He came, he saw, and he left in a blaze of controversy. Todd Phillip’s ‘Joker’, starring Joaquin Phoenix, has been the subject of heated debate ever since its release in October 2019. The troubling and twisted story of a loner named Arthur Fleck, who struggles to hold on to the fraying ends of sanity, has polarised critics and the audience alike. It has been analyzed and dissected from every angle, some critics even accusing it of glorification of violence. Even after all this furor, what is it about this film that has garnered it nominations across 11 categories for the Academy Award nominations, up against heavyweights like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese’s films?
Joaquin Phoenix has already earned Best Actor for Critics Choice as well as Golden Globes. As history has shown, he is on the right trajectory for the Oscars. But there has been strong social media backlash and the uproar will get even stronger if ‘Joker’ blazes through the Oscars as well. But there’s time enough for that yet, and even though Joaquin Phoenix might win Best Actor, the film in all probability will not win Best Picture. It’s too bold and disturbing for the likes of Best Picture and it might lack consensus for the same.
The constant buzzing question, is ‘Joker’ just about an incel lamenting about how the world was unjust to him or was it a reflection of the troubled times we live in today? Or…could it be somewhere in between the two? Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck held up a troubling image of youth, tossed aside by a merciless society. He has suffered child abuse, the city’s services could not save him from his mother or her violent boyfriends. He cannot afford psychiatric help, there are budgetary constraints. He is a laughing stock in front of the world, and his hero (Robert De Niro) is the reason for it. Joaquin’s hollow guffaw mirrors Arthur Fleck’s hidden rage, and its the only response he has to everything around him. But, is that still a justification for the path he chooses? The answer isn’t entirely clear.
Flawed as it might be, ‘Joker’ is deeply unsettling. There is enough happening around the world for people to relate with the angst and bottled fury dished out in ‘Joker’. There is enough despair around us, going by the current state of affairs. Unemployment, climate disasters and the general dissent against governments in various countries. Some of us are just trying to survive and make this world livable, even though it is intent on its own self-destruction.
So again, what is it about this bold film about a notorious comic book villain that has led to its high praise or complete condemnation?