A deep dive into the most underwhelming film of the decade
By Michael Mac Callum
In one of the first scenes in “Joker,” our lead chases some kids into an alley full of garbage and gets jumped. That’s how I felt while watching this movie: like I was surrounded by garbage and being attacked by terrible content, my only saving grace being the end credits. The cinematography was mostly shallow; the writing was dragged out; and the portrayal of the character was misaligned compared to the rest of the Joker cannon.
One of my first major complaints is the actual portrayal of the character Joker. The Joker, or Arthur Fleck, is supposed to be this goofy clown who can make light of any situation. Instead, throughout the entire movie we see this whiny and irritating boy, rather than the clown we were looking for; but, I guess if you are looking for a clown, you should be heading to the writing room of this awful film anyways.
The film takes place in a city in the fictional city of Gotham, New Jersey in 1981. The city is currently undergoing many problems; the government is cutting funds to public facilities like mental health clinics for those who can’t pay for those services, which leads to an increasingly prevalent gap between the upper and lower class of the city. The city has also been experiencing garbage strikes and “super rat” infestations which help provide the grimy and dark vibe the city holds. The main character, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), is a mentally unstable man who was let out of a mental institution to stay with his mother (Frances Conroy) in an old broken down apartment complex in a sad and dark part of Gotham.
There are a very few well-orchestrated pieces of this cinematic disaster that are worth pointing out. The first is the way the music reflects the character development of our lead.
Fleck begins to see himself fitting into his own skin after his subway shooting and becomes confident in himself. We see this as right after he commits the shooting when he locks himself into a bathroom and breaks into dance, his dance is slow and melodic to a solemn song by Hildur Guðnadóttir named “Bathroom Dance” it consists of slow violins and quite bassy drums. This leads to a very suspenseful and memorable scene as Fleck embraces himself for the first time.
There are a few positive moments in the cinematography; but, they are unfortunately overshadowed by the rest of the cinematography, which is simply not well-done.
In one of the most impactful scenes we see Fleck on the set of the Murray Franklin show. The scene consists of various over the shoulder shots as well as one wide shot that they often cut back to. When Fleck walks up to the camera and tries to speak it cuts to an error message. This shows us that this scene was supposed to be showing us the camera view of the show, but then why were there so many over the shoulder shots which would have been impossible for the show’s camera crew?
The movie ends with the Joker being rescued by protestors; he stands on a mangled police car and dances for a while, then embraces the crowd. The shot for this scene was abysmal, it was too far away to see anything of importance. I suppose this makes sense considering they wanted to catch the scope of the crowd but it makes Fleck seem small compared to the people who look up to him instead of him being the centerpiece of the movement, which he is. The movie is riddled with shots like this.
We then get two additional endings that nobody asked for. We see him in the same room his mother was in when she was in the mental facility, talking to someone then eventually leaving with bloody shoes. While it is interesting to see how he has become similar to his mother, nobody asked for another ending.
Additionally, when you think the movie is finally over we see an excellent dolly shot of Bruce Wayne standing between his dead parents as we pan out to show how big the world is compared to this small, scared, parentless, child. This would have been a beautiful ending, if the movie was about Batman. This movie is about Joker, and his ascension to Supervillian status, not about Batman. So showing young Bruce Wayne at the end like this completely contradicts the premise of the entire movie.
Additionally, this is the THIRD ending to the movie. The script-writers and directors really need to choose an ending and stick with it. Having multiple different endings makes the movie confusing and was honestly quite a disappointment. I waited two whole hours for this movie to end just for them to bait me into thinking it was ending two seperate times.
Overall, this movie does not deserve anything above a 5/10; it was mediocre at best. It had some good shots but over-all boring cinematography. The writing seems very drawn out and the movie could have easily been an hour and a half if not shorter. The portrayal of the character was not completely accurate to existing lore and, honestly, I would have rather spent that two hours watching grass grow because at least then I could learn something.
Featured image art credit: Hersson Piratoba