Lockdown review - Joker
Directed by Todd Phillips (2019)
is an awkward kind of super-hero. He wasn’t born super. He didn’t
have super thrust upon him by some magical intervention. Unusually, he
achieved super thanks to regular trips to the gym, some fancy gadgets
and a shedload of inherited wealth by which he’s morally compromised
from the off.
amount of philanthropy can scratch the surface of either the tortured
world that surrounds him or his fathomless fortune. It’s only the
unalloyed badness of the fucked-up super-villains he confronts that
justifies his vigilante arrogance and assures his moral superiority.
makes Joker a dangerous film indeed. At its violent climax Arthur Fleck,
who has lately assumed the Joker persona, summarises the plot for the
benefit of those who haven’t been paying attention:
do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that
abandons him and treats him like trash? I’ll tell you what you get.
You get what you fuckin’ deserve!”
previous couple of hours are a forensic analysis of what makes a man
bad. Evil is not in the genes but amassed by increments: uncertain
parenthood, childhood abuse, physical and mental affliction, beatings
that continue into adulthood, deprivation, a broken welfare system and a
gun. That’s all it takes.
Arthur (Joaquin Phoenix) is, himself, a carer. He looks after his
mother, Penny (Frances Conroy) to whom he’s devoted – until another
increment is dealt and he smothers her with a pillow. Only then do we
wonder whether he could have shown mercy. But none of us are perfect.
on, Arthur turns his back on the camera and we see the harm carved into
his emaciated, warped body and we feel the horror, the threat, that
Frankenstein must have felt when he looked on his creature. We made
this. And once more America’s chickens are coming home to roost.
uses his body as a narrative machine. What begins broken and bowed is
healed and stretched as Arthur’s gathering madness fills his form with
a new, confident identity. “I used to
think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realise, it's a fucking
leaps and dances, performs Pierrot mime. The killing is his cure.
cure for society, too. Comparisons are readily drawn with Martin
Scorcese’s The King of Comedy but this more like another Scorcese
film, Taxi Driver.
bins are on strike in Gotham City and the rubbish is piling up on the
streets, symbolising a deeper moral disorder, and when he looks in the
mirror Arthur suddenly realises that he’s the solution as well as the
Taxi Driver (and the King of Comedy) was played by Robert DeNiro, which
makes Arthur/Joker’s slaying of DeNiro’s parasitical chat show host
Murray Franklin, a villain who feeds on ridiculing the vulnerable, a
good movie joke.
Murray who calls Arthur a “joker” as an insult, and Arthur assumes
the identity and turns it around against him, asking who decides
what’s funny and what’s not, who’s mad and who’s sane. Which is,
of course, a question of power.
Joker is not alone. He inspires an army of protesting clowns, themselves
adopting an identity that can be an insult, and his war against the
society that made him becomes a collective struggle.
superhero-to-be Bruce Wayne is fleeing the resulting riot with his
parents who, in that moment when Batman begins, are shot dead by an
anonymous me-too clown.
masked avenger’s lifetime mission to trump that joker originates not
simply in a crime but in an act of vengeance itself. And the antagonist
is not a bad individual but the representative of a multitude whose
madness is defined only by a civilisation gone bad.
surprisingly, in these crazy days, the tune that plays over the closing
credits is Send in the Clowns.
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