Last night, Joker finally was shown to audiences. It has already broken box office records and is on target to be a $90 million opener.
The reactions are extreme on both sides. The major critics — as in, the critics I personally rely on, like Joe Morgenstern, were negative on it. The fans, at least if you search the hashtag #jokermovie are ecstatic. I of course have still not seen it, and when I do I will ring in but it doesn’t much matter what I think anyway. Nor does it matter what Twitter thinks. What matters is what actors think, specifically SAG actors to start and then Academy actors. In any other year it would not even be an issue – a performance like that would probably be recognized. But this year is very packed in the Best Actor race, and Best Actor is tied to Best Picture.
“Wokesters” and Jokers
Joker was hit pretty hard by the press, especially its director, Todd Phillips, who made the mistake of … wait for it … having an opinion that did not align with a hive mind on Twitter. It was a similar reaction to Quentin Tarantino when Once Upon a Time in Hollywood dropped. It was as though he was on trial for his past, his movie and even his words and thoughts. So of course, the reaction to this will always “oh poor him, poor successful white guy, boo hoo.” And fine, if that is how you want to see it, that is your choice. But as far as I can tell, either by the script or by the reviews, the film is not an anti-“wokester” movie, nor it is a glorification of incels. It is a tragic origin story about a super villain. Joaquin Phoenix apparently turns himself inside out for the part.
The origin of Incels and Joker can be traced to a few film reviews that say the film is an anthem to the subgroup of men who hunch over their laptops and share their misery on a Reddit forum. Incel stands for “involuntary celibate” – men who want sex or relationships but can’t get them. Self-pity is the general impulse here, and they supposedly lash out towards women. According to Wikipedia, at least four mass murders (45 deaths) were by men who somehow associated themselves with either the incel movement or heroes within the movement, like that idiot Elliot Rogers. It’s sad, the whole thing is sad.
While it’s true that there are no doubt going to be incel type losers who crawl out of dark holes and glom onto Joker (as they do in the movie, too), that loneliness that is ripping a black hole through our culture is more ubiquitous than that. In fact, it’s an epidemic, especially among millennials, self-described as the loneliest generation. The two ways this loneliness manifests itself is yet more isolation finding like minds online, or else turning to fantasy – movies especially. Superhero movies even more especially. Many will identify with the actual heroes. But a good portion will turn to the villains.
Travis Bickle was a product of Vietnam war, a useless and bloody fight where Americans did not come out the winners and in fact, the majority of it existed at all because no American president wanted to lose a war – so they just kept kicking the can down the road – it was all ego. Men and their egos – they generally want to kill people to prove that they matter. As far as I can tell, that isn’t what Joker does. He kills not because he can’t get laid but because he’s trapped in a world that has chewed him up and spit him out and the bullies are relentless.
What does it all mean for the Oscar race? You got me, folks. I keep reading people on Twitter proclaiming things like “Joaquin Phoenix deserves the Oscar,” and “if Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t win the Oscar the Oscars are rigged.” Somewhere in a parallel universe, the Joker himself is laughing at the possibility of winning an award for being a figure everyone is afraid of.
The Oscar race appears to be packed already (with more movies still to be seen, like Richard Jewell, and 1917) but so far we have:
Leonardo Dicaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Robert De Niro, The Irishman
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite is My Name
Roman Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit
Antonio Banderas, Pain & Glory
Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems
Michael B. Jordan, Just Mercy
Christian Bale, Ford V. Ferrari
If Dolemite has the same wide release as Joker, it would have made Eddie Murphy into an instant frontrunner because of the shock and awe of the box office. Joker might just make enough money to overcome the negative reviews. Who knows.
What do you think, Oscar watchers? Can Joaquin Phoenix break into it?