The cinema may be an escape, but the living room couch in your parents’ house definitely is not one.
A month before Joker came out there was a mass shooting in Midland-Odessa, Texas. A man fired from his job drove through those cities shooting at pedestrians from his car and then from a U.S. Post Office van he hijacked. He killed seven people and wounded twenty-two others. The shooter lived alone in a metal, dirt-floor shack without electricity or plumbing, his only companion a dog. Police chased him in the postal van to the Cinergy Entertainment Permian Basin cineplex, “the largest community entertainment center in Texas,” where they shot and killed him in front of theaters showing already-forgotten movies including Don’t Let Go, Bennett’s War, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Overcomer, Angel Has Fallen, Ready or Not, Good Boys, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, The Angry Birds Movie 2, and Dora and the Lost City of Gold.
On the TV news show CBS This Morning, their “Lead National Correspondent” David Begnaud, wearing a dark burgundy button-down shirt the color of blood, showed up at the cineplex and said to the camera, “We are at the movie theater here in Odessa. We’re here because this is where the rampage ended. But what police don’t know, and what they may never know, is was the gunman coming here to continue his rampage?”
Joker was released in this atmosphere, in this kind of world, where after a deadly tragedy a man like Begnaud, who should know better, goes on national TV and says idiotic things at a crime scene because that’s his job. So Joker seemed to a lot of film critics, who should also know better, like it was part of the problem. Joker is about a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) with a terrible life and mental health issues who loses his job and then kills people. In his case, he also goes on TV and kills a talk show host (Robert De Niro). As a Batman spin-off, it was thought that Joker could lead to a real-life mass murder like the one in Aurora, Colorado, where in 2012 a deranged, orange-haired lunatic shot and killed twelve people and wounded fifty-eight others during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Some critics said Joker should be banned to prevent that from happening again, or at least shunned, and Entertainment Weekly, which comes out monthly, was so appalled by it that they took a bold stand by refusing to give it a letter grade at the end of their review.
I dismissed these reactions, but when I went to see Joker, there was a man at the same show as me who had two large emotional support dogs with him. This man wore sunglasses throughout the entire screening, along with a tool belt that had a dozen items dangling from it, including a flashlight and bunches of Ziploc baggies, presumably for dog shit. At several points in the film he got up and walked the aisles of the theater, jangling and grunting, while the dogs, back in their seats, whined in his absence. This man’s presence had a real “Emergo” effect, like the skeleton that flew over the audience’s heads in the original House on Haunted Hill. His presence was unsettling and his random strolls added to the menace of what was on the screen. I wondered whether he was armed, so I moved to a seat closer to an exit door at the front of the theater, where I had a better chance of escaping if he opened fire.
When Joker was over, several members of the audience confronted the employees of the Cobble Hill Cinema to ask about this man’s behavior, which they explained was somewhat threatening. A young man holding a lobby broom had to answer to them. “By law, we have to let in people with emotional support animals,” he explained, “and wearing sunglasses is a personal preference, which we are not allowed to bring up to customers.”
Anyway, Joker is a one-man show featuring an undirected actor and cinematography that uses a filter on every shot that makes everything look yellow and corroded. Its fictional 1981 New York City is haphazard but not all that different from the more real 2012 New York of Uncut Gems, if New York had a clown district as well as a diamond district. The riot scenes near the end of Joker reflect something true in society, and they brought the film out of its shell. If you see Joker, it would be best to see it in a theater with a potential psychopath for that added thrill of maybe not surviving it. Seeing it at home will be a waste of time unless you live with someone who might kill you while it’s on.
– Courtesy: The Baffler