The film JOKER, starring Joaquin Phoenix and (co-written) and directed by Todd Phillips, came out in 2019. It is probably one of the best films I’ve ever seen. The writing, direction, acting, cinematography… Everything —all the elements— are just right.
At first, Arthur Fleck (Joker) is pretty much 'lit', cinematography wise. As the story unfolds he gets cast more and more in shadow, while simultaneously choosing that darker side of him. When he laughs, he’s really in pain. When he cries, he’s actually happy. When those kids start kicking him in the beginning of the film, he instinctively protects both his crotch and the back of his head, suggesting he’s been beat up more often. When he walks up those long stairs home, he appears to be carrying the weigh of the world on his shoulders.
When he does something terrible (that scene in the metro) and runs away, that shadow side (literally) catches up with him as he runs through the tunnel. That is the moment in the film where the old Arthur has completely vanished and only that darker side of him remains.
When he later walks down those long stairs (instead of up) he dances, as light as a feather, embracing and acknowledging who he really is. Visually everything here is really subtle, and most won’t even notice it (except on a subconscious level they will (that is the real power of cinematography and film in general).
Anyway, this movie made me realise (again) why I love film so much. Not just for the elements I mentioned above that are pure art and storytelling, but also because of the slightly more underlying elements, or theme of the story.
I believe Joker is not just mirroring the exterior world of a 1980’s New York City, with its crumbling economy and neoliberalism policies, all linked together with the interior world of the rapidly deteriorating mind of protagonist Arthur, but also a terrific example of a fictional film that perfectly mirrors a time that we (two years ago, pre-corona pandemic) were living in at that time. I believe that nearly every movie that is being made, reflects on some level the time in which we are living in at that moment.
Arthur is a psychologically troubled man, in dire need of proper healthcare, due to his mental health condition. Because of budget cuts, he’s not getting the right healthcare that he deserves and needs anymore. He’s spit out by society and eventually has no place to go.
Thomas Wayne (the father of Bruce Wayne who is still a child here, but who will later become Batman, according to previous lore) is not portrayed as a philanthropist, but quite the opposite instead, in the film Joker. Kind of reflecting a Donald Trump like character, I suppose, where Mr. Wayne is also has a lot of power and is responsible for the healthcare cuts (and many more things that make life for the poorer people uncomfortable to say the least).
It’s elements like this in a movie that, for me, make fiction films great. There’s always elements of something real in there. Sometimes at the surface, very often not. But it’s nearly always there.
I’ve been considering doing a master degree in film sciences. If I decide to do so (time and money; always a thing), I just might dive into the story, character and theme elements within fictional movies/screenplays that reflect the times we are/were actually living in during the time the film was made, as my thesis.