Joker – The Failure of A Social Commentary
November 4, 2019
Since the trailer for Todd Phillips’ Joker arrived in April, fervent comic book fans and film buffs alike have been buzzing with anticipation for the movie adaptation of origin story of the infamous Batman villain. For the past few weeks, the talk around Joker has been inescapable. Despite opening to mixed reviews, Joker has quickly cultivated a devoted fanbase who praise the movie’s social commentary, cinematography, and performances. After hearing the hype around the movie, I was both skeptical and excited. Most superhero movies in recent years have had little substance, packing in two-and-a-half hours of action and occasional witty jokes but no deeper meaning other than bringing in box-office sales. Judging by the trailers, Joker seemed to have a little more substance than the typical Marvel or DC movie. So, I headed to the theater to see if the movie lived up to its fan’s praise.
Admittedly, both the cinematography and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as the titular Joker are praise-worthy. The film’s saturated color palette is a refreshing take on the typical drab, gritty colors used in most superhero movies. During the climax of the movie, the shots used to show Joker evading the police inside a train car of rioters is especially impressive, crafting the aura of chaos that is at the core of Joker’s character. Phoenix, a now well-renowned actor, does his absolute best with the script he was given. His portrayal allows the audience to empathize with the Joker, a psychopathic mass-murderer who no one would typically feel sorrow for.
Despite its positives, however, I left the theater thoroughly unimpressed. My main problem with the film was its lack of any real meaning. Although director Todd Phillips has stated that the movie is left ambiguous in order to make the viewers think, Phillips’ attempt to create an impactful film fails. Upon my viewing of Joker, I was hard pressed to find any real social commentary. Most of the messages that the film attempted to convey came through as muddled, painfully forced social commentary that left no room for the audience to think for themselves.
Joker was far from subtle. When Todd Phillips wanted an idea conveyed, he forced it down the throats of viewers, using hokey, on the nose dialogue that felt more at home for a teen drama than a character study. Issues would be brought up and then never addressed again, leaving no room for an underlying theme. Joker desperately wanted to tackle current social issues, but it took on so many that the film could only touch briefly on the surface of each before moving on, leaving a superficial mess of a movie in its wake. Despite the movie’s insistence that “This means something!”, its overabundance of themes leaves the film meaning nothing.
Despite the film’s clumsiness, it masquerades as something that is far bigger than itself. The movie believes that it’s a think piece on society, when it’s really just a jumble of disjointed scenes from the point of view of a man who’s on the brink of insanity. Some may enjoy their movies to be condescending, but it’s personally not my cup of tea. If you’re looking for a film about a man grappling with a society who’s displaced him, just watch Taxi Driver instead.