This review contains no spoilers.
There’s been a lot of digital ink spilled over the new film Joker, but what’s fascinating to me about it is how much of what the critics said is simply absurd. To be sure, artistic works, like life itself, are open to interpretation, but in both cases — works and life — you’ve got to stick to the facts to get at the truth.
Joker is, for all intents and purposes, a comic book remake of the 1976 Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver. It’s the story of a troubled loner’s descent into violence. I should say up front that I don’t like comic book movies very much and I didn’t like Taxi Driver very much, so I wasn’t the film’s most sympathetic audience. That said, I found Joker stylish, watchable, and well-done with some enriching plot ambiguities. I also found it tonally monotonous and overly derivative.
But the panic the film set off among leftist critics may be the most interesting thing about the movie. To be sure, the film’s talented director Todd Phillips taunted the leftist Outrage Beast when he gave an interview criticizing the humorlessness of woke culture. The left responded by being humorlessly woke, proving the guy’s point. After that, Phillips had a target on his back.
But it was the left’s political reaction to the movie itself that was so strangely (or maybe not so strangely) off base. “It’s an insidious validation of the white-male resentment that helped bring President Donald Trump to power,” said Jeff Yang of CNN. Anti-Trumper Max Boot wrote a WaPo piece also linking Joker to Trump and headlined, “‘Joker’ nails the nihilism and opportunism of populist firebrands.”
And in a thoroughly unhinged rant, Richard Brody of The New Yorker called the film “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.”
That last review really is the giveaway. Because, with some caveats (the movie doesn’t deal with race at all), the film’s historical perspective is pretty damned accurate. And that perspective condemns the left where it stands.
No matter how you feel about the movie’s protagonist, the one thing Joker is not is a Trump voter. He’s a leftist: a self-pitying victim; a hater of the rich; a man who takes no responsibility for his own actions but instead blames the unfairness of society. In fact, all in all, the movie is a thoroughly justifiable satire of leftist talking points. It is not — like the excellent Dark Knight trilogy — a philosophical kick in the groin to leftism in general. But it does hold the mirror up to leftist culture — and the image in the glass is not pretty.
The Gotham of the movie is late 1970’s New York, a toilet of pornography and violence. I lived there. I remember it. It was, like today’s crap-strewn and disintegrating San Francisco, a city the left made. A city that put the tender loving care of criminals above the safety of decent citizens. A city that would not get the homeless off its streets. A city that would not restrict or condemn pornography and prostitution on its main thoroughfares. Its lawmen were handcuffed by left-wing Supreme Court decisions that made it harder to investigate and prosecute the bad guys. And journalists were silenced by racial “sensitivity” because a lot of the people committing the crimes were black and no one wanted to seem racist.
So the city went to hell. Leftist hell.
That’s where Joker takes place: Leftist hell. And because Gotham’s left-wing government does not really care about treating real problems like mental illness, Joker goes nuts.
The movie does depict the rich as insensitive louts. If anyone can be said to represent Donald Trump in the film, it’s millionaire Thomas Wayne, Batman’s father. But the people’s inchoate rage and hatred against the wealthy literally turn them into a mob of clowns. And if “mob of clowns” is not a metaphor for today’s left, I don’t know what is.
No wonder the leftist critics feared this film. It’s a reminder of who leftists are and what they do when you give them power. You can watch it and know everything you need to know about them — and it’s cheaper and safer than a trip to San Francisco.