Joker, and the Push for Ultimate Glory
In case you missed it, Todd Phillips' Joker film is being strategically released for awards contention; it is reportedly aimed for a Venice Film Festival release. There is a certain level of courage to do this with a comic book film. Black Panther, while a splendid film, is an exception before a common occurrence. What makes this Joker film so special? Maybe its realistic, dark approach? Prepping a film for an awards season does not mean it is special. Sometimes the shows don't even bite the bait.
What I am hoping for here is something Christopher Nolan alluded to with his Dark Knight trilogy: an extension of a comic book tale into a greater mythos. It's the kind of stature David S. Goyer always hoped for with his spiritual takes on hero journeys; he never quite reached the zenith with the majority of his tries.
What we have here -- maybe -- is an honest portrayal of a pop culture figure. The Joker has been around for many years, having originally been based off of the silent Paul Leni film The Man Who Laughs. The wide grin, spastic glare, and attire of the Batman villain all come from this picture. Joker was created by cinema, and meant to be a perfect foil for Batman's tragic hero. Bruce Wayne never looked for professional help after the death of his parents, so he became a vigilante; this helps the city of Gotham, but hinders his mental health's recovery. The Joker is similarly conflicting: he is aware of his ways, but also of his capabilities. This may render him a complete psychopath, but he is also sound in a way.
Let's take this obvious character symbol and boil it down to a new take. We have Joaquin Phoenix taking the titular role head on in a hyper depressing way. He can only smile by prying his lips apart in an upward direction. Like Pagliacci, this is a source of humour for those around him but not himself. How does this translate to complete eruption? That's what makes Joker anticipating.
This is a character we know, but not the same old story. Sure, this origin take will be based on existing Joker comics. However, its resemblance to the oft repeated stories is very slight. Phoenix's Joker seems like your average clown make up and outfit wise. I love that. So many comic book films take you to a new universe. This one may take place here. It makes The Joker seem more real; more frightening.
I admire this different approach, because it's actually refreshing. Many reboots feel like the original product being reintroduced. This seems different. This is like a great cover song: it's the rewriting of a familiar idea, to the point of singularity. We can only wait and see if Phillips' film will hold up with these expectations it is now presenting itself. Joker is going to be up against the best works of the year. If it wins its fights, we may have something truly special here. If it loses, at least there was an attempt. We need more of those in the film industry.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.