The current box office champ Joker has been…divisive, let’s say. Some reviews have been terrible and some others have called it an “important” movie and “one that will be talked about for years to come”. Some say Joaquin Phoenix, without any question, deserves an Academy Award and others have called his performance “over-the-top” and “scenery-chewing”.

I, for one, though Joker was great. Joaquin Phoenix’ performance is powerful and he should win every acting award he’s eligible for. I thought the movie was incredible…but, it’s not one that I look forward to seeing again. It’s kind of like how nobody walked out of Schindler’s List and said, “What a great movie! I’m going to see it 5 more times in the theater and then buy it when it comes out on video!” Joker is not a fun movie. But it was incredible.

Here are six thoughts I want to share about Joker. The first three are spoiler-free and the second three are for those who’ve already seen it (or don’t care about spoilers).

  • 1.) Joker has little nods to various bits of Batman lore. Joaquin Phoenix’ character has a line about having “a bad day” which is a clear reference to the iconic comic “The Killing Joke”. There’s a moment during his transformation when Phoenix’ Joker looks eerily like Heath Ledger’s Joker, at least in silhouette.
  • 2.) Joker is set in a specific time period. Based on the makes of cars, the kind of televisions and the fact that everybody smokes wherever they want, I would place Joker somewhere in the late 70s or early 80s. Actually, I think it’s in 1981 based on the movie that young Bruce Wayne and his parents are watching in the theater (which is ALSO a nod to the original Batman comic.)
  • 3.) I feel like Joker is also an homage to Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. This is ironic given Scorsese recently revealed low opinion of the super-hero genre. I wonder what he would think of this roman a clef to his own movies. The style and tone are very Scorsesesque but ESPECIALLY the soundtrack choices seem like they could’ve been hand-picked by Mr. Scorsese himself. As far as De Niro, this is one of his finest acting jobs in many years. Joaquin’s character is very similar to Travis Bickle, De Niro’s character from Scorsese’s Taxi Driver AND has a lot in common with the loser-comedian-wannabe Rupert Pupkin from King of Comedy. And De Niro’s character in Joker is basically the role that Jerry Lewis played in King of Comedy.

Now, a few observations that MAY contain spoilers. This is a rare movie that I really, really think you should see with as few spoilers as possible. So, come back and read this part AFTER you see the movie.

  • 1.) The Joker may not be THE Joker. Arthur Fleck unintentionally starts an Occupy-Wall Street style movement that leads to riots and the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Just like someone else was inspired to kill the Wayne’s I think it’s possible that someone else was inspired by Fleck to become THE Joker.
  • 2.) Arthur Fleck is what is known as an “unreliable narrator”. Because of his mental illness, we can’t be sure how much is “real” and how much is his tortured imagination. After the great reveal that his girlfriend is little more than a creeped-out stranger, one has to wonder if Arthur actually does the things we see him doing throughout the movie. What WAS that refrigerator scene about?? Did he actually die in there and the rest of the movie was the fevered imagination of his suffocating brain? Who knows?
  • 3.) This Joker would absolutely NOT work in a super-hero movie. I’ve heard some talk that people want the Phoenix Joker to be the groundwork of a reboot of the D.C . Comics cinematic universe. This would be very, very, very unwise. This gritty, tragic psychological study of a mentally ill man abandoned by society just wouldn’t play well with spandex wearing do-gooders. If you saw Batman punch THIS version of Joker you’d feel sorry for Joker. This would be like taking Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver and shoe-horning him into a Cannonball Run movie.