A mid morning movie, more on the search for meaning & inconclusive explanations for why everyone is yelling
It’s 10.30 am and I’m sitting in the back row of a cinema in Byron Bay. There is a man sitting three seats apart from me drumming on the seat in front of him.
There are only three other people in the cinema with us and I remain aware of the seat-drumming-man for the duration of the previews and most of the film. Something about his compulsive activity sets a tone of discomfort that I was prepared for when I bought a ticket to see Joker on this sunny Thursday.
I expected to be confronted by this film but I did not expect to find a deeply relevant reflection of the current emotional status of our society as a whole. This film touches on mental-illness, the long-term effects of trauma, class division, poverty and power, loneliness and violence with unflinching honesty.
I left the cinema feeling profoundly satisfied by a cinematic experience that simultaneously traumatised me and comforted me with its insight. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is a thing of outstanding beauty and startling horror. His portrayal of Arthur elicits a kind of macabre curiosity punctuated by visceral repulsion.
Arthur, our Joker, is suffering in so many ways like so many others. It is made clear from the outside that no amount of motivational quoting, self-help-number-one-best-seller-straight-talking-twelve-steps, journalling, long-walk water-gazing or micro-dosing of psilocybin can save this anti-hero. Reality and delusion combine to document Arthur’s increasing mania and devolution into violent despair.
My favourite onscreen moments saw Arthur dancing in his own disturbed delight, often topless to reveal the distorted nature of his concave ribcage. Arthur responds with dance in some of the most bizarrely touching scenes of the film, serving as powerfully tender relief in what otherwise seems unending despair.
What I admire most about this film is its kick-in-the-guts honesty. The point here is not to glamorise or objectify suffering. Although, at times, we feel voyeur, looking in when we should look away. Don’t stare! (We think.) And yet we cannot look away.
The point here is rather to accept that in the ugly, in the downright grotesque there are remnants of our humanity. There are true and essential parts of human nature that are necessary to make a whole.
This film is the perfect antidote to every feel-good, happy-puppy, wispy weightless, soppy-nothing-entertainment slop consumers love to absorb en masse because it doesn’t make anyone feel a thing (guilty as charged).
And while you may need to indulge one of these for recovery after watching Joker (may I recommend Working Mums?!) I implore you to sit with your discomfort a moment or two. Don’t be so hasty to cast your unease aside.
What is it about otherness that terrifies us so much? Why is not being happy perceived as some failure of an individual to fulfill their destiny? Why do people keep yelling louder instead of trying to listen?
Go and see Joker, lean into the discomfort this time and see what you find. You can always flick on the rom com when you get home.
For more on peering into the void of the human condition, I’m reminded of a longtime favourite of mine, Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. His book, The Book of Disquiet, concerns itself with many of these themes, specifically the potential comfort of being uncomfortable.
“I suffer from life and from other people. I can’t look at reality face to face. Even the sun discourages and depresses me. Only at night and all alone, withdrawn, forgotten and lost, with no connection to anything real or useful — only then do I find myself and feel comforted.”
― Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet