Todd Phillips‘ JOKER is quite possibly the most polarizing film of the past decade. Some critics have hailed it as a masterpiece while others have criticized it for its portrayal of mental illness. Furthermore, some have gone so far as to label the film “dangerous.” Regardless, it hasn’t stopped audiences from flocking to JOKER again and again. The film recently cracked the $1 billion mark, became the most profitable comicbook film of all-time, and became the highest grossing R-rated film of all-time. It even won the prestigious Golden Lion award earlier this year at the Venice Film Festival.
I like to believe that most people get into the film industry because they are passionate about their craft and love what they do. While Hollywood is certainly replete with attention seekers and people who need praise and recognition like Dracula needs blood, that’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions to the rule. There are people in the industry who could give two Clayface sized shits what other people think of them. Having said that, individuals in Hollywood create movies that are meant to be seen by audiences. Although it’s certainly nice to receive praise from critics and filmgoers, praise from one’s peers is something else entirely.
Recently, Todd Phillips screened JOKER at a theater in Los Angeles for a select few. After the screening director Michael Mann (MIAMI VICE, HEAT) was supposed to head a Q & A panel. However, do to a scheduling conflict Mann had to bail, turning the duties over to fellow director Scott Cooper. Despite having to miss the screening, Michael Mann couldn’t resist offering up his opinion regarding JOKER, penning a letter to Phillips. At the Q & A Cooper read the letter aloud to the audience and damn if it isn’t downright effusive:
I love this movie. I think it’s brilliant and not only Todd’s best film but it’s exciting because it’s on a frontier. And that’s usually where very good things happen. Todd and Scott’s screenplay has that relevance that occurs when work is authentic and not derivative. We find Arthur disturbing and poignant simultaneously. He’s both child victim and adult perpetrator. Both are true, as is the case with most schizophrenics. That both are true is uncomfortable. We find ourselves in a fugue state. It’s counterpoint. It’s why Arthur and the film’s impact sustains so strongly in memory. To build on all of this, and for Joaquin, Todd, and Scott, to impact upon on this powerfully is a difficult accomplishment. Congratulations, Todd!
Guys there’s praise and then there’s praise. And for that praise to come from a director who’s well versed in darker narratives and tales of broken men (THE INSIDER) speaks volumes. I think Mann’s comments fully encapsulate the quintessential essence of JOKER. This is not a safe film, it’s a film that takes risks, it’s a film that challenges you and doesn’t offer easy answers to complex questions. Saying Joaquin Phoenix‘s Arthur Fleck is “both child victim and adult perpetrator” is a near perfect description. JOKER is a scathing indictment of the mental health industry and while the end results of the film aren’t commonplace, men and women struggling with mental health issues like Arthur’s, are.
Todd Phillips was unsurprisingly giddy about Mann’s comments remarking, “That’s amazing to hear a letter from Michael Mann. I’m such a huge Michael Mann fan. He knows that, we’ve spoken about it.” With awards season just around the corner, JOKER is certainly shaping up to be a major contender. A Joaquin Phoenix Best Actor Oscar nomination is almost a foregone conclusion at this point and JOKER is sure to contend in other categories like Best Score and Best Cinematography as well.