The scuzzy new “supervillain” movie “Joker” is an origin story of the famous DC Comics nemesis of Batman. It’s caused a strange moral panic among the left, who are equating the empathetic portrayal of the Joker (played with commitment by Joaquin Phoenix) to sympathy for the circumstance of “incels” – lonely, troubled men rejected by potential sexual partners. Some media outlets, like CNN, openly and irresponsibly seem to anticipate an attack along the lines of the violence in the movie.
So credit New Yorker movie critic Richard Brody for finding a novel left-wing angle in his attack: “‘Joker’ Is a Viewing Experience of Rare, Numbing Emptiness.” Fair enough. But Brody gets ridiculous, constructing an edifice of racism out of nothing.
Brody plucked specific notorious attacks from the pages of New York City’s notorious crime history and overlays them on specific, superficially similar violent scenes from the movie -- then nervily called out the filmmakers for not hewing to the truth of the actual events (again, in a fictional movie about a comic-book character).
Brody discussed two violent events in the movie, claims without evidence that they are meant to represent the Central Park 5 (rape) and Bernard Goetz (subway shooting) incidents, then faults the filmmakers for not recreating those incidents exactly. Brody does textual contortion to wrench this into racism.
Let’s leave aside that the critic is criticizing the lack of factual validity of a movie about a comic book supervillain.
Long before “Joker” pays homage to two of the classic New York films of the nineteen-seventies and eighties, “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy,” it relies on the fictitious setting of Gotham City and the pretext of a comic-book story to evoke real-life crimes -- and it alludes to them from a perspective so narrow and destructive as to resemble not intention but obliviousness....
Arthur Fleck (played by Phoenix), a mentally ill man in an indifferent Gotham City in the early 1980s, is working as a sign-twirling clown when he is first assaulted.
A group of teen-agers of color hassle him and steal his sign....one kid hits Arthur in the face with the sign and knocks him down....The crime alluded to is the attack wrongly attributed to five young men mislabelled as the Central Park Five-- an attack on an isolated and vulnerable white person by a group of young people of color. The scene waves away history and says, in effect, that it may not have been those five, but there was another group out there wreaking havoc; they’re not figments of a demagogue’s hate-filled imagination -- here they are, and they’re the spark of all the gory action that follows.
....When Arthur is assaulted on the subway by three young men (whites, in suits), he pulls out the gun and fires -- and even pursues one of the men onto the platform in order to shoot him dead. It’s an evocation of the shooting, in 1984, by Bernhard Goetz, of four teen-agers in a subway who, Goetz believed, were about to rob him. They were four black teen-agers, and Goetz, after his arrest, made racist remarks. In “Joker,” the director, Todd Phillips (who wrote the script with Scott Silver), whitewashes Goetz’s attack, eliminating any racial motive and turning it into an act of self-defense gone out of control.
Brody pushed his malleable “racist” template upon the complicated material.
“Joker” is an intensely racialized movie, a drama awash in racial iconography that is so prevalent in the film, so provocative, and so unexamined as to be bewildering....he suffers callous behavior from one black woman, and believes that he’s being ignored by another, and reacts with jubilation at the idea of being a glamorous white star amid a supporting cast of cheerful black laborers....
Brody is stretching the definition of racism out of shape so it can encompass this movie. Not only is acknowledgement of race a racist act, the lack of its acknowledgement in the movie is as well.
In this hard-to-follow stretch of text, Republicans are to blame...for something.
Yes, “Joker” takes place in a fictitious city, a comic-book world of fantasy -- but it draws its incidents and its affect parasitically from real-world events that were both the product and the cause of racist discourse and attitudes and gave rise to real-world racist outcomes of enduring, even historic, gravity.... “Joker” reflects political cowardice on the part of a filmmaker...in emptying out the specifics of the city’s modern history and current American politics so that the movie can be released as mere entertainment to viewers who are exasperated with the idea of movies being discussed in political terms -- i.e., to Republicans.
A lot of liberal movie critics have conveniently forgotten that a sympathetic villain is not a new trope (see: “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Natural Born Killers,” etc., though Bonnie Parker admittedly had more charm than sad-sack Arthur Fleck)
Brody even tries to make a possibly sensible idea -- keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill, or at least those with that label -- as awful because Republicans refuse to take everyone’s guns away.
...Arthur, who’s already delusional, finds his delusions deepening; though he was already violent, his violence becomes increasingly calculated and targeted. Here, too, the movie plays into the hands of current-day political rhetoric -- namely, the emphasis by Republicans who, when it comes to gun control, would rather deny weapons to the mentally ill than restrict weaponry for everyone....
“Republicans” are Brody’s scapegoat for many things in life.
.... Yet, for all the historical references in “Joker,” it’s a blatant and brazen distortion of the most substantial historical elements at which it winks. “Joker” is the comic-book “Green Book,” twisting history for the sake of a yarn.
So a movie about the Joker is accused of twisting history. Remember when conservatives were mocked for confusing fantasy with reality?