Having established a muted tone in Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s Batman series receives a welcome injection of flair in Heath Ledger’s Joker, the villain and main attraction of 2008’s The Dark Knight. Ledger’s Joker captured imaginations and helped the film to a billion dollar box office gross, back when hitting that milestone was rare. José, as with Batman Begins, never got The Dark Knight, while Mike was so hyped for it that he saw it twice in IMAX before its official release. We discuss what holds up today and what doesn’t, what the appeal is, the 70mm IMAX cinematography, how and why the film became a cultural meme, and what ideologically drives it.
It’s as though we’ve seen two different films, with José bowled over by Joker‘s social commentary, Mike bored and annoyed by its perceived self-satisfaction – not to mention an audience that applauded at the end. Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is explored to be a product of an uncaring, broken society that reaps in him what it sows, in a 1981 Gotham City that is the New York City of the era in all but name. José argues that the film will become a bellwether of the time, depicting the anger of the oppressed and downtrodden – Mike suggests, though, that in demonising them and aligning them to villainy, it gives the right-wing what it wants, in a vision of antifa, the enemy it believes it faces.
We discuss issues of race and representation, Mike seeing similarities between some of the film’s scenes and real-life historical crimes to which they may refer, and in observing racial components and changes to them, asks what the purpose may be, though, struggles to work towards an answer. And José remarks favourably upon everything aesthetic, including the way in which poverty is written into Phoenix’s withered form, the expressiveness and grace of his movement, and the film’s use of shallow focus.
There’s a lot going on in Joker, both on its own terms and in the cultural conversations it has ignited, and it may be worth a second go.
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