This is what I get for not liking You Were Never Really Here. I thought it was a silly, masturbatory exercise that rode an on-the-nose Joaquin Phoenix performance as a violent weirdo. Thanks, Todd Phillips, for showing how much worse that template could be used. 

This is Taxi Driver for people who couldn’t be bothered to think too hard about it. A misinformed, high school nihilist’s view of the world with Batman stapled onto it. The Nolan Batman movies laid the groundwork for movies about a guy in a bat costume that take themselves way too seriously, and this is the next logical step. The world as seen through this lens is a cartoon, where any resemblance to reality is overshadowed by relentless, overdramatic cruelty to the point of ridiculousness. I suppose that’s necessary in order to create a place where the result of Arthur Fleck’s journey is to become a criminal mastermind super villain who can only be stopped by Batman. 

There’s something in here attempting to latch onto the current mood regarding systemic inequality and the concentration of wealth into the hands of few. That’s an issue that deserves a far better treatment than “scary guy gets pushed to Death Wish insanity and everyone follows suit.” Phillips is attempting to say something about some sort of common thing lurking around in all of society, and it doesn’t resonate at all. The umpteenth iteration of the culture’s fetish for murdering Batman’s parents doesn’t do anyone any favors. 

Joaquin Phoenix is going to get a lot of plaudits for his performance here. I personally am getting tired of body modification in order to play sociopaths being a fast lane into critical acclaim. It’s impressive, sure, that Phoenix did the Machinist thing and starved himself into looking frightening. And that spastic laughter thing he does is a good trick. As a performance? What is it that someone is being called to do when they play this role, exactly? Where’s anything resembling nuance or the ability to convey emotion without screaming and waving your arms? This character has been done so many times now, and I’m thinking part of the reason is that it’s an opportunity to turn the ham up to eleven in an environment where you’ll be praised for going entirely apeshit without a whole lot of consideration. 

This thing ends with the titular Joker ranting directly at a television camera, directly delivering his message at the audience in a way that reminds me of last year’s ill-advised Dick Cheney monologue in Vice. It depresses the shit out of me that we seem unable to have a conversation about anything of import without things being explained directly at us by fucking Batman. Knowing that this character’s ultimate destiny is to become a comic book super villain undercuts any seriousness this may have had. Better fund Medicare or you’ll be infested with Riddlers or some shit. Christ.

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