politicians did more to help these people and that the media reported on these issues more.

Los Angeles is a complete disaster at the moment and nobody really seems to be doing anything about it. In that way, I think Gotham City is very similar to Los Angeles and Phillips perhaps even developed this metaphor intentionally to criticize the current state of the city. This film is very timely and relevant to today’s world but it never feels like it’s pandering to you. You feel like a smarter person after you’ve watched it and truthfully it will get you to think about its themes long after you finished viewing the film. I’m still thinking about it now and I saw the movie a week ago. It will be interesting to see if this film holds up with time but I’m really happy that this movie has been an eye-opener for some.

Only time will tell if this movie holds up but as of now, I believe this movie is, in fact, a masterpiece.

I recently saw Ad Astra and thought that was my favorite movie of the year due to its visuals and complex characters, but this instead takes the cake for me. I will go so far as to say I believe at the moment that Joker is one of the best movies not only of the year, but the decade as well. I haven’t even mentioned yet that Joaquin Phoenix gave a phenomenal performance! He really understood the nature of Arthur Fleck’s character and embodies him so well. I forgot I was watching Joaquin Pheonix on the screen and believed I was seeing a character who is truly going mad. This film is powerful, intense, beautifully shot and at times challenging to watch. I think the fact that it is controversial and so divisive among critics is what makes this movie more special for me. I think movies that are masterpieces are going to be ones that really challenge the viewer to think in new ways while being presented in a beautiful and interesting way.

What may stop this movie from being a masterpiece in the future is that although this movie looks gorgeous as the colors are vibrant and vivid and the production design is lively and intricate, the film is admittedly somewhat basic when it comes to the cinematography. There were never any intricate or complex shots that I found myself really admiring, it mostly relies on its colors and the actors surrounding the environment to give it beauty. At that point, though this is me really reaching to find a flaw with it, but I still think this movie is wonderful. If you’ve made it to this point and still have not seen the movie yet, well what are you waiting for? Rush out and see this movie as soon as you can if you find yourself intrigued even in the slightest.

Also for all San Diegans and SDSU students, I want to personally recommend that you see this film at the Reading Cinemas at the Grossmont Center as I did in 70mm film. It’s only $10 for a ticket and there’s so much beauty to each and every one of these shots when presented on film that you simply are not going to get out of a digital showing. This blog is NOT sponsored by the cinema, it merely is a recommendation for film buffs in San Diego.

I know I said the word “society” a lot in this blog post, and I know it’s become such a meme to say “we live in a society” at this point I would feel embarrassed not to acknowledge it. So here you go, enjoy this meme:
Written by Christian Scognamillo
Follow me on

Letterboxd:
https://letterboxd.com/christianscogs/
Twitter:
https://twitter.com/christianscogs