Is it necessary to be afraid of Arthur Fleck, as feared by his American cinemas and special services, which introduced special security measures at the screenings of “The Joker”? No, because its creator Todd Phillips is afraid of himself, believes Dmitry Komm.
“The Joker,” which received an eight-minute standing ovation in Venice and won the Golden Lion, was also the first film in history based on the Batman comics, which received an age rating of R in America (in Russia – 18). In other words, this is the first film in the Batman universe that children can’t. Moreover, some cinemas in the U.S. generally refused to show it, afraid of possible excesses, and the largest movie chain Landmark Theaters just in case banned the audience in Joker costumes. The NYPD and the Los Angeles Police Department reported increased patrols in movie theater areas showing the painting. Finally, the U.S. Army began to inform the military of the possibility of acts of violence during the film’s demonstration and to give them instructions. That’s really a bomb movie.
“The Joker” is indeed a powerful charge of negative energy, spectacularly packaged and released in the face of the viewer in the classic American no-nonsense-style (i.e. straight, head-on and without a hitch), which undermines the hero’s jester nature, but increases depression Actions. In aesthetics, it is a pastiche for the cinema of the “Hollywood Renaissance” era, averaged by Scorsese-Friedkin-Lumet de Palma of the 1970s. That was probably the only period in the history of American cinema when nihilism and pessimism broke into the mainstream and briefly swept it. The old American mythology collapsed, the scum of society became heroes and role models (popularity of perverted glam rock and punk in megacities), and social authorities turned out to be scoundrels (Watergate scandal). So the choice of director and co-writer Todd Phillips of this style, which included an unpolished chaotic picture, often shot by a hand-held camera, an abundance of filming on city streets with minimal use of the pavilion, spontaneous flashes violence on the screen and the unpredictability of the characters’ reactions is absolutely meaningful, and its embodiment – accurate and subtle.
Phillips resolutely rejects the temptation of extravagant scenery and futuristic design. His Gotham is simply New York, but not modern, and the late 1970s – early 1980s, with old cars on the streets, pre-flood phones with a giant answering machine and Peter Medak’s film “The Blue Blade” (1981) in theaters. The latter is a mockery of the original Batman story, where the Wayne family watched the classic “Sign of Zorro” (1940). In Medak’s hooligan interpretation, the masked masked masked meach becomes gay, and in one of the climax scenes he dresses up as a woman. In other words, zorro turns out to be a great joker (The Joker).
However, the Joker himself in the new version is not a joker. He is not witty at all, you can laugh at him, but not at his jokes. Arthur Fleck, the future Joker, appears before us apathetic and sick age infantile, living in a cluttered apartment with a dementia-like mother and fantasizing about a paternal figure in the form of the popular TV presenter Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro ). Even his bouts of creepy laughter are just the result of a mental disorder.
If the Joker, played by Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger, was a demonic mockingbird who joked about evil jokes with other people, then Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is the one that life itself laughed at. His Joker is not a powerful villain, but a man who has been completely defeated capitulated to his illness, bitterness, worthlessness. The film rigidly and even cynically captures the process of this surrender, deliberately depriving the Joker of the aura of metaphysical evil. In this revisionist concept, Arthur Fleck might look like a tragic hero, but he’s too weak to do so. Even his intention to leave beautifully, to find meaning in death he is unable to realize. The Joker is insignificant and therefore dangerous. In fact, Joaquin Phoenix plays the walking embodiment of Nietzschean reference, powerless malice on fate and superior enemy, sublimated in total denial of any values.
Despite the highly authentic stylization of 1970s cinema, “The Joker” is a modern film that is hard to fully understand outside the context of the current American cultural wars. In some scenes (for example, at a psychiatrist’s appointment) he looks like a satire on Trump’s conditional voter, as he sees a conventional liberal, in others, on the contrary, a parody of the horror of this liberal, who thinks that half the country put on clown masks, chose a redhead clown president and ready to lynch the entire establishment (including movie-tv) right on the street. In this context, it is curious that when the Joker finds his real “me,” he ceases to portray the brutal hero of “Taxi Driver”. He begins to shake his hips, make mannered gestures, long-look from under painted eyelids and generally behaves like a diva, which can suddenly recall the manners of Milo Yiannopoulos, who was a hybrid stand-up comedian and right-wing political agitator and, By the way, calling Trump a “daddy.” However, the Joker’s hairstyle is clearly worse, and Yiannopoulos’s jokes were funnier. Todd Phillips himself ironized in an interview with TheWrap: “It amazes me how easily the far-left can perform in the style of the far-right if it is in their best interest”
The Joker may well become a symbol of the present era. The story of a bullied and embittered loner in a big city, unbelieving and feeling betrayed by the establishment and the rulers of the doom, has already resonated in the souls of millions of viewers around the world, so the film has collected more than 250 million dollars in global box office, and its fees continue to rise. As far as this image is relevant today, one fact can say: on the other side of the world, in China, now very popular artist Yue Minjun, the characters of paintings (which are stylized self-portraits of the artist) are rocking in the same sneering smirk, reminiscent of the Joker’s smile. Yue Minjun himself states that in this way he makes fun of the installation “be happy and smile” which is promoted in Chinese society.
However, political and cultural projections would not work so effectively if the creators of “The Joker” did not have a close knowledge of the cinematic tradition and did not know how to use its tropes for their own purposes. The bright play of Joaquin Phoenix is extremely important, but no less significant role in the success played by the camera work of Lawrence Sher. The manner of shooting in the 1970s was very different from the one adopted today, and Cher had to try hard to give the picture the desired look. Scattered throughout the film numerous quotations – from “Evil Streets” and “Dog’s Noon” to “Flight Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “King of Comedy” – reflect and work on a general message of the picture, rather than serve as quotations for the sake of quotations, inserted into the film to entertain moviegoers. Phillips himself claims to have been inspired by hundreds of paintings created between 1973 and 1981. It is the school and craftsmanship – the key factors for culture – that make The Joker one of the most significant contemporary films and are responsible for its triumph, not the mythical “propaganda of violence” that cinema managers and police officers are so afraid of. .
It is difficult to recall another similar case when the film was seriously accused of promoting street violence. Except for “Clockwork Orange,” seized from a UK box office at the urging of Stanley Kubrick himself, who was embarrassed by two murders inspired, according to the accused (schoolchildren!), his painting. Or the “Battle for Algeria” of Pontecorvo, with documentary authenticity describing the course of Algeria’s struggle for secession from France – first terrorist, then national and unarmed. “Battle” diligently watched the American “Black Panthers” as a textbook on urban guerillas. But in both cases it is necessary to take into account the socio-political context: ultraviolence on the streets of American ghettos and the stagnant industrial centers of Britain of the 1970s took place without any cinema. Lack of money, unemployment, lack of future… Social explosions always have far more prosaic reasons than art, no matter how much the playwright-revolutionary Berthold Brecht dreams of the audience coming out of the performances, “fiercely gesticulating towards the windows”. The closest case to us “Natural Killers”: Stone’s film based on Tarantino’s script was called the source of inspiration of several mass murderers (including schoolchildren from Columbine), but here we are dealing with the most perfect psychopathology, caused rather organic, not cultural, reasons.
The imaginary danger of “The Joker” is completely neutralized and the final scene in the hospital, a compromise, as if pasted in the picture censored by the Hayes Code, which prohibited leaving the crime without punishment. Todd Phillips justifies her figure as an unreliable narrator and a desire to make the film open to interpretation. Fans have really composed already many versions of the ending, one more fantastic than the other. I will follow their example and offer my own version: the director himself was afraid of the radicalism of his own creation and tried to soften it. But, anyway, after an apocalyptic scene of street riots and a brilliant metaphor in the form of a smile drawn in blood, the finale of “The Joker” makes you remember Saltykov-Shedrin: “He was expected to have a lot of bloodsheds, and he ate a sneeze.” The real “Hollywood Renaissance” is still a thing of the past.