Joker, the film by Todd Phillips, winner of the Golden Lion in Venice, will be in cinema halls as of 3rd October. And not without criticism.

I’m here! A statement, the title of a mockumentary, as well as the existential situation of the lead actor in the film that won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Joaquin Phoenix, as shown in that extraordinary false documentary in 2010, I’m Still Here, directed by Casey Affleck, had decided to give up his acting profession to embrace a musical career, even recording a rap album. Despite the artistic and generational limits so blatantly obvious to everyone watching the screen, Joaquin’s temerity has never been lacking, neither has the public’s shock after having read the incredible news of Phoenix’s departure from the cinema world. For this reason, after the wonderful experiment that saw the youngest Affleck behind the cameras for the first time, the habit of traumatizing the spectators led the actor to accept another huge challenge offered by Todd Phillips.

Joker was a risky gamble right from the start. The inevitable comparison with the past was one of the most complicated stumbling blocks to conquer, especially since it bore the awkward name of Heath Ledger.

The first-class interpretation of the DC Comics character in The Dark Knight would have terrified anyone, except for them, two lunatics like Phoenix and Phillips, who managed (nobody knows how) to convince Warner Bros. to fund a film about Joker’s origins. A film that is also entirely alien to current mechanisms which foresee shared universes, interwoven into sizeable and visionary productions. It is no coincidence that the story is set in the late 1970s, as if wanting to distance itself from the current trend of the latest film releases. Besides the question of time, the setting also has a great impact on the storyline. Gotham is in a situation of unrest and anarchy, mainly due to a lack of rules and support from the competent authorities.
The pathology begins here, from a society that has not only lost its will to exist but also its hopes. The only dream in the film is in the mind of Arthur Fleck, who, dressed as a suburban clown, tries to make passers-by laugh on the streets or on a city bus. The conflict immediately arises in relation to his own body, for example when, in an early scene, Arthur tries to force a smile using his fingers. His bony and tormented body does not react. And yet this is only one of the many problems that afflict him, like that grimace, which, often out of context, generates a guffaw that he cannot hold back. Todd Phillips’ Joker has recently ignited a discussion in the United States about the violence transmitted in American cinema halls. The massacre that occurred in the city of Aurora during the showing of the last chapter of the trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan is still an open sore and it is understandable that the families of the victims would make a political problem out of it regarding, for example, arms circulation in the USA.
Unfortunately, Todd Phillips’ Joker will carry with it the burden of scandal generating a J’accuse from a good slice of American public opinion. The reason can be traced back to this attachment to realism and references to some hefty titles from the cinema of Charlie Chaplin (the song Smile springs to mind) and Martin Scorsese, from Taxi Driver to The King of Comedy. This long list of tributes works because of the similarities between the characters concerned and the presence of an actor like Robert De Niro in the role as a Late Show presenter, a stand-up comedian that has managed to be successful because of his charisma and talent. There is also another aspect not to be underestimated. Joker is a cinecomic with no heroes on the horizon, which could easily lead to interacting with the sole figure presented on the screen that has nobody able to fight against him.

Nevertheless, demonizing the film without giving the right weight to the critical and active role of the audience is not only unkind but also disrespectful in terms of the complexity and quality of a project that will certainly remain impressed in the mind due to the sublime performance of Joaquin Phoenix, through which we discover the psyche and past of a man who did nothing other than take blows from those who believed themselves superior, and who was dragged into the dirt and brutality of a city that had lost its way and identity. Now, since it was Gotham to forge his image and look, at this point, it really needs a hero. In the meantime, make yourself comfortable. The show is about to begin. (Riccardo Lo Re)