S1: Right now.
S2: Charlotte Great. Hey. I. Am.
S3: What’s in the box. Yo.
S2: Yo yo yo.
S4: Hi welcome to this late spoiler special podcast we are here today to spoil joker the new movie from Todd Phillips giving us the origin story of the infamous green haired Batman villain played by walking Phoenix. Joining me in the Slate studios we’re all here together which is nice is force Wickman Slate’s culture editor. HELLO. HEY DANA AND SAM Welcome. Hello. Thanks for coming in. OK. So as usual I’d like to start things by going around the table asking just for a very brief reaction so people know whether we loved or hated going and I was thinking about the reason I do that. And I think basically it’s because I don’t want us to feel like we’re reviewing the movie. I want this to feel like we all wrote reviews like pretend that we all wrote our reviews and they’re up there and people can know our basic argument and we’re kind of hashing out stuff we didn’t get spoiling etc. anyway. So starting with you Sam. Thumbs up thumbs down send your friends or drive your friends away.
S5: I have did I lead it. It’s easy for me to decide like I’m not sorry. I watch it. It is interesting. I think it is maybe not as well definitely not as smart as it thinks it is. It’s probably important in what it reflects although I don’t know how much it knows what it’s an important about. So I’m very much sideways.
S4: Okay. Yeah. Or are we making it important by talking about it we can get to that to forest. What about you. You were in my screening last night. But we didn’t get to talk after.
S6: Yeah I sort of expected I might be coming on here as the Joker defender. I think I would have happily been for example the Dark Knight defender like I was in college when Dark Knight came out. I’m a sometime defender of that movie and sometimes those types of movies and I really did not like this movie. I found it even just boring for most of the first two thirds I would say. It just I found it neither insightful nor entertaining. And you know I think it works best as a showcase for walking Phoenix and in that respect I think that’s just a kind of movie that I find myself not as interested in I’m not interested in movies that are primarily showcases for actress whereas I feel like you Dana like you really like you’re never really here which is a movie that this movie reminded me of a lot. Actually that’s another movie in which walking Phoenix plays a somewhat deranged Yeah mentally ill violence.
S4: Yeah yeah. I did like that movie although I didn’t unreservedly worship it like some states did. I actually thought the ending was terrible like I really disliked I would say the last 15 to 20 minutes of that movie. But yeah I very much admired his performance in it and he’s that kind of actor and we may we get a little bit to this later too I hope we’re talking about the specifics of this performance but obviously he’s the kind of actor who’s drawn to extremely intense incredibly demanding roles where you have to change your body and change your voice and kind of mutilate yourself and there’s moments where that leads to really interesting choices like the master or you never really hear even if you don’t love that movie you can’t say it’s not like it. A very interesting choice for him to make as an actor right. Like working in essentially sort of the art film world with this Scottish director Lynne Rowan Ramsey or you know it could lead to an extreme biopic performance like his Johnny Cash performance but then down another road that’s not maybe so healthy for him or a sort of the world it can lead to things like I’m not there. That strange sort of fake documentary he might not see and I’m still here. Oh yeah. I mean I’m not with the Bob Dylan has one. Yeah. Right yeah. And plus the fact that he made that plus you were never really hear it all gets very confusing. But anyway he can go to work two ways with that and I feel like the Joker is sort of the bad way. I’m a little sorry that he chose this role although I want to get to the things that I think he does the few things that elevate this movie. I mean I’m going to go even harder than you two guys like. I’m an inch away from being the finger wagging schoolmarm on this movie. Yeah. And I think we should get a little bit into the background of its reception and stuff to talk about that because I just read on my way here that the NYPD is going to be deploying random cops to different theaters that are showing it this weekend. Right. I mean there is by now a sort of real world violence association with this movie although no threats or particular acts of violence have occurred in relation to it yet. But Sam do want to talk about it. Its reception it too.
S5: Yeah I mean Well this movie is that is the Toronto Film Festival yes. Yeah. These movies that are really kind of unusual path to theaters for what it is which is you know it’s sort of giant Warner Brothers comic book movie that debuted at the Venice Film Festival which I don’t think has ever shown a superhero movie before when the Golden Lion they’re the top prize then went on to the Toronto Film Festival which is often you know the launching pad for kind of fall Oscar campaigns. Got I think still a pretty strong reaction there although of course there was backlash was already starting to set in just because the reviews out of Venice were so amazing there was like How can the Joker movie actually be this good and that it’s just been this huge kind of battered football in the discourse since then if you’ve followed through to film festivals and this movie is this this kind of back and forth this course is pretty common but you’d never happens with a movie that’s like as this big a profile basically even though he’s not in it it’s basically a Batman movie right.
S4: This is not blue is the Warmest Color that only a few people are going to see in arthouse right.
S7: So it’s been this very weird and interesting and kind of exhausting and tiresome slew of think pieces and backlash and counter backlash and accompanied by these you know apparently according to law enforcement very real and credible threats of violence accompanying the screenings when it opens. I think police in movie theaters have actually been having like active shooter training for their employees and in Aurora Colorado is not going to show it right.
S4: I mean the town where there was a shooting in 2012 right. It was the killed seven.
S5: So the extent to which is kind of the movie itself as a cultural object has anything to do with it or not as a kind of a matter of debate but that certainly is factored into you know all the things that are kind of in the air as it’s finally ending the rioters.
S4: How would you characterize the ecstatic Venice reviews and how would you characterize the backlash think peace reviews.
S7: I mean that the Venice reviews are basically you’ve just never seen a movie like this. There’s never been a superhero movie like this. There’s never really been a movie like this.
S8: And then the backlash was basically I needed to audibly and yes. And then the backlash is basically yes there has.
S6: Because this movie would tell you there have been other movies like this. I mean it refers so often and so obviously to Taxi Driver and came comedy it’s like practically a dream.
S5: Yeah. It’s like Bro a little movie. The backlash is a little like Brody you even lift. Like me mean it’s so full of especially I mean you know Scorsese he is like a executive producer on this movie. His name is like literally on the print. So the idea that it’s not connected to those is bizarre the idea that it’s being done with you know a guy who ends up wearing like clown makeup at the end is whether that puts it in an entirely different category or not I guess.
S4: I again I would debate it. It’s walking alone who elevates who elevates this up to being worthy of the level of discussion right.
S6: Yeah. I mean have we even said who directed it. Because to me the surprise was less that a comic book movie was getting all of this attention. I mean we’re coming off a year in which Black Panther was nominated for best picture for example and Dark Knight had a similar conversation around it. What was more surprising to me was that it was the Todd Phillips movie you know so Todd Phillips directed this movie. He’s previously best known for The Hangover movie is I guess that he also did Old School right.
S4: Yeah I think he did that run of Will Ferrell comedies maybe in the early teeth out. Right.
S6: The quote unquote frat pack movies. And you know he’s good at comedies but I was not terribly impressed by his direction of this movie which mostly amounted I think to just like stealing from other filmmakers without contributing much original. We should get into that.
S4: I have tons of specific specific moments to mention because I see that. I mean just moments where this movie was I don’t know I guess I would say just smothering Lee over directed you know and in a way that plays the first moment in the movie. All right so that’s a good good place to start. Let’s set up where we are at the beginning of Joker where and when we are sure.
S6: Right. I think we we basically know when we are partly just from the Warner Brothers logo at the beginning of the movie it is the Warner Brothers logo from the 1970s and then the cameras slowly moves in on walking free next playing Arthur Fleck is the name of his character flick I guess is like. He’s sort of like insignificant exactly emphasizes that he’s like this aberration and that he’s small and insignificant. Indeed he’s in this depressing apartment and he’s putting on his makeup. Meanwhile the radio you’re talking about over directed the radio is just like if you want to know what kind of New York City is it’s in it would probably be enough. I mean technically it’s Gotham but really it’s New York City. It would be enough just to be like 1970s New York and people know what that means. But the radio is literally talking about how the entire city is buried in trash the word garbage repeats over and over and there are super rats.
S5: Are the only super things in the movie in fact are super rats.
S4: Yeah they’re in the middle of a garbage strike which evokes 1970s New York and the big garbage strike that happened here but also is just as you say just such choking symbolism. You know we’re in a corrupt world.
S1: And later there’s slightly more to it though it’s still a little I really where I won’t spoil exactly the line later.
S10: But Arthur flex says something about well the line is what do you what do you what happens when you are what. What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash.
S9: Yes he is the trash that comes up in the climax so we’ll get there.
S4: But I think that that may be the worst line in a movie that’s full of some pretty honkin bad dialogue. I mean it just basically lays out the theme of the movie at the climax of the movie and leaves absolutely no room whatsoever for interpretation.
S6: Yeah. And meanwhile so walking next is putting on his makeup. I mean it’s it’s really creepy what we see but we then see it like eight more times over the course of the movie which is this character Arthur Fleck attempting to smile and very much forcing a smile while clearly being very depressed and sad and in this case I think there’s a literal like clowns out here. It’s it’s a tier but it’s smudges blue makeup that runs down his cheek.
S4: Yeah. And I believe it’s not right there but later on there’s an equally corny musical cue for that which is Jimmy Durante singing Smile. Smile though your heart is breaking. Etc.. Right. I mean that song comes up a couple of different times including in the Chaplin movie they watch every music cue insanely over determined right. And when when the cream song kicked in during the sort of climactic white room. Yeah.
S10: Is it a reference to the asylum he ends up in a room. I don’t actually know what that song’s.
S4: Yeah. I mean that’s long I think that I think it’s just full of that kind of headbanging surrealist imagery but it’s but to me it’s very much associated with sort of state of needless violence.
S7: Maybe cause it’s been used in other movies and the way that that plays through also kind of reminded me of my it’s Michael Mann’s Manhunter where they use like a guy to Davida for that like single take of you know violence.
S4: Yeah it’s a myth that every big man movie has to have you know where there’s some blast of classic rock while proto menacing things are happening. Okay so we’re in this Gotham of the 70s and Arthur Fleck is employed as a clown. Right. The reason he’s putting on the clown makeup is he’s going to work. He works for this place called haha. It appears to be some sort of clown agency where the clowns just show up get their stuff out of their lockers and head out for their clown day.
S5: You know like you just got out of the clown agency. That’s what it does.
S4: And so we see him freelancing as dancing in a hospital for kids. And the first big action scene twirling a sign right. Being one of those sign holders who’s sort of doing a little novelty act with their sign and in full clown makeup. And then we get the first of many scenes. You’re right that this movie feels very long for us although it’s only two hours and two minutes of Arthur Fleck being horribly mistreated by the world around him. So this gang of kids runs by and I really wish I could see it again to see what the racial makeup of the gang of the theirs but very much appear to be Latino.
S6: My eyes. Yeah right. But I think this movie also tries really hard to be extremely apolitical on both sides. So we’ll get to this later. But the second time that Arthur flack is beaten down and literally kicked when he’s down is by a bunch of white.
S4: Yeah a bunch of sort of rich finance white guys. So anyway this gang of kids steals his sign runs away with it and basically kicks the shit out of him in an alley. That’s the first scene that we see him being humiliated. And I would say I’m tell me if I’m wrong but I think for the first 20 minutes or so of Arthur’s horrible mistreatment by the world in this movie he hasn’t really done anything wrong. I mean he he starts to do some really bad things in the latter half but there’s a pretty long period where he is just a punching bag over the world.
S7: He’s just kind of pathetic and an easy target ad because this movie is inspired by and drawing on this whole kind of mid 70s to mid 80s cycle of what I think of as kind of the city as a hellhole whole movie is that range from the processing movies we’ve talked about before to things like the Warriors and board in flames I mean it’s just just being in the city is reason enough Midnight Cowboy. Yeah. I mean it’s just like the cities are shitholes if you’re in the city you’re gonna get attacked they’re full of you know dangerous mostly non-white people who will attack you especially if you are white. And it’s it is very interesting to me because this is I mean this imagery has really come back with a vengeance in the last couple of years it was such a mainstay of Donald Trump’s campaign and especially the way he and the Republican Party talk about Chicago and it seemed so bizarre at the time because it’s a guy who believes this now and I guess it’s I guess people who don’t live in cities as it still is it still is some sort of fantasy city that Americans psyche contains.
S6: Well and it’s just like plainly not persuasive in this first scene of violence or at least it wasn’t to me because it’s like it’s totally plausible to me that these kids would steal the sign of a clown like I did stupid shit like that as a teenager in terms of just like stealing something like something minor and seemingly not very important.
S11: And now I’m regretting that I was a frisbee I saw Frisbee and I gave it back but squeaky clean.
S8: It’s supposed to be a fun joke. It was a donor kidney. It was so that part was plausible to me.
S6: But then when they you know corner him in an alley and then they just start screaming beat him up beat him up and kicking him it’s just like why why are you doing this why would these people do this. It doesn’t. It only works as like a cliché like third hand right. Old movies.
S4: And it’s in those early scenes that I most felt that the essentially backlash critique that it’s sort of admiring or fetishizing in cell culture. Right. Like that seemed less true to me in the specificity when what happens in the second half. But it seemed like it was sort of being set up by those early scenes because you really do just see him as this poor schmo who also we haven’t even mentioned is mentally ill in a way that at first is not you know just whatever superhero comic book men menacing but is really kind of pitiful. And you know painful to watch so we see him go to a social worker for a mandated weekly visit. He’s supposed to bring his diary and keep a journal about what he’s thinking and going through and as we get a glimpse at his journal it’s this really creepy sort of place with like pornographic cutouts pasted in and weird misspelled rants about suicide and you know so in these early scenes I think you’re supposed to regard him as scary and menacing for sure but also as someone that the system has failed. Who really needs help which could have been a great road to go down in this documentary. I don’t know why it was that all of those scenes left me so sour. I mean the scenes in which you know social workers are trying to reach out to him and he showed take them off. I just kept on finding that there was something glamorizing even just the way he’s smoking. I don’t know something about his almost James Dean like you know posture of macho remove in those scenes. You know I just felt like you could easily walk out of those scenes thinking like it’s really cool. He didn’t give anything to that social worker. You know the person trying to talk to him.
S6: Yeah I’m sure we’ll get more to the glamour. To me the glamorizing happens most Slater when he dons a cool suit and dancing around a rock and roll part 2.
S11: But let’s still see how there’s a little bit of it in there.
S4: Well yeah but it’s there though we’re in a more familiar realm of kind of you know surrealism and superhero comics et cetera. You know the idea of him with green hair dancing on the steps to see the scene that I can’t wait to talk about. It seems like it fits into a world that we’re familiar with. Whereas this beginning part of the movie well it seems to me to want to have it both ways it wants to have a sob story almost all the precious or something you know once I have this social realist you know serious story about a person who has been abused and horribly neglected by the system et cetera. And you know then it also wants to switch later on to this kind of jokey nearest Clockwork Orange you know violent and be funny sort of mode. And so I don’t know what we are to take away.
S7: Right well it is on all these different meds because one of the things walking in Phoenix said about the character is that he didn’t want the character to align with any thing in the DSM 5 like any sort of recognizable like mental condition. So he deliberately kind of kind of scrambled that. So he’s on like 11 different meds or what all different things and then of course because it’s you know sort of metaphorically 1980 New York the city runs out of money and his social worker gets laid off and you know not only does he not have therapy but he also kind of loses the source for the prescription for his meds. So yeah. So it is not only just like society’s abandoned him but like the sort of social safety net is like fraying around him right as well.
S4: And we should also say that one of the mental illnesses he has which I assume is at least based on a symptom that can come with regular mental illnesses is this inappropriate laughing where it seems like especially when he’s upset or scared about something when you would normally cry or be angry he goes into these eerie laughing fits and of course fucking Phoenix being wacky in Phoenix has worked up this incredibly sick and disturbing laugh Yes pseudo Barbaro effect to this movie what is spasmodic Sonia was to us you know when people are short of criticizing Lupita Nyong’o for using that you know vocal.
S12: CONAN Yeah yeah I think this is a real condition and I mean it’s not clear to me like he. There is this scene to be anywhere he’s doing this sort of weird. He’s just kind of smiling and like playing with the kid on the bus in what seems like a you know fairly like genial and non evil freighted way than the kid’s mom turns around and kind of gives him the stink eye and then he starts doing his weird laughing and he hands out one of those sort of laminated cards saying hey you know I can’t help laughing I have a condition and it’s not clear to me if we’re supposed to kind of take that at face value over it. This is just like you were saying before it’s like something he kind of forces himself into and then this is weird like passive aggressive thing and then while people can’t criticize him because I want to tell them that it’s like that I can’t help it. Oh yeah. Like it was the real thing. Yeah. I mean it’s there’s so much going to slipperiness and squishy in this movie.
S9: I wish she’d given back the card by the way. She never gave back the card and that annoyed me. He’ll be in no trouble of laminating it as an excuse for the killings right there.
S4: She gets his laminated card. I mean yeah. So let’s get into his living situation and you know we can sort of start moving toward the part of the story where he and Robert DeNiro cross paths because given that as you said for us this is very much a march to slash rip off of Taxi Driver. You know that that story. Ben Kingsley comedy and comedy and even more so. King of Comedy. So he worked as a clown during the day. He lives with his mother in what’s to keeps being talked about as if it’s this horribly broken down apartment.
S11: But it seems like an okay place for 1980 got New Yorkers in this room looking at that apartment below it looks roomy.
S9: The sink does not appear to be a kitchen where it’s not about it looks good.
S4: So he lives there with his mother who’s sort of senile. And also we learn increasingly over the course of the movie kind of mentally ill herself so she can’t really be trusted. One of the things that she is always rambling about is that she is expecting a letter any day now from Thomas Wayne who we will recognize from Bette Midler as the father of Bruce Wayne who’s supposed to be a tycoon where does the money come from. And if they ever say in the movie he’s just like a Wall Street tycoon or something.
S10: Yeah. I mean in this movie I think they refer to Wall Street traders or stock traders who work for him.
S7: I think traditionally he is more of a real estate guy but I’m not a big comics person and I don’t think the movie is much real estate tycoon might have been too politically freighted in this to kind of Trump like and this book that they do make him. You know he’s a wealthy rich guy. He is running they did some kind of interesting things with him in this movie. He is running for mayor on a sort of you know recognizably right wing sort of hardcore law and order platform you know kind of clean up the city you know take out the trash get rid of the clowns so to speak and but that is also this figure of sort of you know malice or trouble for. For Arthur and his mother.
S4: Right. And so it’s established that Arthur’s mother in her youth worked for for Thomas Wayne in some capacity. And she she’s obsessed with getting money for him for reasons we don’t know for most of the movie. She just thinks that he is going to help take care of her and her son in her old age. What else do we have to say about the middle section of the movie Oh the neighbor when he meets sassy beats the neighbor which becomes this this important thread in the movie.
S6: Yeah I mean so the scenes with her are one of the first places where we start to suspect that there might be some sort of slippage between the diabetic reality of the movie like what is real within the world of the movie and what is just his fantasy. And I started to suspect pretty early on as soon as she says something like You’re so funny Arthur that it was a fantasy of his but they start to sort of go on dates that seem too good to be true for one thing he had just been stalking her and she had apparently caught him and still went on a date with him.
S4: So there’s here and that’s why I was saying I was saying please let this be a fantasy because otherwise it would be it just would have been so misogynistic and bizarre for that character to have taken an interest in someone so clearly off kilter and dangerous.
S10: Right. Yeah. It’s not like Todd Phillips’s fantasy it’s Arthur. Yeah. Fantasy and also around the same time we get to see Robert De Niro’s late night host character who seems to be somewhat based on both Robert De Niro’s character and the king of comedy in which he plays an aspiring standup and also on the Jerry Lewis character in that same movie. So in the king of comedy for our listeners who haven’t seen it. Robert DeNiro plays this aspiring standup who really admires this late night host played by Jerry Lewis and he really wants to be the Jerry Lewis character and there’s a similar dynamic here where Arthur Fleck wants to be Mary Franklin the late night host or to appear on his show and for everyone to love him but he’s terrible at stand up and we see I think the first very clearly fantasy sequence is Arthur imagining himself in the audience of the Murray Franklin late night show and being invited up on stage and everybody loving him.
S4: And again a very very explicit analogy between the father that he never had. And Murray Franklin right I think that scene actually ends with Robert De Niro’s character hugging him and saying I would give it all up to have a son like you. So maybe we’re past what you might call the first act of the movie now Arthur loses his job at halves because he carries a gun to one of his one of his performances for kids in a hospital not even with the intent of doing any harm. He seems to have smuggled it inside his clown costume because his fellow clown gave it to him. Well he doesn’t want to get jumped again. Right. He’s great. He’s cared for self a loaded gun on him now but. But that incident where I go skittering across the floor of the children’s hospital gets him fired. So he’s now it is low point absolutely miserable sitting on the subway in tragic clown makeup and say hey you want to take it away. Here comes the beginning of act two in the first act of violence right.
S7: Yeah. So he’s on the subway which Bush decided to do it in full clown makeup as one does and he sees these three you know sort of white wall street bro’s very drunk harassing a woman on the subway and he decides to come step in and say Cut it out and these guys then turn their attention to him actually doesn’t he start laughing uncontrollably.
S5: Oh yes. Oh yes. All right.
S4: Yeah I think he does want to step in. I think you’re right. Yeah but then he gets one of his his laughter attacks and everybody including the woman is just mystified.
S5: Right. Right. So these guys decide to kick the crap out of him while singing send in the clowns because they are also big Sondheim dudes apparently. Yes. I mean as all Wall Street 1970s they were on their way to Marie’s crisis. Yes. And then Arthur’s who still has his gun goes to use the appropriate historical metaphor goes for Bernie gets on them guns them all down escapes conveniently empty subway car and flat.
S13: Yes but is nonetheless seems somehow sad that they know that a clown did this and he becomes. Well he is kind of on the run. He becomes a symbol for this sort of you know Occupy Wall Street esque uprising across the city with this motto that kind of becomes kill the rich. So his act of sort of defending himself but you know killing these three Wall Street banker guys who turn out to work for Thomas Wayne incidentally of course then becomes the seed for this sort of growing dissatisfaction and unrest to kind of coalesce around. Yeah. Yeah yeah.
S10: And we should describe the movement I mean as you say Sam it’s it’s a little bit Occupy Wall for sure especially with all the kill the rich stuff. So they have signs saying resist. Which is very much you know Trump Resistance obviously they have the clown masks that they wear a bunch which seem very kind of anonymous E as in the group Anonymous who wear the Guy Fawkes masks and not unlike anti-war groups as well right who wear masks and scarves.
S5: Yeah and there’s a little there’s a picture of like the All right throw it in there as well. I mean this is where the movie starts to get you know sort of politically nonspecific to the point of being disingenuous. B They do seem to be kind of both anti-war and like an all right. At the same time which is they’re not the same thing. You know but it’s just like people are mad and they’re rising up and the movie doesn’t particularly care about why.
S4: Hey I’m glad you guys noticed the sign because yeah the protests seem so muddled that to me they just seemed like vague symbols of rioting where you almost didn’t know like this Todd Phillips think writing is a good thing or a bad thing. Does it depend on what it’s for. If it’s good or bad you know I mean it was almost like a music video that was just enjoying the anarchy of you know cars burning in the streets and stuff like that but they just have the signs that say resist but not resist what you write is perfect.
S10: Yeah that’s that sign has shown multiple times. It also appears at least once upside down which I suspect might be another way in which Todd Phillips is trying to say like it’s kind of like the resistance but also kind of not. It’s kind of the resistance gone wrong. You know it’s the whole movie is a Rorschach test and politically speaking I think right.
S4: And there’s one moment to do with the Bernie Getz subway shooting that I wanted to get to because I think it’s one of the first moments that you see what is unique about what King’s performance and my favorite parts of this movie in fact are the dances that he invents after he has essentially starting with that scene every time he has a big kill right his sort of celebration is that he goes off by himself somewhere it’s in a bathroom it seems to be right like one of the bathrooms in the subway system or something right after the first killing. And he does this kind of balletic narcissistic you know self adoring dance which is completely different from the way he moves is Arthur Fleck for the rest of the movie right. Arthur Fleck is this really gaunt.
S10: He’s lost tons of weight and b walks and almost away as if his back is deformed or something is very like it’s a lot like the way Freddie Quell walks in the master like there’s a way in which walking free next is drying out on a whole bunch of things that he’s done in previous movies.
S4: Yeah. And I mean you have to imagine that after he’s played you know in a movie like The Master or you never really hear like this is kind of a cakewalk for him. You know he doesn’t appear bored. I mean if anything he’s overinvested in his role. But you know it’s not anything that we didn’t already know he could do with a good script.
S6: He apparently lost 52 pounds. I mean you really smell very unhealthy.
S4: And I was very big before because he got so big for you right here right.
S6: And it just looks like it’s weight loss for its own sake. We’re not shown any reason that he should be anorexic and yet the character appears to be.
S4: I mean yeah that’s a choice again to me that just seems like it’s just there to be like extreme with three exes you know I mean it’s one of those edge Lord moments in this movie that just really makes you want to flirt.
S5: I mean there is like you know one of the. I mean there not like a ton of memorable shots for me and when it’s one of the problems for me in discussing this movie it’s been you know I think a month since I’ve seen it less than a month and it’s still like a little. It’s kind of gone from my head like it did not sort of stick around and grow over it. But there was a shot the stuck mother where Arthur is in the locker room at the heart or whatever his clown agency is after he’s been beaten and there’s a shot kind of an overhead shot of him on this bench with his shirt off and he just sort of see his like his protruding spine and his bruised back and his his shoulders are kind of in and his head’s down and he just looks like this kind of spineless like undersea creature.
S4: There’s nothing like recognizably human about him in that moment that I found kind of compellingly weird and powerful yet again to my theory that like we owe it to walking you know I feel like essentially the script was handed to him and it had things like act weird do dance you know and he do a cookie laughs. He came up with incredible details about those things and in particular the dancing I think is just really striking because it’s it’s beautiful dancing and it expresses this kind of character that’s completely it’s it’s as if it’s expressing something in Arthur’s character that we don’t see any place else including in anything he says.
S10: Yeah. And I mean in the movie it really lets him run with it. There’s a lot of scenes in this movie that are basically just the camera holding on walking through an ex in a room alone as he just does weird stuff right.
S4: And I feel like in those moments I’m thematically thinking we get it. Todd Phillips right. But I’m also aesthetically thinking like those those movies are really kind of exquisitely crafted to express you know whatever it is that he’s trying to express. I mean this is a little bit like saying like Michelangelo did a great job on stencil ing those words onto a parking lot. You know like all of his artistry is kind of wasted. So pretty well into the movie after it’s been established that there’s this dangerous clown uprising happening all over the town. Arthur discovers this letter that his mother has written but not sent to Thomas Wayne. The father of Bruce Wayne and for us do you want to take that away what he learns and what he does with it.
S10: Right. So the whole movie we keep kind of wondering is this my mother character or just naive thinking that Thomas Wayne will help. And then there’s a little bit of a twist because the letter implies it’s you know it says something like Dear Thomas I remember our times fondly. Like you you need to help out our son.
S6: So the suggestion here is that Arthur flack is in fact Thomas Wayne’s son making him I guess Bruce Bruce Wayne Batman’s older brother his half brother and then the movie takes this sort of turn into a more conventional Batman type movie for a while where there’s lots of kind of knowing references to Batman lure away. So Fleck goes to Wayne Manor and meets a young Bruce Wayne who who does this like he’s on a play scape or something and he spins down a fireman’s pole in a very kind of Batman movie fashion.
S5: Even though he’s only 11 years old or something like that it’s to last to the TV show which of course like no one wants to remember but it’s not even like a reference to like the Dark Knight the Batman fireball it’s like Adam West. Oh wow. That’s kind of nice. Yeah right.
S6: And but of course Arthur Fleck comes off as just like a creepy pedophile type around this young boy. And we even get a brief sort of cameo from Alfred who comes out and it’s like stay away from my son and Alfred. At that point tells Arthur Fleck Look your mom was crazy. They never actually had a relationship like in the sense of mentally ill and institutionalized and institutionalized and in fact you were adopted. Oh did you not know that. Which sends Arthur to Arkham Asylum I think it’s Arkham Asylum right where you really randomly Brian Terry Henry a paper boy from Atlanta and a very accomplished actor at this point is just there as like the receptionist at Arkham Asylum or at the administrative assistant I guess as he said I must have a very good ass because he got DENIRO as well.
S4: He’s just like getting these people.
S12: He’s also that impressive. That’s a spider man’s dad into the Spider verse. So this is one of those Marvel DC crossover.
S4: Well yeah but yeah he has a very small role and in a very implausible moment he breaks security by essentially just getting down the old file of Arthur’s mother and reading it aloud to him and then suddenly saying wait we shouldn’t be doing.
S5: Wait a minute aren’t you the person that I’m reading about in this file perhaps I shouldn’t give it to you. Yeah it is.
S6: I actually wanted to ask you guys about this part. You know we try not to talk about the movies before we tape the Spoiler Specials. Is it deliberately ambiguous whether or not he’s actually Thomas Wayne’s son. If you look at one of the many Rorschach test elements of this movie where it could be either that Thomas Wayne is lying and that they sort of Gaslight this woman and forced her into an asylum. Or it could be that she actually was mentally ill.
S7: Yeah I bet it could be the sort of like you know 19th century institutionalization right you can just like you know say that a woman is having uterus problems and like put her in a mental institution for 20 years and just like fake records saying that yeah I mean I feel like both things were sort of true it seems to me like she was a mentally ill woman who worked for Thomas Wayne who may or may not have been impregnated by him. I
S4: don’t think we’re supposed to know that. Yeah right. Because it’s it’s later suggested that he’s adopted and they even have the adoption papers in the file. But then of course he finds that photo that old photo of her you know with them. KW scribbled on the back that says I love your smile but of course she is a delusional person and could have written that on there herself right or it could have been a smaller just your casual everyday sexual harassment without them ever actually.
S5: Right. I mean I leaned I leaned sort of more definitively towards No but it may just because I sort of so like hate the idea that like actually Batman and The Joker are half brothers like it’s bad enough especially if there’s a sequel to this guy. Yeah I mean it’s bad like the whole idea of kind of explaining the joker in the first place kind of goes against like what the character has always been which is just this kind of He’s Just Like A chaos agent who doesn’t believe in anything so actually to like it’s controversial I think even when like the Tim Burton Batman like gave him a first name that people are like you can’t give the joker a name. So then to have this whole sort of you know kind of gothic novel like backstory to it and then to make him Batman’s half brother on top of that is just like or like a very sort of Joseph Campbell chosen one to type backstory.
S10: Right. Like if he’s if he’s actually the prince and didn’t realize it all along. I mean that’s you know with Joseph Campbell it’s great expectations it’s everything but it would seem to play into his own delusions of grandeur.
S4: So I think we you get to some of his last big acts of violence because we haven’t gotten there yet and as much as this movie plunges you into this dank nihilistic universe that’s incredibly unpleasant. There’s not that much violence until the last third of the movie or so.
S5: Yes so Arthur becomes sort of like doubly famous because he is famous as these sort of unknown perpetrator of these clown murders but then he also kind of goes like the 1980s equivalent of viral. We haven’t really mentioned it but he is sort of an aspiring stand up comedian as well which is probably the worst possible career that he could choose. But he goes he would open mike night completely bomb’s footage of this ends up on the talk show run by Robert De Niro’s character Murray Franklin. He just keeps playing it over and over and making fun of it and people love how horrible this clip is and laugh at it and it becomes such a sensation that they eventually kind of track him down and invite Arthur on the Murray Franklin’s show.
S4: Yeah which is kind of a David Letterman type stunt. You know it’s just it didn’t really fit with the the world of how the talk show was established. I mean it’s kind of a minor quibble. But Robert De Niro’s talk show makes no sense as an entertainment product. You know it’s sort of Johnny Carson.
S12: It’s a little extreme but then it has these kind of you know essentially like you say sort of something looking toward viral videos and then I assume it’s also like the last name is also sort of like a tribute to Joe Franklin who is like the New York radio and TV host. Around that period.
S5: Was he an edgy kind of boundary that he would have on sort of like more just kind of like funny like local weirdos and stuff was just more of a local show.
S4: Maybe I was witnessing that but before he goes on the Murray Franklin show there is at least two more important murders that he committed.
S5: We have to keep track of all the murders. OK.
S10: So what basically happens is you know there’s this famous Batman comic that Alan Moore wrote called The Killing Joke where the whole idea is that like Joker became who he was just because he had one really bad day and he’s about to do the same thing to Batman. And in this case this movie includes a reference to that I think it’s no match to that where at some point Arthur even it’s like I had a really bad day. And what happens on his really bad day although I have to say he’s had a number of pretty bad days recently he’s been beaten down twice in the past like week or so and lost his job and lost his job. But on this specific bad day I think it’s all in 24 hours that basically he a confronts Thomas Wayne and Thomas Wayne completely denies him as a son and in fact even punches him in the nose. And B it’s a right around the same time and I think on the same day that he loses his mom who what she has like a stroke or something I mean she’s been clearly Yeah I think she’s supposed to have a straighter. So he effectively loses what he thinks are both of his parents on on the same day.
S4: He doesn’t just lose his mom his mom has a stroke is lying in the hospital. And then after he learns the stuff that he learns from that. But Brian Tyree Henry file he smothers his mom. Oh yes.
S8: Minor detail so yes but an aspect of the bad day is his fault.
S6: And so so he finds out he’s invited on the show and then we get to kind of the big you know it’s it’s game day it’s the show day sequence which starts out with him putting on all of this makeup. He mostly just puts on the White makeup on himself and his co-workers who have found out about his mom come by to mourn with him and he shoots the co-worker who gave him the gun who by the way is like the yellow cake from today.
S4: Yeah. GLENN fleshly he has the great name Glenn fleshly which is just so suitable for the big fleshy villains that he plays. And yeah I mean that’s the kind of scene that I personally was dreading walking into this movie I thought there was gonna be a lot more of that kind of splatter you know and just the kind of scenes that you watch through closed fingers and you know he just stabbed Glenn flesh his character in the eye and bashes as it’s a little bit like the end of once upon a time in Hollywood right where you just take someone’s body and sort of bash it against every surface and those scenes are really really hard to watch. There’s also a would be comic moment at the end of that horrible murdering Glenn fleshly scene where the other clown who came over to see how Arthur was doing who is a little person played by Lee Gil sort of has to sneak his way out and even has to ask for help opening the door because he can’t reach up to the locked let himself out and so there’s this moment of combination kind of queasy suspense not knowing if he’s gonna be killed as well or whether he’s going to make it out and he does make it out which of course is incredibly strategic decision on Arthur’s part because wouldn’t he go straight to the cops. But this movie doesn’t really take place in a world where you are supposed to think about things like that.
S10: Well he’s also maybe not the most reasonable person and also he’s seemingly planning to kill himself later that night on the show.
S5: So oh that’s true at that moment we think from his little enactments of what he’s going to do on that very night show that he is going to commit suicide before he does that he goes down the hall to sort of have his last encounter with Zazi be to he sort of has Britain been presented as having this you know relationship with all along and even there’s even a shot of her like in the hotel room with his mother and it’s this last thing that the movie shows us definitively that he has this whole thing it’s been in his head and it replays a bunch of their scenes together. But reshot so that only walking Phoenix is in the frame. And then there’s kind of an ominous beat in their conversation. And then it just cuts back to him going back in to his apartment and you don’t I mean you would have to assume that he killed her because otherwise she would definitely run to go to the police. But that doesn’t actually show you that.
S4: So that if I take a look at that I think it’s the most reprehensible moment in the whole movie is the fact that we never learn what happens DRC beats and her small child who were sleeping in the next room right now which I care about.
S5: Like maybe the only person in the movie I actually do care about right.
S4: I mean it’s just that her character has been given such incredibly short shrift. Essentially the only real moment that we’ve seen her that she wasn’t a fan of projected fantasy of his mind is that little encounter they have in the elevator at the beginning. Right.
S7: I mean I think I literally said in my in my head while I was watching it like wow ZB is really got a dog shit part in this movie. So yeah. But it’s also part of this weird continuum where both Rishi and the social worker that this is at the beginning and then all the way at the end there’s another scene with him with a social worker in an asylum. I mean all three of those characters are black women. They’re not a lot of black characters in the movie in general you mentioned Brian Terry Henry before. For us though there’s some sort of I would not go so far as to say that the movie is like saying anything with that because I don’t think it’s sophisticated enough but there is definitely an obvious linkage between those characters all of whom he looks to as you know people who are supposed to kind of understand and listen to him is a big problem with not being listened to right.
S4: I mean all of them are essentially they’re in the movie solely to sort of nurture him and offer him help which he then rejects and you know as we’ll see in some cases maybe rejects a murderer. Yes. OK. Well we’ve now gotten him through his no good very bad day at the end of which he’s scheduled to appear on the Murray night talk show. So here’s where four things really really get citation All right I mean it’s not just a taxi driver that’s being referenced here and the king of comedy but also network you know the whole kind of 70s tradition of you know an act of violence potentially being committed on live television. It seems like that was a big fear of the 1970s that appeared a lot in kind of dystopian visions of the time. So that’s what we’re fearing is going to happen on the show especially because he’s getting more and more unhinged. I mean he was just getting it going on there to do his normal stand up routine but instead he comes out in full Joker makeup and he’s confronted about that although ultimately Nero says it’s fine he can he can go on in the makeup he wants to be introduced as joker so here’s where the origin story is really like clicking into gear. Right.
S5: He is becoming the the evil super villain that he’s always wanted and he even has that trailer moment when he’s like could you introduce me as Joker.
S9: I didn’t see the trailer. I guess so.
S4: So what happened Sam take it away what happens when he steps through the rainbow colored curtains onto it.
S13: Well so he gets out I guess he does a little bit of his bizarre stand up routine which is also remains not funny. And he goes over and sort of sits on the couch and has this sort of barbed back and forth with Morey Franklin and confesses to the murders that everybody has been talking about for weeks. You know the conversation goes downhill from there as you might expect. And he kind of culminated in saying Do you wanna hear a joke. What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash. You get what you fucking deserve. And then he shoots Robert DeNiro in the head.
S4: I can’t remember now when we see him kind of practice on his own couch what he’s going to do he holds the gun to his own chin does he begin to do that before shooting zero or does it just go doing is just saying like knock knock.
S8: He needed to workshop that joke. It’s like knock knock. And then he shoots himself. That’s kind of. That’s as far as he’s worked it out previous.
S4: Right. But he doesn’t. I’m just saying on the actual night he doesn’t even make any move toward shooting himself. He doesn’t you don’t see him change his mind about that. He just goes straight to shooting DeNiro in the head.
S6: Yeah. I think we don’t quite know when he changed his mind. Right. Right. And another interesting thing about that moment that we should maybe say is that while you know after he’s confessed to the murder I think it’s somebody in the audience or maybe it’s just somebody on set says something like get this guy out of here. But Murray Franklin the late night host is like no. Like let’s talk to this guy. In other words there’s a brief sort of conversation about whether or not you give this kind of person a platform. And then right after he shoots Murray Franklin and everyone runs away there’s a shot of it’s kind of like the only shot of this movie that I really think there’s a shot of a bunch of different televisions showing a bunch of different news networks and TV stations and stuff and they’re all like running versions of his speech. In other words they’re just kind of like amplifying his message and which you know there had already been this joker movement. I guess we could call it in the streets and it sends it up to this whole other level where now we’re into these riots in Times Square and stuff.
S4: Right. And that’s where that’s what I was saying that it sort of turns into a essentially right. I mean there’s that long orgiastic scene which I thought would be the ending of the movie and it seems like it would have made more sense not that it would’ve made it a good movie if this was the ending either. But you know there’s that there’s the big outdoor bacchanalia right clown bacchanalia where you know cops are being attacked and cars are being burned etc.. And so we see him riding through this clown bacchanalia in the back of a cop car because he’s been apprehended after shooting the Robert DeNiro character he’s then broadsided by an ambulance. Is that right. He’s suddenly an ambulance crashes into him in the midst of all this chaos and conveniently kills. I guess that knocks out the driver of the cop car. But instead of taking that opportunity to escape golden opportunity to just you know blend into the crowd he ends up standing on top of a car and becoming this kind of center of the rally. And that’s another moment I think where the you know the sort of fascist populist analogy is is most blatant in this movie right is that it’s sort of ending on him. We don’t know if it is fantasy but I assume it’s real that he’s sort of lording it over this group of subservient clowns who are all worshipping his Neolithic violence we should mention that one of those clowns takes it upon himself to gun down Thomas and Martha Wayne in the alley behind a movie theater. Right. I wonder why they put that act of violence into another clown’s hands. Why not just have him do it. Isn’t it his revenge to take.
S6: I yeah I’ve have it. I have a couple of possible reads on that one would just be that it ties to part of what Sam was saying before about the idea that this notion that joker is like an idea more than he as a person. And so in a way he did kill. His way right even if it wasn’t literally him in another part of me feels a little bit more cynically about it. You know they keep saying this is a one off movie but I could see a sequel that plays with that a little bit and maybe the Joker turned out to be this person who was just inspired by Arthur Fleck rather than actually being Arthur flack. I think there’s a few different ways that could go with it.
S5: But there is a little bit of you know we are all joker in this. Like he’s just kind of the person who like this was in the air and he was just the spark for it but it kind of could have been anyway. He is not only sort of anti super anti-hero you know there is nothing special about Arthur and that in a way is what makes him the ideal figurehead.
S4: You’re right it’s certainly not supernatural. Right. And there’s nothing about him that any murderer couldn’t make happen except that there have to be so many coincidences for him to get away with this stuff that he gets away.
S5: Yeah. The only problem with this joker is that he would not really especially you know since he’s about 30 years older than Bruce Wayne.
S4: I would not really put it much of a fight with that man should they wish to face but maybe I was thinking about that age discrepancy and thinking maybe he’ll grow up to be the Jack Nicholson Batman who’s you know considerably older than Michael Keaton.
S10: So you were saying you assume all of this is real and you were also talking about the increase of us being being like the final die in the riot in Times Square and joker he like smudges blood on his face to make us smile and stuff. And you were also talking about how there’s like a weird number of coincidences that allow him to keep sort of escaping and prevailing and then we got to talk about the final shot which shows him in a mental hospital. And I think that there is a you know this movie has been increasingly slippery throughout the whole thing and I think we’re just supposed to wonder whether any of it was real whether it was whether the entire last half of the movie was a fantasy whether the whole movie was a fantasy of just him in the mental hospital.
S4: So the real story of what’s happening is like Arthur Fleck takes a nap.
S6: All right. I mean there’s a precedent for that right. For one thing it’s an aspect of both taxi driver and king of comedy. In the end we’re not exactly sure how much as is Israel and then you know you don’t have to go that far to like another Robert DeNiro movie like once upon a time in America where there’s a question of whether the entire movie was hallucinated. And. I mean there’s weird things I haven’t liked. For example when he goes over to see these icy beats his character her door just opens right. Which is completely unexplained. And I mean one possible explanation for that is that even that interaction was a sort of fantasy.
S5: Right. I mean there is definitely a fantasy but there is also this weird thing where you know this classic kind of movie theater Batman thing they do show know and it’s been sort of you know Gotham like late 70s ask up until that point and then they show in the movie theater three posters for movies specifically from 1981 Zorro the Gay Blade and Wolfman and I’m forgetting one third of that that is like actually they’re all precisely in 1981 which is a weird place for the movie to get sort of so granular Lee specific. Yeah. Then there’s this kind of kicker in Arkham Asylum where he is meeting with yet another black female therapist. There’s yet another kind of ominous cut. And then you see him just kind of you know dragging his feet down this white you know asylum hallway leaving these bloody trails behind him. So we’re seeing that he’s just killed this woman and then there’s this weird I’m kind of slapstick moment where like almost as the credits are rolling I think he kind of goes down and around a corner and then you see like an orderly kind of like run after him you know just across the back of the frame like it’s a like a Marx Brothers movie or Yeah.
S4: All of a sudden which is just it is very slapstick and they go the other way right. The very last thing you see is them running out the other way. So it’s kind of comical ending that suggests like crazy Joker he’s somehow gonna make his escape and we don’t know what’s gonna happen. He’s somehow going to outsmart and kill this orderly and be out in the wide world starting to cause havoc at the end. I mean that tone of the ending that last joke and even the fact that with the way that the social worker’s death is played off as a joke really with the footprints sort of reminded me of The End of Silence Of The Lambs you know I mean just gone through all this horror and you’re all sweating and shaking from the suspense of the climax and then there’s this jokey ending about how he’s gonna go have an old friend for dinner. And you’re first leader. Yeah you’re supposed to leave it on this wry note and it just doesn’t really land to be like the ending of No Country for Old Men which is like what.
S9: Yeah. Or is it. Yeah.
S6: Did you guys think it was very clear what was real and what was fake or did did the question that I raised also occur to you guys that you think it could be that vast portions of the movie if not the whole movie where a fantasy.
S5: I partly I just generally air like I hate it when movies do that. So unless they’re like very explicit about it I generally sort of reject. Yeah I thought I would have just said original because they don’t want it to be.
S4: But I also feel like let Todd Phillips do the work. You know I’m not going to spin some fan theory about what part is true and not true. I actually want the movie to do some of the work for that I guess I at least assume that everything up through killing his mother killing Glenn flesh the killing Robert DeNiro the riot I think that happens there’s Tsotsi beats thing we know is it fantasy but it’s true that we don’t know exactly how much of it is available.
S6: And then also so in addition to like the door being open and stuff you know the hallucinations or whatever you want to call it that’s not a real thing. This movie is so bad when it comes to depicting people’s mental illness but setting that aside briefly that his fantasies about Tsotsi beats the imagined parts they start before he’s off medication. So there’s not really like any clear moment at which they begin. Right. Which to me suggests that you know there’s not really a clear moment when they end either.
S5: Right right. I mean it just they’re kind of all purpose like why does he do it. Because he’s crazy right.
S4: Well I mean I guess maybe we’re at the moment where you have to ask the big question just like why what is this movie trying to accomplish. How do we respond to it. You know like at the beginning I was saying maybe I’m more on the schoolmarm side of the spectrum than you guys. But I also just feel like maybe we’re making too big a deal of this movie’s kind of childish nihilism. You know it’s elevating above the amount of attention that it needs. I really just sort of want it to flop at the box office so there aren’t more sequels and movies like it.
S10: You know I yeah I would like that too I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I mean even a movie as bad as Venom made what was it. I think over a billion dollars and it got significantly worse reviews than this one was much less popular character. And it’s possible that people will go to this movie and just be grossed out and it’ll get really bad word of mouth but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think it’s going to be a huge hit and people are going to be pushing for it for Oscars and I mean walking phoenix like maybe should be. Probably should be nominated for it.
S5: But I I think that the the best actor race at least right now is basically forecast you know to like I mean he is probably the front runner at this point with him and like Adam Driver for yes marriage story.
S4: Yeah well well then maybe we will have to be here talking about the Joker part to have your way. I think that the image in this movie that will stay with me and it’s not because of the filmmaking or the brilliance of Todd Phillips is just because of working is him dancing on the steps. That’s just a beautiful moment is the total music video. It doesn’t need any context at all to mean anything you know. But as this sort of expression of the freedom of and you know an artistry that one finds even in the darkest arts I just thought that was kind of a beautiful moment.
S5: And that is why I mean that is why I can’t sort of totally dismiss this. This movie or even saying that I didn’t sort of like it in that way because I feel like there is like moments that have also like a meme and I know that it’s like it’s going to be you know appropriated by all righteous shit posters like I’m 100 percent sure of that as I imagine it with Taylor Swift. Yeah it’s hard. But it’s also like there is like something kind of powerful and like potent that this movie taps into. Like almost by accident in some ways but it just kind of you know it left me like feeling something and that feeling was in many cases not very good or pleasant but but it works. And I kind of like brute you should brainstem kind of way.
S4: Yeah I feel like the kind of fanboys that like I mean I don’t even want to cite specific titles but like if you want to if you want to have a really edgy experience hit the movies this is definitely your your movie this. Put that on the Post.
S9: Dana Stevens That’s Slate’s raves edge lords gather round.
S4: All right. Thanks guys and please do come back in and just hold my hands through the. The sequel spoiler if this one gets it gets a second movie. With pleasure. Thanks to you all for listening. You can subscribe to the slate spoiler special podcast feed. And if you like the show you can read and review it in the Apple podcast store or wherever you get your podcasts. And please if you have any suggestions for movies or TV shows you’d like us to spoil or other feedback to share. Send it to spoilers at Slate dot com. Our engineer today was married Jacob. Our producer is Rosemary Belson Forrest Wickman and Sam Adams this is Dean Stevens. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time.