Watching Joker with one eye closed


Photo © Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros

Uneasiness is hard to get right in a film. Too much or too little can completely change the tone of a movie and determine whether or not people keep watching. Any film can throw in a gory death or a scene glorifying sexual assault and try to pass it off. Horror films are famous for that, and they usually end up being a disgusting scene that causes people to turn off the movie. Although, some movies just start right out of the gate with this oppressive tone that dominates the film. 

In Hereditary, the movie starts off with a child being decapitated. This in itself is a lot, but then, the rest of the film is watching a mentally ill family verbally abuse each other, and it can be exhausting to watch. However, Hereditary does it right by providing amazing acting, lighting and a set that matches the film. Joker is able to follow Hereditary’s footsteps. It isn’t a perfect film, but it’s able to establish a tone and narrative and stick with it for a two-hour run time.

The movie opens by telling us the city is on a garbage strike. Trash is piling up everywhere around the city, and the government isn’t doing anything about it. The city and its citizens are crying out for someone to save them, and no one can. They ask the wealthy, most notably Thomas Wayne, and to answer, he calls the lower class “clowns.” This is something that particularly resonated with me as a poor college student. Why don’t the wealthy do something? This fuel begins the fire that slowly burns the whole movie.

After setting the tone for the entire city, the movie dives into the main character, Arthur Fleck. Fleck is many things, but happy isn’t one of them. He’s a for-hire party clown, mentally ill and most importantly, not funny. 

Arthur gets beat up by teenagers, seemingly for fun, in his introduction, and you begin to understand how sad his life is. He’s struggling with his mental health and sees a therapist who is underpaid and doesn’t care. He still lives with and takes care of his ill mother, adding on physical exhaustion to pair with his mental exhaustion. He’s abused by his coworkers and then fired from his job.

On top of all this, Fleck has a condition that makes him laugh uncontrollably during inappropriate times. Some scenes in this movie are already awkward, but then, hearing the soundtrack of screaming laughter over it is almost too much to bear, but it’s not, because of the production.

The colors in this movie make it feel grimy, as if a layer of grease is over the lens of the camera. This setting lets you know what kind of city you’re in and who lives there. Joaquin Phoenix plays his role perfectly, portraying a lonely man who has definitely been dealt a bad hand but exacerbates the problem by just being creepy. He pushes away coworkers who don’t like him and loses himself completely in fantasies that won’t happen. When those don’t work, the fantasies turn violent. It’s an amazing weight that balances out the guilt you might feel. At the end of the day, Fleck is still someone who chooses to deal with his problems in psychopathic ways. 

Joker does that amazing thing where you can only watch the movie through the gaps your fingers leave while covering your eyes without the gore or violence for a shock. The ending finally fully lets the flame of madness in Gotham City burn while its lower-class citizens of clowns make it bigger.