Despite what you may have thought of Joker, I think it would be hard to criticize it from a filmmaking point of view. I know the Ready Steady Cut readers are an intelligent and balanced group of lovers of all things on-screen, and whatever controversy that may have surrounded the film before its release seems somewhat redundant now that the film is on general release. You see, the film is truly a masterpiece of filmaking, and no amount of criticism can take away the technical genius and production that this film has. The direction, cinematography, minimalist script, production, costumes, makeup, and sets, were all perfectly synchronized to provide film fans with a movie-going experience that silenced the packed theatre that I was sitting in, for its entire run time. You can read the official RSC review by clicking these words (and the second opinion by clicking these ones) but I hope to throw a little light on some of the influences that may have been involved in bringing this particular comic book movie to life.
Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way. This film could almost be a remake of Taxi Driver, and of course, The King Of Comedy, both with DeNiro. It’s no surprise that director Phillips wanted Bobby for his role of chat show host Murray Franklin. Joker has so much in common with The King Of Comedy that it’s almost too obvious. However, there are other influences at work here that may have helped shape the final cut.
As the Joker strikes a chord with the desperate downtrodden Gothamites, they take part in various riots, emulating the rise of the people in V For Vendetta. It’s worth noting that many of the Joker acolytes wear plastic masks, not makeup, that reinforces the relation to V. Another movie callback maybe to Network, the 1976 satire on television, featuring William Holden and Faye Dunaway. This Oscar-winning movie features a disgruntled newscaster, fired after falling ratings, that rises to incredible popularity and influence when he announces that he will shoot himself live on air. He becomes an overnight sensation, and millions tune in to basically hear him rant about society. When he tells them to open their windows and shout “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” However, there are many monologues that you could almost swear you just heard in Joker. “We know things are bad. Worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore.” Network also ends with the death of a lead character being shown on TV screens, so I reckon Phillips is a fan.
As well as other film influences, it may also be fair to say that Heath Ledger’s incredible portrayal is also given a nod. Although played down by Philipps, the makeup in Joker seems to homage Ledger’s iconic look. Of course, tonally there is no comparison, but it seems right that the look of The Joker would be influenced by that immortal depiction.
The more you look at Joker, the more you start to see that the whole premise may just be a fantasy, and it’s easy to make comparisons to Fight Club. Just as Tyler Durden leads a group against society, but is actually not really there, the same could be said of Joker. Does Arthur merely imagine the events of the final act while in therapy at the Arkham Hospital? It’s not a huge leap to make that Joker is a fantasy inspired by Arthur’s schizophrenia, and I’m sure further views of the film will make this look more and more possible.
Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film is often re-evaluated as a bit of a mess, however, there are moments in Joker that look like they may have been plucked from that outing. As Arthur makes his way to confront Thomas Wayne at the city halls, the building’s exterior smacks of Burton’s Gotham, and of course the killing of The Waynes by a clown-faced killer harks back to his reveal, that Bruce’s tragic parents were murdered by The Joker himself, even though it is quite obvious that the young version of The Joker in the Burton film was not played by Nicholson.
Going further back, it has to be noted that Joker’s final costume in the last act of the movie seems to invoke Cesar Romero’s outfit from the 60’s TV show. The color may be slightly less purple than Cesar’s, but the overall effect is very similar. I like the idea that the costume designers on Joker looked at those old episodes of Batman, and thought “Yep, that’s what we are going with.”
Now to go through every comic book interpretation of The Joker would, of course, be boring and reaching, but it seems that we have to acknowledge the Alan Moore, Brian Bolland graphic novel The Killing Joke. In this story, we get an origin story of sorts, that sees The Joker starting out as a useless stand-up comedienne. Alan Moore has since stated that he doesn’t like his own story, but its influence is very obvious when watching Joker. On top of that, Moore gives us an unreliable narrator in the book, and as Joker the movie unfolds, we realize that Arthur is as unreliable as they come. Many of the plot reveals come from the audience being unaware of what is real and what is not in the movie, mirroring the graphic novel from 1988. The film often shows us Arthur fantasizing about everything from meeting Franklin and dating Sophie, so we simply don’t know what is real and what is fantasy. Just as it should be. Perhaps the famous line from Moore’s script “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice,” is a stage direction Phillips hinges his movie on.
Joker manages to be inventive and original, new and exciting. Instead of using Easter Eggs to wink slyly to the more informed fans, like Marvel loves to do, Joker unashamedly shows us The Waynes, young Bruce and essentially the origin of Batman, without distracting from a mature and dramatic film, that probably owes more to Taxi Driver than Batman. It is a comic book movie, that is not embarrassed by its roots, and gives us probably the first real, mature DC comic book film that we have ever seen. I imagine this film will change the landscape of these kinds of films, so expect “Lex Luthor the Early Years” and “Doctor Doom: My Rise to Dictatorship” coming soon.
Louie Fecou reviews films, tv shows and comics for Ready Steady Cut, HC Movie Reviews and We Have A Hulk. He currently runs his own business in between watching films.