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‘Joker’

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I see lots of movies. It is my passion.

People ask me about movies. What should they go see? Is this movie good?

“Joker” is a quandary for me. It’s well acted, but I cannot recommend it. Let me unpack this.

First, “Joker” is a story about a man, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), who is mentally disturbed.

At the outset of the story, we see him sitting with a social worker, talking about his medication and his thought process. She asks him if he has any negative thoughts. His response is that all he has are negative thoughts.

In his journal, a sentence is written: “I hope my death makes more cents than my life.” This is a person dealing with many issues.

As the story unfolds, we learn more about Arthur’s life. He is caretaker to his mother, Penny (Frances Conroy).

They spend their time together watching television. Their favorite show is one that features Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), which Arthur envisions being on.

Arthur also is a rent-a-clown. He works for a service that provides people dressed as clowns to do things like spin those signs you have seen people use on the side of the streets.

Arthur is beaten up by a group of teenagers, who steal his sign. When he gets back to the office, a fellow clown (Glenn Fleshler) gives him a gun. He tells Arthur it’s for protection.

The gun ends up getting Arthur fired. And the gun becomes a means for Arthur to fall deeper and deeper into madness.

I cannot recommend “Joker” because of its subject matter. It’s a very violent movie.

Todd Phillips, the director, said he wanted the violence to be realistic. He also wanted to pay homage to two other movies: “The King of Comedy” and “Taxi Driver.”

Martin Scorsese directed both of these films, and their plots are a part of “Joker.”

“The King of Comedy” is about a man who wants to be a standup comedian and kidnaps his idol to try and get the spotlight for himself.

“Taxi Driver” is about a loner with mental health issues who works late nights driving a cab. The main character is like Arthur in that he sees the larger world as a cesspool beyond help.

“Joker” takes us down the pathway of psychosis and where it lands is not a pretty place.

You may think this movie is supposed to be a comic-book movie. Some critics have called it a superhero movie. It is neither.

It is based on the character from the Batman comics who is the prime villain in the series. The film includes elements here of the Batman mythos. Bruce Wayne appears, but as a young boy, and we see his father, Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen).

What I see in this movie, based on viewing it and reading about Phillips’ vision, is an attempt at a parable of our times that ultimately fails to achieve its purpose.

Phillips speaks to lots of social problems of our day.

Though set in the early 1980s, we see a society where the gap between the haves and the have nots is wide.

At one point, Thomas Wayne speaks of the problems of Gotham and says he does not understand why these people do not do like he did and make something of themselves. That tone deafness is part of our current circumstance.

Another is the ease with which Arthur obtains a gun. He did not have to have a background check to get it. It was handed to him by someone. Phillips is saying something about that.

All in all, I think his message gets muddled by his method.

“Joker” is a hard movie to watch. I am not sad I saw it. I think it is a movie that needs to be seen, but not by everyone.

That is why I cannot recommend it.

Parents, be warned. This is not a movie for children.

MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images.

Director: Todd Phillips

Writers: Todd Phillips and Scott Silver

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix (Arthur Fleck), Robert De Niro (Murray Franklin), Frances Conroy (Penny Fleck), Brett Cullen (Thomas Wayne).

The movie’s website is here.

Michael Parnell

Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.