“Joker” A Film for Its Season

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At this writing, I am still able to count the hours since I sat through “Joker.” The experience was somewhere between impressive and appalling. Both, really.

Given that this dark, violent origin story of the Batman-saga villain has grossed well over $200 million domestically and more than $700 million worldwide, it’s no stretch to think that many of you who read this feel the same. “Joker” director Todd Phillips has called this psychological, controversial work “a way to sneak in a real movie in the studio system under the guise of a comic book film.”

Does “Joker,” as has been posited, strongly humanize a victim of bullying and other forms of abuse to explain, if not justify, the evil he commits? Could it inspire real people, especially those mentally ill, to react similarly? Does it reflect current external societal realities? Does it include an incredible, Oscar-worthy lead performance by Joaquin Phoenix? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

I can’t unreservedly recommend that everyone see “Joker,” for not everyone will be able to handle it. This is a powerful mix of “A Clockwork Orange” and “Taxi Driver” (with the latter’s protagonist, Robert De Niro, on hand in an only slightly more sympathetic guise).

What I can say is that, in 10 or 50 or 100 years, people will look back at “Joker” and deem it a product of its times. That will be a compliment to the movie, not to the time. If we have fallen into a mess of inequity-driven class warfare, rotting infrastructure and incompetent leadership, then this is what we deserve. People ask if movies are a driver of culture or merely a reflection of it; in the case of “Joker,” it’s what we allowed to happen first that mattered more.

Now for some better news … including Flint Institute of Arts film selections for November that take viewers to China, Canada, Scotland and San Francisco.

In the Friends of Modern Art series pick for November 8-10, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” an African American man reared there returns to reclaim his childhood home, only to find that the city he loves has changed with the times and left him behind. Director Joe Talbot’s indie drama already has been lauded as one of 2019’s best movies – “should have Oscar written all over it,” proclaims Deadline Hollywood.

On November 15-17, there’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” and we don’t mean the Eugene O’Neill play. This, instead, is an epic Chinese drama about an aged man who returns to his roots and recalls the death of old friends and the ache of lost love.

Also on the FOMA schedule (visit FlintArts.org for more info) are “Wild Rose” (November 22-24), in which a musician from Glasgow yearns to achieve the unlikely goal of country stardom in Nashville, and “The Fall of the American Empire” (November 29-December 1), a crime comedy about an insecure delivery-truck driver and bumbling detectives in Montreal.

“The Fall of the American Empire”? That could be an alternate title for “Joker.”

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