“The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”Arthur Fleck
Joker abandons the formulaic comicbook movie to widen the canvas in another strong argument against the connected universe that DC has fumbled in its attempt to chase Marvel’s success; the result is unrelentingly bleak, uncomfortable viewing but utterly mesmerising. The film will be divisive less because of controversial content than because of expectations about how its titular subject will be explored. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is extraordinary, his emaciated contortion as unsettling as his wild laughter and introspective gaze. However, despite the extreme close-ups and unreliable perspective, the script does not really delve deeply into Joker’s psyche — instead it reflects society’s treatment of such an individual: the ostracisation and abandonment of the mentally ill. The character’s violent acts are brutal and shocking, never cathartic or glorified, with Fleck openly eschewing any political purpose ascribed by others, but the film invites us to understand how they occur. Todd Phillips channels Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, de Niro’s presence making no secret of these inspirations. Fleck’s talk show appearance reflects society’s willingness to mock and exploit the vulnerable (reality TV being particularly guilty), shying away when it becomes awkward rather than entertaining, as if the person has suddenly become an affront to our sensibilities. Joker is at its weakest when tying itself into the Batman universe, cursory scenes with a young Bruce Wayne serving no real purpose. I also wish the film had found a more a focused ending to demonstrate whether Phillips’ vision was driven by intent rather than accidental, but this is unsettling, haunting cinema in the very best way.