THE JOKER is a blockbuster, and the likes of the New York Times and Guardian loathe it. Reviews of any film on the downtrodden usually get a favourable press, whatever the cinematic qualities and violence for the cause is excused if not endorsed. But apparently, Todd Phillips’ Joker is too dangerous. Why? Because it’s an insurrection movie, and the target is the metropolitan elite.
Set in Gotham City in the 1980s, Joker mirrors the current social divide, warning of a mighty backlash by the common people against a self-serving political and cultural establishment. Extreme violence is meted out by the disturbed and downbeat Arthur to those who humiliated him: arrogant bankers, lying politicians and the media circus.
I rarely go to the cinema these days, and was reminded why when I sat through trailers of Hollywood offerings that force PC messages down our throats: a feminist movie Birds of Prey in which multiple men are smashed by the heroines, and a female Terminator. Only the woke male can enjoy a night at the flicks.
But rejoice – Joker is an antidote. A clown teases a dwarf colleague: ‘When you guys play miniature golf, do you call it ‘miniature golf’, or just ‘golf’?’ Like me, the bloke on my left laughed, but the young women to my right shuddered. I felt like a naughty boy in the classroom. And what’s that 70s glam rock track I haven’t heard for ages? Literally dressed to kill, Arthur prances to the opening drum salvo of ‘Rock’n’Roll Part II’, a banished hit by jailed paedophile Gary Glitter. Perhaps Phillips was adding fuel to the fire, but he could have chosen alleged kiddy-fiddler Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal, and no liberal eyelids would have batted. Calls for a boycott have gone unheeded: the picture-houses are packed.
The Guardian has published numerous reviews, which top Google algorithm-biased search results. Peter Bradshaw dismissed it as ‘the most disappointing film of the year’. After a triple killing on the subway, ‘the film loses your interest, with tedious and forced material about Joker’s supposed triggering of an anti-capitalist, anti-rich movement’. That’s not the reaction I observed. But Bradshaw found that ‘the film somehow manages to be desperately serious and very shallow’. As a member of the intelligentsia, he’s thinking too much.
Another Guardian review by Charles Bramesco, titled ‘Why so stupid: how Joker is too juvenile to be provocative’, demonised the director: –
‘This is, no other word for it, Trump-speak. His clumsy circumlocution reflects a desire to wriggle out from answering for the consequences of one’s own choices, a basic inability to make a defense masquerading as a defense. Phillips wishes to enjoy the notoriety of a button-pusher without taking the heat, to make a movie about morality without discussion of morals, to be provocative without answering the question of what’s being provoked. He’d like to have it both ways, confronting his viewers with stark truths and then demurring all who-me once it’s time to reckon with their implications. In actuality, the film can’t manage either, too immature to jolt and too simplistic about its own rotten side to exonerate itself. It won’t single-handedly make the world a more violent place – just a slightly uglier, more unpleasant one.’
The tiredness of woke reviewers was further displayed by AO Scott in the New York Times: –
‘To be worth arguing about, a movie must first of all be interesting: it must have, if not a coherent point of view, at least a worked-out, thought-provoking set of themes, some kind of imaginative contact with the world as we know it. Joker, an empty, foggy exercise in second-hand style and second-rate philosophizing, has none of that. Besotted with the notion of its own audacity – as if willful unpleasantness were a form of artistic courage – the film turns out to be afraid of its own shadow, or at least of the faintest shadow of any actual relevance….It’s hard to say if the muddle Joker makes of itself arises from confusion or cowardice, but the result is less a depiction of nihilism than a story about nothing. The look and the sound – cinematography by Lawrence Sher, cello-heavy score by Hildur Gudnadottir – connote gravity and depth, but the movie is weightless and shallow. It isn’t any fun, and it can’t be taken seriously. Is that the joke?’
On Spiked, Fraser Myers observed that Joker’s critics have invented reasons to dislike the film: –
‘These are not normal times. Art and films, in particular, are now judged by both time-rich tweeters and professional critics as much on their adherence to woke standards and their political messages as on their artistic merit. And Joker has caused an enormous transatlantic stir for failing to live up to these new moral standards….Critics seem to imagine its intended audience is made up of ‘incels’ – a niche grouping of sexless, basement-dwelling millennial internet trolls.’
Some critics resort to accusations of racism, without a shred of evidence. Richard Brody in the New Yorker saw ‘an intensely racialised movie, a drama awash in racial iconography that is so prevalent in the film, so provocative, and so unexamined as to be bewildering’. As the victims in Joker are not actually black, Brody accuses Phillips of ‘whitewashing’!
‘The backlash’, Myers noted, ‘has been madder than Joker himself’. Anthony Lane, another New Yorker, pursued some reconciliation with truth: –
‘Joker has its own political poise. Lest it be accused of right-wing inflammation, allowance is made for issues more congenial to the left. Cuts to welfare, we are told, will soon block Arthur’s access to therapy and medication, and the movie’s plea for the downtrodden to be given their rightful say harks back to Frank Capra and Chaplin.’
Yet this acknowledgement merely confirms the liberal flight from reality. The New Yorker is ignorant of the current schism, which is not the traditional Left versus Right. The selfish virtue-signalling snob class stole the lower orders’ political representatives (Labour in Britain, Democrats in the US), and so the natives are restless.
After seeing this disturbing yet invigorating movie, I saw an Economist editorial, another anti-populism tirade titled ‘Down with the people’. But more and more people are thinking ‘Down with the establishment’. As the film reaches its climax in a mass riot, the chanting sounded to me like ‘Brexit now!’ Joker is a cultural moment.