Monday 18 November 2019
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The Simple Explanation: The disturbing, violent joker

‘Joker’ (the film not the dude in your office who steals tweets and rehashes them in meetings) has grossed a billion dollars in revenue, making it the highest grossing film with a restricted rating ever since the world began. This means a lot of people watched it.  But reports of people leaving the film before it was finished, just getting up and walking out, suggest a portion of these didn’t watch all of it. Several people, according to The Sun in the UK (the newspaper, not the climate), say they saw a few scenes then left the cinema, deciding that they would rather go home and knit a sweater, cook a sausage and spaghetti dinner, wash the cat — anything but stay in there seeing Joaquin Phoenix and the things he was doing on the screen. We have reports galore of patrons walking out during the movie, distressed, upset, traumatised and even sick to puking. Why?  Just how bad was this film? I can’t tell you. I did not watch it. My research department and I went to see ‘Gemini Man’ instead. It was my fault. I made the wrong judgement but I really thought that having not one but two Will Smiths in a single film would be more worth writing about. But I can tell you who or what this ‘Joker’ is.  It’s a superhero film in a way — Let me explain. To understand you must first know what ‘Batman’ is. Batman is a guy who does a lot of bodybuilding then wears a cape and swings around the crime-ridden fictional city combating criminals. He has millions of dollars of extremely high-tech weapons to aid him in this endeavour so the cape doesn’t get in the way.  The cape is part of his branding in fact. He does his thing under the motif of “bats”. Sounds like fun already, doesn’t it? But wait. It gets better. He has several recurring opponents — each of them as colourfully themed as he is black. There is a witch with plant-based powers, there is the martial artist with strength and agility she got from an ancient cat-god, there is no end to the loonies he has to face. One of whom is called the ‘Joker’. ‘Joker’ dresses like a clown, paints his face and commits evil with a signature manic laugh. Between the Joker and Batman, several decades of brilliant stories have been told, decades of great movies and TV shows and comics have been made, from the farces to the existential examinations of good and evil premising on these two antagonists as representations of the duality of each state in turn. Personally, I prefer the ones where they just make a lot of quips and do impossible martial arts moves that make the laws of physics wish there was a police of physics to arrest them and take them to the court of physics and have them convicted for flagrant violations. But the ‘Joker’ film, say those who seem to know such things, was not a bad one. It was a good one, they say. It was genius. It was brilliant. It was dark and v “gritty” is the popular term.  Instead of entertaining, escapist, fantastic or, well, being fun, this movie is apparently very disturbing. Not only in the depictions of physical violence, but also in the general narrative, which is about how a man grows deranged and psychotic and brutal and murderous. To the extent that people walked out, ran out of the cinema, even barfed onto their fellow patrons according to other reports, because the brutality was too much. Even Martin Scorsese, who has replaced the dictionary as the final arbiter on what the word means, says it is, in fact, “cinema”. Because cinema isn’t fun. It is the stuff that makes you vomit. So why? Why would someone make a movie so violent that it makes people puke popcorn? Well, the point, I guess, of making disturbingly violent films is to disturb, to force us to confront the reality of violence through, somehow, the fiction of violence. But some people find that life does a pretty good job of forcing them to confront its darkness already and they would rather wash the cat.


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