MILD SPOILERS – PLEASE BEWARE
I never thought I would say these words, but I think I have finally seen a Joker origin film good enough to stand alongside Heath Ledger’s Academy award-winning performance from The Dark Knight. And I do not say these words lightly. While everyone else on planet Earth is getting hung up on this movie “glorifying mental illness”, I’m sitting here wondering why Joaquin Phoenix still hasn’t won an Oscar already. I’m sure I can’t be the only one. Maybe this performance is the one. I’d like to see that happen to him.
But let’s address the ‘other’ elephant in the room for a second. For anyone that has experienced mental illness, I think this movie definitely would have struck a chord. But isn’t that what good entertainment is supposed to do, even if that wasn’t the plan? I read about this film supposedly being a real movie with a cartoon character at its heart. Does it really matter that Joker is just a cartoon character? I enjoyed this film regardless of whether or not that was actually supposed to be a thing. If you can’t see the realism that both Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips masterfully weaved into Arthur Fleck and his grim existence, you’re missing the point entirely.
As people, we really don’t like it when we’re reminded of our own personal demons and shortcomings. Arthur Fleck is a man with a lot of these, the smallest of which is his mental illness. What I mean by this is if you strip away a person’s disability, what do you see? Even without his delusions, there was something really wrong with Arthur Fleck. There was something dark and ugly seething under the surface of his very thin skin, clawing its way out. Becoming the Joker was his way of escaping his own limitations and the limitations that he felt the world had placed on him. Arthur is a man disenfranchised by society, standing on the edge of a cliff where most people end up jumping because that’s the better option. This horrible shit pile of an existence was his reality, and Arthur was sick and tired of playing nice and jumping off that cliff. The only difference between Arthur and the status quo is that he was already one foot over that line that your average normal, functioning adult wouldn’t dare to cross.
Arthur was a victim of society in every way. His environment was at least partially to blame for his gradual derailment into madness. Gotham was quite possibly the worst city to be living in for everyone else, let alone someone like Arthur. A society that is burdened by a “dog-eat-dog” mentality where even the people who are supposed to be symbols of hope in a city that has lost its soul are lying to everyone to keep up appearances. Even the good guys are bad – let’s be honest, Bruce’s dad was a dick. There was nowhere for Arthur to go and becoming the Joker offered Arthur a way out of having to excuse people for their cruelty and lack of sympathy.
I don’t know if I buy the whole “it was all just a delusion” story plot some critics have mentioned in their reviews. Yes, we already knew Arthur was delusional, but for the whole film to be a delusion? I don’t agree. At some point, we know that at least a few of the events in the film really happened. It wouldn’t have made sense for an audience to watch Arthur slowly losing his grip on reality only to be ripped off at the end because he made it all up. He wasn’t faking his mental illness – his therapy visits were smothered in realism. How many times does a person with mental illness, that they can barely understand themselves, need to explain it to an unsympathetic ear? I know people who have been and are in therapy and more often than not it’s just easier for the therapist to throw a prescription at the problem than it is to actually try and help someone in dire need of saving.
Joaquin Phoenix is superb as Joker. There’s really nothing much else to say about that. As Arthur Fleck, he is calm, soft-spoken and unassuming. As the Joker, he wears a smile that hides a grimace underneath. Under the guise of a clown, he is everyone’s worst nightmare; he is a man who has nothing left to lose.
It would be a damn shame if all of that were just a delusion.
Image credits: IMDb and ImpAwards
My partner actually asked if we could rewatch Paterson, which surprised me. Surprised because Paterson is a film that requires a fair bit of attention. It’s not one of those films where you can miss 10 minutes and still know what’s going on. I don’t know if that is how it was intended to be, but watching Paterson for the second time, I actually found myself noticing little things that just carried so much weight in the film without even realising it before. I’ll give examples of these things later on but suffice to say that if Paterson were a book, you’d discover a lot more about the film by reading between the lines.
I cannot hide my fondness for both Jim Jarmusch as a director and Adam Driver as an actor. To me, this pairing is quite literally, a gift to film, much like De Niro and Scorcese. You just know that there’s something special there and it’s raw, and it’s beautiful, and we’re lucky to witness it on screen.
Jim Jarmusch’s previous film Only Lovers Left Alive is also a movie I have high regard for, and it was this film that introduced me to Jarmusch’s genius. Adam Driver’s character is named Paterson, which also happens to be the name of the town where the film is set. In its own way, the city of Paterson is as much a part of this story as the main actors. Paterson, in this sense, is a reflection of the man Paterson – like twins are a genetic reflection of each other. There’s no other way to describe it.
One of the recurring themes in the film is twins. They are seen almost everywhere in the movie as Paterson walks to work, drives his bus or walks home again. It becomes a lot more noticeable after a particular scene in the film, but I never noticed any of this the first time I saw Paterson. This is why rewatches are so useful to do – you really can pick up so much you miss the first time around. I tend to find this is the case when I see a movie I have been looking forward to. I just can’t take everything in during the first viewing. I like to see movies like that a second time when I am calmer and more aware of what is really happening in the film. I actually think a “review” is much easier to write when you’ve seen the film more than once.
What’s so endearing about the character Paterson is how effortlessly he goes about his day-to-day, almost entirely void of stress and hindrances that seem to bring most other people down. One important thing to recognise about Paterson is the way he avoids technology – almost to the point of being crippled by it.
His wife is a creative, free-spirited woman who actually seems to polarise Paterson’s existence. She appears to be disorderly and quite chaotic in the way she goes about living her life. She doesn’t have a job and spends most of her time coming up with a different life-goal to pursue every other day. At times I think this manages to breach Paterson’s wall of order and routine, but he never shows it. They do love each other a great deal despite their differing personalities and quirks. They are the epitome of compromise in a relationship.
But the best thing about this film aside from the performances is, of course, the poetry. If you are a creative person, you’ll fall in love with the way that Jarmusch brings each and every poem to life with the imagery and perfect pacing of the film. Adam Driver’s narration doesn’t hurt either.
Paterson is a film that will pleasantly take you by surprise. Let the words wash over you like rain, let the images seep into your skin. You’ll understand what I mean when it’s all over.
“The Answers We Seek Are Just Outside Our Reach”
Ad Astra (2019)
Image Credits: IMDb
I toiled with the idea of writing this review for more than a day. I decided I had to see it more than once to fully understand the magnitude of the message that this film delivered. I am not sure that I’ve fully grasped all of the concepts explored in the movie, but there is one that seemed to hit home a lot harder than expected, and that is the almost claustrophobic feeling of abandonment. I’ll work my way back around to this a little later on.
In a nutshell, James Gray has produced a seriously heavy hitter with Ad Astra, and he has none other than Brad Pitt hitting the ball right on out of the ballpark for him. Not only is this one of the best films I’ve seen this year, but Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Astronaut Roy McBride is out of this world (no pun intended). If this film doesn’t get an Oscar nod for at least best picture, I’ll be disappointed.
Ad Astra is a touching, moving and at some moments uncomfortable film to watch. It’s both exhilarating and melancholy all at once with some scenes interlocking with each other in a beautiful synergy. I was actually surprised to find that this film wasn’t based on a book because the story is just wonderful.
Brad Pitt is both narrator and guide as Roy McBride who finds himself having to face the painful abandonment of his past by his father, esteemed Doctor and Astronaut Clifford McBride played by Tommy Lee Jones. When he is tasked with the almost impossible feat of searching for a father he thought was long gone, the journey he undertakes is one that wreaks havoc on him physically, mentally and emotionally. Not only has Roy dedicated his life to the exploration of space, just like his father did before him, but Roy also finds himself sharing a lot of the less desirable character traits of his father. Part of his journey into space to find a father he thought was dead is also a journey inward into the painful memories of an absent father. Roy McBride, now an adult, still doesn’t know who his father is or who he has become.
The cinematography of this film will leave you with your mouth on the floor. James Gray went all in to try and deliver a movie that not only explored the darkest reaches of space and all its beauty, but he wanted the imagery to be as realistic as possible. In that respect, I put this film right up there with Gravity and Interstellar. Ad Astra is that remarkable.
There is something to be said about the recurring theme in the film that looks at the vastness of space, and the unknown and how it can pull people into it like a venus fly trap does its prey. The idea that a person can be alone for vast periods and not feel lost entirely is carefully examined mostly with the sad yet hopeful eyes of Roy who unlike his father, changes the course of his life after realizing what his father for all those years, could not. Like all good films that make you feel something, Ad Astra is a movie you should go into entirely open. It honestly took me by surprise in the best way possible.
See it if you love space films and emotional journeys as Ad Astra beautifully intertwines both of these themes throughout the film.
The Broken Quill Rating – 4.5/5