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Question Club: the best and worst Joker debate topics

Todd Phillips & # 39; prankster was one of the most talked about films of the year, partly because it was controversial before it was even made. When the movie was first announced, not long after the disastrous DC movie Suicide team revealed his own cinematic view of the Joker character, a vocal sub-segment of the film world rebelled at the idea of ​​restarting the villain, and protested DC's interest in focusing on him at the expense of so many other characters.

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But when the Phillips film began to show to critics, new topics of conversation emerged: or prankster as Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver thought it was dangerous; whether it is a call for violent action or a celebration of anarchy; whether it has a coherent message or is just a mashup of films such as Fight club and The King of Comedy; whether it is actually a comic book film (which Phillips denies) or more a melodrama; and so on. The edgeThe staff sat down to weigh around part of the debate prankster.


Photo: Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros.

What did you think of the film?

Tasha Robinson, film / TV editor: I am consistently on the more positive side of the prankster spectrum compared to many other film critics, but I still think it is a very flawed film: a self-pitying fantasy about a really terrible world that grabs a poor victim until he rightly snarls. The open, extensive theft of that of Martin Scorsese The King of Comedy and Taxi driver bothers me – there are points where prankster seems like a cover version of those films, and not a particularly nuanced or thoughtful version. But towards the end, when arrested protagonist Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) begins to celebrate his own common-sense break by dancing as if nobody is watching and reigning over public chaos, the film has a real emotional power. Superhero comics and comic strips are so often about escapism, and this film feels like it includes a radical, dark, ugly kind of mental health escapism that is quite tempting, however irresponsible or antisocial.

Russell Brandom, policy editor: The best part was the performance of Phoenix – especially the laughter, which really seemed to hurt. The idea of ​​seeing his sad clown descend into violent madness is really promising. But by the end, too much on the film didn't work for me: the Fleck / Thomas Wayne background story, the love interests, the whole approach to comedy and fame. me too hated the talk show scene, in which Arthur turned self-pity into violence and immediately, inexplicably, was rewarded with the love and support he had missed throughout the film.

Adi Robertson, senior reporter: Turn right. It lost direction in the last act, in part because it was so obligatory to Scorsese and the original Joker character – it kept drifting to those poles in ways that felt generic or incoherent, rather than playing on the strengths it had established.

Julia Alexander, reporter: If I don't think about it too much, I think I really like it prankster. The performance of Phoenix is ​​unmistakably masterful, and for the first half of the film it is a moving look at loneliness. I wish Phillips spent more time on that story. The second half of the film, especially the last 20 minutes, washes away those striking moments. prankster feels like it is losing its identity. The more I think about it, the more frustrated I get – it ends in a movie that wants to think it's smarter than it really is.


Photo: Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros.

Was it too tied to the Batman mythos? Not closely connected?

AR: I'm glad I didn't rewrite Thomas Wayne (very effectively!). prankster didn't let me work out DC pantheon logistics – like, is Arkham Asylum still full of other supervillains? Thank goodness I don't know! I do think Arthur got the "failing standup comedian" background story The murder joke was a mistake, but mainly because the character was a clone of Rupert Pupkin The King of Comedy, which was one of the less interesting parts of his characterization.

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YES: I'm more protective of Bruce Wayne and Batman (my third favorite superhero, after Iron Man and Hulk), and because they're such a small part of the story, I have certain moments in prankster. That said, I wish they would lean more into the Batman mythos. I appreciated the new version of Thomas Wayne and Bruce & # 39; s child introduction to Joker, but it felt empty. I saw an essay that suggested this one Joker was really just the inspiration for the really Joker who eventually fights Bruce Wayne as Batman and … I'm just tired of the need to explain things that are not defined in this movie too much? I'm tired. There is a way to do a Joker story with Batman mythology linked, but this is not it.

RB: I would have liked to see a bit more classic Joker in the late film version of Fleck, who never really came to me. He had the Joker's sadism that we know, but there was none of the cheerful absurdity that would have been welcome after 90 minutes of miserabilism. Imagine he killed Robert De Niro by crushing his head with a huge hammer. That would have given so much more satisfaction than the weird 4chan isms we received.

TR: I would have liked it if I had completely omitted Bruce Wayne and Batman from this film. Bruce & # 39; s presence raises too many questions (so Joker in this world is twenty years older than Batman, minimally? Does Batman remember the man who came to his house and was he weird when he was a child?), But mostly does it mean we have to sit through the cinematic death of Thomas and Martha Wayne for apparently the billionth time, flying pearls and such, in a way that adds nothing new to the prankster story but cheap "I made you / you made me" irony. Bruce child Bruce inside feels a lot like the way he was crammed in the TV show Gotham and became this strange little gatekeeper prince figure in the first season, who gave his blessing to Jim Gordon. Why not just focus on the character that Phillips is rethinking radically, instead of the one where he holds religiously to the established canon?


Photo: Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros.

Is this a socialist film? An anarchist film? An anti-antifa film? Are the politics clear?

RB: I have seen a number of socialist Twitter people online claiming that prankster is a left film. That seems so bizarre to me. It is true that many of the rich people in the film are bad, and that robust government-funded mental health care looks good. (Is Arkham a payer?) But the political movement with the clown brand closing the film is cartoonically extreme, to the point where prankster almost resembles the anti-Occupy fears of Dark Knight Rises. In this Gotham, there is no discernible political split between raising Thomas Wayne's taxes and killing bankers in the subway. Like the Gotham Journal does it say: KILL THE RICH – A NEW MOVEMENT? This is not the headline the Bernie Sanders campaign was hoping for.

AR: pranksterPolitics seems to be essentially based on its aesthetic and narrative requirements. The best developed theme is certainly that rich people have exploited and abandoned the rest of society, yet claim to be shocked when it drives people to violence. But it is more a storytelling device than a primary concern. The most obvious contemporary political elements don't even make sense – I understand why, for example, the public would go along to the complaint that "no one is civil anymore", but it seems to be a non-sequitur alongside Arthur's other complaints.

YES: When The Dark Knight Rises came out in 2011, there were questions about how much the Occupy Wall Street movement inspired Nolan's latest episode in his Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan mentioned the overlap of themes at that time as incidental, but the political messages from the film seemed to fit well with Bane, a threatening force with specific political ideologies. prankster uses political ideologies because it feels like it must, very much to Adi's point. It does not make any sense. Everything feels rushed, and that makes finding ideological coherence difficult to really capture. Moreover, the Joker is not a political figure. He is anarchy at its purest, madness at its most psychotic. There is no rhyme or reason for his actions. He is moving chaos. Trying to assign a political ideology that reflects or supports his actions is a fool.

TR: I read prankster so much more anti-political than politics, much more based in an adolescent, rebellious "ruining the system, the system you just want to ruin" chaos than in a coherent political slant. The point is to break all the rules (making the complaint "no one civil anymore") even more ironic and become an iconoclastic hero. I think Phillips wants Arthur to be above politics, to completely bypass the system. Protest icons have certainly been borrowed here, but I don't see the messages here going deep enough to reflect real-world political or parapolitical movements.


Photo: Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros.
Joker, Joaquin Phoenix

What is the most interesting discussion point about this film?

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TR: I am not in discussion about or prankster is & # 39; dangerous & # 39 ;. It certainly maintains some dangerous ideas, especially that people like Arthur deserve better than what life has given them, and are justified in killing people who stop them, or in any way represent the parts of society that are left they feel under seen and lost. But I don't think it's such a convincing argument that it requires hand-wringing and excessively symbolic bead clamps.

I'm actually more interested in the ongoing conversation about whether it's "a comic book movie," because Todd Phillips seems so determined to say that it is not, and it is clear. That conversation helps us to expand the definition of comics and "comic book movies", which is actually too late in America.

AR: It is definitely a comic – and also an adaptation of the kind of comic books that brought me into comics! My real introduction to the medium was the Vertigo-like titles from the & # 39; 80 and & # 39; 90, all about grainy "adult" deconstructions and inversions of stories about superheroes. we have critically re-evaluated this in recent years, and ironically, the actual comic strip world has moved away from comparing "more depressing" with "more mature". But it's still a genre that I love, and prankster is a pitch-perfect translation of it to the screen.

YES: It's definitely a comic book movie, it's just not a Marvel movie or even a Zack Snyder movie. The comic book film as we know it has changed considerably in the last 11 years. We expect comic book films to look, sound and feel in a certain way. Todd Phillips may have convinced De Niro and Phoenix to make a serious film under the guise of making a comic book film, but he actually made a fairly standard comic book film.

AR: And because of that sign, I hate the fact that the & # 39; serious movie & # 39; discourse somehow brought us back to the first in advanced debates about pop culture that are older than me. Forget if the movie is dangerous – we really have to go back and relive the dividing lines between high and low culture whenever someone disses the Avengers?


Photo: Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros.

is prankster more interesting if the end of the film – or even most of the film – is just Arthur's delusion?

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TR: I know this is a strange question, but the fact that Arthur & # 39; s entire relationship with Sophie (played by Zazie Beetz) is imaginary, a product of his non-drug disease, makes people wonder if there is anything in it prankster after a certain point has to be real. Is Arthur really attacked on the train by financial bros with a mysterious full knowledge of Stephen Sondheim's texts, or does he introduce himself and kill them for no reason? Is he really invited to his hero's talk show where he commits murder, or is that also a fantasy? If those things happened as seen, is he ultimately saved by his followers, or is that all his own glorious monomaniac fantasy?

Personally, I love ambiguity in a movie when it feels bold and intentional. But here, if we can't trust what we see on the screen, it becomes even more difficult to analyze what is going on in this film, how much damage Arthur is causing and how we should take it. The story of him depicting a set of wild things is not particularly interesting in itself. I respect the urge that people feel to write off every aspect of the film that seems unlikely or annoying to them, but I don't think it improves the story to decide, without clear clues in one way or another, that for the most part of the film unreal.

RB: Yes, I find the whole question tiring. In the most generous reading, I think it makes clear how isolated and detached Fleck is? But Mr. Robot has a lot to justify.

AR: The obvious comparison point might be a movie American psychopath, which teases the idea that we do not know whether his protagonist Patrick Bateman is a sociopathic fantasist yuppie or a mass murderer. But that works because one of those interpretations is quite compelling, which I think is not true prankster.

YES: At the moment I am not sure if the whole prankster experience is a dream we all experience at the same time. No, I don't think it's all a delusion. It is too Newhart for Phillips to invent this whole thing, only for Arthur to realize that it is all a dream.


Photo: Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros.

Are people arguing prankster more than it justifies? Is this a socialist film? An anarchist film? An anti-antifa film? Are the politics clear?

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TR: It is obvious that it is ironic to ask if we are talking too much about this film at the end of a film in which we are all talking about the film. But it is a legitimate question: much of the conversation around prankster was about how to interpret it, and much of that conversation seems to go far beyond what Phillips actually meant for the film. Separated from all worries about possible theater violence or an anarchist uprising, this film feels much more like an empty, nihilistic provocation.

We talk so much about it because we are afraid of certain loud, dissatisfied, vocal elements in society – such as the online crowd who openly say they want to enslave women to service & # 39; because they are entitled to sex and companionship – and what they could do if they felt competent? Are we really worried about a handful of malcontents, or are we vaguely looking forward to violent unrest in the same way that people fantasize about the zombie apocalypse?

RB: I think part of the urge to talk is the result of a clever idea with mediocre implementation. It is really interesting to think about what a social-realistic character study looks like in a comic world. In the end, I didn't think Phillips had implemented the idea very well, but it's something new to try and offers more options than better-made movies such as The Last Jedi or Avengers: Endgame. And the pure shock value of the film leaves much unresolved.

AR: I will consume almost every story whose starting point is: "What if a brave genre plot were subjected to the severe limitations of reality?" And I'll tell your damn ear about it. It was strange to see prankster treated as visceral dangerous, but I think there is just a cultural shift towards the idea that information and media are harmful, whether the fear is internet propaganda that triggers an election or films that incite violence. Absent from that cultural context, it seems almost everyday compared to films such as Fight club or Taxi driver – which literally someone inspired to almost kill the president!

YES: As someone who talks too much about movies that nobody cares about, I don't think we – as a society – talk too much about it. I think we give it a certain weight that it doesn't justify. Trying to paint this film as a thoughtful critique of a type of person we have become afraid of worldwide is disgraceful and stupid. prankster is not even in the same boat as Fight club, a film released 20 years ago this month that managed to turn some gripping issues into a dark, satirical, brilliant two-hour film.

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Every film in which Joker, the most famous villain of the comic strip (perhaps the most popular villain, point) is included, will be discussed. We absolutely must talk about the film, and we absolutely must never stop talking about real topics that people can see in the movie. What we should not do is to merge the idea that one cannot exist without the other. prankster is a primarily entertaining film – a film with an excellent performance by a main actor. It is no more than that and should not be treated as such.