Todd Phillips, USA 2019 – When it was announced some time ago that Hangover director Todd Phillips would be making a film about The Joker, my interest could hardly have been less. The fact that the great Joaquin Phoenix was to play the leading role didn’t change that . It wasn’t until the trailer aroused my curiosity. And when the hype really picked up speed with the awarding of the Golden Lion in Cannes, I jumped on the train – although as a precaution I stayed in the back compartment. That was probably the right decision, because that’s how I was surprised in the cinema – in a positive sense. And overwhelmed.
The very beginning is a festival and perfectly captures the essence of Joker. Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is sitting in front of a mirror, preparing for his job as a solo entertainer, clown and advertising mascot. The face white, the lips red, the eyes painted black. However, his smile is more important than the make-up – and Arthur is clearly having trouble with that. The fingers pull the corners of the mouth upwards until it hurts, a lonely tear flows. This man makes a good face for a bad game, for an eternity. Because his life in criminal and littered Gotham City is difficult. Arthur struggles with ungrateful odd jobs, has weekly therapy and takes care of his schizophrenic mother. He’s supposed to make people laugh, she always says. But how is that supposed to work in such a hostile world?
Usually Arthur is the only one who laughs. Involuntarily. Because Arthur suffers from a neurological disorder: At the most inopportune moments he can burst into laughter. The worst thing about a mental illness is that people expect you to behave as if you don’t have one, is one of the sentences that Arthur writes in his diary and notebook and thus sums up the dilemma of his existence: He wants to belong to society – but it won’t let him. When his therapy is canceled, he loses his job and his mother falls ill, the seemingly inevitable path begins for Arthur into the abyss of madness and crime.
Calling Joker a superhero movie creates false expectations. After all, this genre has been dominated by the colorful pop-pourri of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in recent years. Joker is the exact opposite: a dark, pessimistic, even cynical character study, the portrait of a person, of an extreme case, whom fate hits harder than anyone else. The film offers the audience empathetic access to this figure, without, however, stylizing his actions as heroic or worthy of imitation. Because as much as Arthur justifies his actions, the film refuses to give itself a final evaluation and instead leaves it to the viewer.
The central point of conflict is the social rift between the elites and the lower class, which becomes wider and wider in the course of the plot. On the one hand there is Thomas Wayne as a representative of a neoliberal system in which everyone should be responsible for their own well-being and is left to their own devices. On the other hand, the poor and the marginalized are just waiting for the trigger needed to hit the barricades. Such a constellation means that Joker is of course a political film. And that anyone looking for a statement will find one. However, to assume that Joker incites hatred of the elite and propagates violence as the only possible solution is too simple. The film can be read more as a warning. Who doesn’tseeks a political punchline and instead allows ambivalence and nuances, realizes that the categories good and bad are completely dissolved here. Joker celebrates the ambiguous and asks numerous questions without giving answers. You could say that this is where his strength lies.
The subjunctive is necessary because Joker’s true qualities can be found elsewhere. Above all in the outstanding performance of the main actor, who hereby delivers the (preliminary) performance of his life and gives the Joker another, unforgettable interpretation for the cinema chronicles. It pursues a different approach than that of Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight , but is at least equal to him. Ledger turned the clown into an unapproachable, wild anarchist. Phoenix embodies him as a Kafkaesque figure who collapses under the weight of their surroundings and finds a way out of the excess of violence. The Dark Knight Joker used make-up as war paint for the Joker-Joker it is the mask that he needs to cope with his environment. Body language is at least as impressive as facial expressions (with which Phoenix effortlessly convey joy and inner pain at the same time). Arthur’s hypnotic dance routines are a meditative act to regain control over yourself. And the wounds on the emaciated torso, the times that this “increasingly crazy” world has inflicted on him.
Even if Phillips is a little bit violent in the intimate moments with the music (more cello is not possible), the staging allows no other word than: excellent. Such a dirty and at the same time so un-comic-like Gotham, in which “You are not welcome here” seems to echo from every street corner, is a novelty. Cameraman Lawrence Sher captures these backdrops with a lot of down-to-earth quality and in clear images that clearly focus on the characters. So it doesn’t matter if the script suffers acutely from over-explanation in two moments: Thanks to the subsequent shots and pointed acoustics, such weak points in the plot are quickly forgotten. And last but not least, Robert De Niro hasFinally it deserves praise again: His embodiment of the late-night presenter, father substitute and co-antagonist Murray Franklin is more than just a bow to the two cinematic models Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy . It’s actually really good.
Joker is not a perfect movie. Especially in terms of the script. And yet: How he superimposes the intensity of a character drama on the character of the Joker, frees her (at least a little) of its meme-like character and turns it into a character whose development leaves the viewer completely immersed, is one of the most impressive cinema experiences recent past. An un-perfect feat.
Movie streaming: Joker