Ok, a couple of disclaimers for this movie review.
First, this review does not represent an endorsement nor is it my encouragement for anyone to see or not see this movie. This is a gritty, violent movie that is not for children. The themes are disturbing and it is really a commentary on the world today. It is upsetting and I am telling you straight out, do not go see this movie based on anything I write in this review. I know that a number of people have seen the movie and I want to give my reflection on the movie to possibly begin a conversation with people who have already seen it.
Second, this review is going to contain MAJOR SPOILERS. If you are considering seeing the movie and you do not want critical plot details, READ NO FURTHER. There is a lot to spoil in this movie and if you don’t want that to happen, stop reading now.
Ok, you have been warned.
To those of you who have seen this movie, I completely understand why you are looking for reviews of the movie to reflect. It hasn’t quite been 24 hours since I saw the movie and I am still trying to sort it all out. First, Joaquin Phoenix just crushed this role. He is in almost every single frame in the movie and this is his movie. He will almost certainly take home some awards for this performance.
My biggest criticism of this movie is there is no hero. There are no good guys. Every single character is despicable. The character you are following is Arthur Fleck, and he ends up being a murdering lunatic who inspires a riot that nearly destroys the city. I couldn’t root for him.
The other major character that I wanted to root for was Thomas Wayne. All of you who follow this story know that Thomas Wayne is Bruce Wayne’s father. Bruce Wayne eventually becomes Batman. They have said that Batman isn’t in this movie. He actually is, he is just 9 years old. Thomas and Martha Wayne are usually portrayed in the most positive of light. They are Bruce’s murdered parents, which gives Bruce the motivation to become Batman and wage war on crime. I feel like the movie went out of its way to portray Thomas as a villain and I don’t know if that is fair. The movie wanted to set up conflict between the rich and the poor, but I had a hard time identifying with that. There is a suggestion that is never resolved that Thomas Wayne is Arthur Fleck’s father from an affair the Thomas had 30 years prior. While some very compelling evidence to the contrary is presented, it is never definitively resolved whether this is true or not.
It is in this rich vs. poor controversy that the movie made some definite political statements. They wanted us to feel sorry for Arthur, and truly I did. Society was very mean to him in ways he did not deserve. All of this comes from the fact that funding to Arthur’s clinic was cut so that he no longer had access to his medication. From that point, Arthur begins to lose touch with reality even imagining a romantic relationship with his neighbor that we the audience didn’t realize was not happening until later in the movie. It was presented as reality because this story comes from Arthur’s reality.
What this leaves us with is we are not sure what is real and what isn’t. There is a scene that Arthur steals a hat and coat and breaks into an event where people are watching a movie as a fundraiser. Was security that lax in 1981, the year this movie is set? Maybe. But then Arthur manages to get into a bathroom alone with Thomas Wayne to confront him about being his father. That is a powerful scene, but it is unclear if that scene happened or if it was in Arthur’s mind.
Arthur then goes by invitation on Gotham City’s equivalent of the Tonight Show hosted by Murray Franklin (played by Robert DeNiro). Franklin had made fun of Arthur on a prior show and Arthur planned to go on the show to kill himself on TV. At the last moment, he changes his mind and shoots Franklin in the face, murdering a popular late night talk show host live on TV. This turns the intensity of the riot up to the highest setting when other people who are angry at the upper class wanted to vent their frustration. In this riot, Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered in front of Bruce, setting the stage for Batman.
The question I still have about this movie is whose fault is all of this? I feel like the movie wanted me to feel sorry for Arthur because he is sick but he also murdered a couple of people, including possibly his neighbor who was his girlfriend in his fantasy and a female counselor in the asylum they put him in at the end of the movie. But I feel like the movie wants me to blame society for what Arthur did. If they would have been nicer to him and continued to provide the clinic where he saw a counselor and got his medication then he wouldn’t have had to murder all of these people. I am not sure about this. I am sorry for Arthur’s struggles and clearly he needed help he did not get but is that society’s fault? Many people were mean to him and I am not advocating that either but every character in this movie was impossible to root for.
So many people are calling this a statement on society and I find that the most terrifying part of the whole movie. Is anyone responsible for what they do anymore? The saddest part is that Arthur was put in a place to get help but he had to murder a man on television to get the help. Arthur was mentally ill, and my heart goes out to him, but I believe I have to draw the line at hurting people. I didn’t like it when people hurt Arthur and I didn’t like it when Arthur hurt them back. None of the violence solved anything. It was simply a statement on a violent and ultimately hopeless situation.
This movie was very engaging. I spent every minute of this movie wondering what was going to happen next and by the time the credits rolled, I was exhausted by this movie. There was no uplifting message and the movie was as sad as it was engaging.
My prayer is that this is a movie and not a statement on society. We as a people have got to be better than this.