This might be my most Catholic review yet. And with a certain amount of relish I say: spoilers ahead.
Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix (Arthur Fleck/Joker), is a dystopian origin story about Batman’s arch-nemesis. While watching Fleck dip into psychopathic insanity, I became progressively more disturbed. The reason why I felt this way is because the one thing this film was missing was compassion, of any kind. One might say that Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz) showed him some friendliness, but that turned out to be a fantasy invented by Fleck’s shattered mind. Was it a kindness that his co-worker gave him a gun? No. It can be said that the society he inhabits, Gotham City, is entirely devoid of humanity (and more will be said about this later), and thus Fleck could hardly be blamed for his behavior. Yet I can think of one example of somebody who had everyone and everything turn against Him and endured it without resorting to homicide to fulfill a cracked sense of justice.
Another thought that came to mind while viewing Joker was Job. Of course, Fleck was as dismally poor as Job was abundantly rich, but that (to this reviewer) does not mean a comparison between the two is without merit. Both Job and Fleck are tried mightily by the events that befall them, losing literally everything they hold dear. Without trying to sound too blasphemous, one can make an analog between God and Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen). But whereas Job eventually repented of his questioning of God, Fleck rebels, embittered by his perceived rejection by his would-be father in Wayne, his adoptive mother Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy), and his invented girlfriend Dumond.
This sort of isolation leads to awful results, and Joker is no exception in this regard, summed up when Fleck declared “I haven’t been happy one minute of my entire [expletive] life.” And yet, apparently, he was not entirely on his own. The running sub-text through the entire film is a growing movement of poor versus rich, of us versus them, of “the rest” versus the one percent. It was given a jolt and a face when Fleck guns down three young Wayne Enterprises executives on the subway who decided to pick on him for his strange behavior. Later, the climax of the movie features a full-blown riot of people in clown masks or make-up, mimicking the costume he wore when he shot his assailants. Those at the bottom decided to take matters into their own hands, killing police, Thomas Wayne, and capped off by Fleck shooting late night host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) in the head on live television. This last murder came on the heals of an enraged, hysterical speech where Fleck paints Franklin as a pariah of privilege. En route to jail, the car carrying Fleck is attacked by the mob and he is held up as a hero.
Yes, Joker makes Arthur Fleck into a sort of everyman’s hero, albeit a deeply flawed one. The Bible states that the gate to heaven is a narrow one, and that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. Now, all things are possible for God, so it is not necessarily a sentence of eternal damnation for those with a diverse and healthy investment portfolio. The point being that if the rich are as completely corrupt as those in Gotham (and Thomas Wayne appears to be no angel either), then we can rest assured that they will get their comeuppance. However, even if you do not believe in divine justice, is it really right for people to resort to such profligate destruction? I get it, history is replete with instances of the dispossessed feeling they have no choice but to rise up in arms. Joker seems set in at least a version of the United States, so is the film telling people that their latent desire for chaos is justified? I whole-heartedly hope not.
Ultimately, what made Joker so distasteful to this reviewer was the complete and utter lack of compassion from any of the characters in this movie. Even if I was not a practicing Catholic, I would have a difficult time understanding why anyone would “enjoy” this film. Did Phoenix deliver an incredible performance as Arthur Fleck/Joker? Unequivocally, yes. But even Phoenix seemed uncomfortable with the film, walking out of interviews about it when asked about its “realism.” I can handle realism, but what makes a good movie for me is one that attempts to elevate my spirit to a higher plane. There is none of that here, and thus my recommendation is to steer clear of this one. There is nothing but misery and violence. Instead, pray for those involved and our society as a whole.