Joker film: Question that hit nerve with Joaquin Phoenix has got me worried – Jim Duffy

Like Taxi Driver, Joker is a tale of what happens when someone creates their own sinister reality, writes Jim Duffy.

The star of the film, Joaquin Phoenix, briefly walked out of a media interview when asked about the risk of copycat violence (Picture: Warner Bros)
The star of the film, Joaquin Phoenix, briefly walked out of a media interview when asked about the risk of copycat violence (Picture: Warner Bros)

When I look back now at my mum and dad sitting listening to Frank Sinatra or Barbara Streisand singing Send in the Clowns, I realise why it was poignant for them. The song, penned by Stephen Sondheim, is not really a happy tune. It is about a person who has or is going through a relationship breakdown and tough times.

So, why the clowns? Well, it all stems from the circus. When things went wrong in the circus, they would send in they clowns to distracts the audience and focus their attention on some farce.

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I’ve played the song recently and it is very emotional.

A scene from Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix (Picture: Warner Bros)

But it is only when I watched the trailer for the new Joker film, that I truly knew that something was about to go wrong...

If you take yourself to YouTube and give yourself five minutes to watch both trailers, you will probably feel the same way I do. Along with 62 million others. Yes, this trailer has been viewed 62 million times. That is simply stunning.

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To put this into perspective Judy, the trailers for the new biopic about the life of Judy Garland, starring Renee Zellweger, have only been viewed about two million times. A mere two million eh? Under normal circumstances, the PR and marketing teams would be delighted with such attention and eyeballs.

So, just imagine how over the moon director Todd Phillips must be that his new Joker masterpiece is getting such recognition online. Masterpiece? I suspect this movie will take you to places you have never been before.

By casting Joaquin Phoenix to play the Joker, Phillips took a gamble. Phoenix, who many of you may recall played Caesar in Gladiator, Johnny Cash in Walk the Line and Joe in You Were Never Really Here is a mesmerising actor.

Toys thrown from pram

All the above roles were dark, broody, violent and huffy. This guy doesn’t do shoot ’em ups, slapstick and chicflicks. No, Phoenix is deep and so are the roles he acts out. I’m not sure I would invite him to a dinner party as he comes across as a quiet chappie who likes his own company and thoughts. But, when he creates a meaningful character such as the brutal avenger and hitman Joe in You Were Never Really Here, it makes you sit up and stare at him. The power in the acting is gripping.

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The new Joker movie is attracting five stars almost everywhere. When it premiered at the 76th Venice International Film Festival on August 31, it received an eight-minute standing ovation. To have the luvvies on their feet for such a long time makes me think that something special is coming to our screens. So, no doubt we will have a box office hit on our hands. But, while I am excited to go see this movie, I am also nervous.

Phoenix has had to conduct countless PR interviews before the movie goes to the masses. Most of these have gone off well. But, he recently threw his toys out the pram when interviewed by the the Telegraph newspaper. It was such a big story that the newspaper editor had to get their side of the story out as a feature in print.

But what question caused Phoenix to walk out for over and hour until the PR teams persuaded him to get back in and chill? Was it, “how much money are you being paid?” No. Was it, “do you think there should have been a stronger female supporting actress?” No. Was it, “what are your views on Brexit?” I’m afraid not.

What got Phoenix so wound up, is when he was asked if he felt that the movie could inspire copycat violence?

Where it all goes wrong

Joaquin Phoenix is a human being. He no doubt has had to put in just as many hours on the film’s PR as he did filming the movie. It’s tiring listening to the same old questions and having to play the game. But, this one journalist at this one time obviously hit Pheonix with a metaphorical uppercut that made his teeth chatter and his brain bounce. Maybe what he really wanted to do was laugh out loud like the Joker. Instead he walked out. And it is this one question that bothers me about what I am going to watch on the big screen.

I think it is safe to say that the character Phoenix plays, Arthur Fleck, has mental health issues. The uncontrollable, spontaneous laugh that causes him pain and beatings along with the dark and negative thoughts he has will eventually help steer him into the person that is... the Joker. Life events such as the death of a close loved one and continually being scoffed and sneered at eventually put pressure on his mental health releasing what is... the Joker. And this is where it all goes wrong. This is where Send in the Clowns comes into its own as the chief “clown” takes over, taking farce into a darker, febrile and chilling place.

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This film takes me back to Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. It’s combustible and violent and highlights the consequences of what can go wrong when certain individuals are marginalised and ridiculed constantly. In short, they lose touch with reality and create their own. This is why I am slightly apprehensive about going to see Joker. It is a movie, a piece of art and a money-making machine. But, some delicate creatures may consume it the wrong way. I hope not.

One thing is for sure. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same way about Barbara Streisand singing Send in the Clowns ever again, having watched and thought about this movie. Keep an open mind...