Those who criticised Joker as a film that propagates violence were silenced by Joaquin Phoenix’s eloquent and moving speech at the Oscars last Sunday, which spoke of love, justice and poetry
I am disappointed. I was expecting Joker to win all the best film awards. It didn’t. But thankfully Joaquin Phoenix has bagged all the best actor awards. I was hoping he would– for Joker is not just a great film, it’s a brave political statement for our times. All the more for those living here, in India. It’s the story of a small guy, an ordinary guy trying very hard to eke out his uncomplicated life right in the amidst of those who constantly harass and bully him at every turn, often for no explicable reason– and endanger his personal space. Watching the film, you will realise how real Gotham city appears today. It is no longer a figment of comic book imagination. It’s the world you and I live in.
This is the story of all ordinary people everywhere, those who get hurt the most easily when the uncaring, boorish world around them swirls on its own axis, chasing its absurd dreams of dominance. It is they who are the most vulnerable, and often the most defeated. What stresses them out even more is the fact that their own people do not understand what is actually happening. They are busy chasing the phantoms of power and fantasy that politics constructs around them. In this wonderful allegorical tale by Todd Phillips, the Joker finally, and in a sense unwittingly, sparks off his own revolution through a single act of defiance which gives him the courage to think for himself. As if on cue, the whole world around him catches fire. Every joker is on the street, fighting, rioting, setting things aflame. They are looking for that one incandescent hero who can inspire change, who can make the world a better place for all. And, in the Joker who is our hero, they see him, their mirror image, their redemption.
Here, they don’t have to look up to him. The hero is there, right amongst them. The hero is them. All the Joker does is hold up a mirror to their anger, their suffering. And that’s the message Phillips puts out in a film that will take us a very long time to forget. It’s about the courage that desperation lends the weak. A courage that defies all fears and uncertainties to find its own voice. It is the courage of the lonely, the defeated, the fearful—the courage to challenge the world around them, to be defiant, to be brave. That is what heroism is all about. And the Joker is the hero of our times.
Joaquin Phoenix affirmed that as he picked up the Oscar last Sunday– and the glittering crowd sighed. He had appealed to their conscience earlier too. At the Golden Globe, he spoke about climate change. At BAFTA, he called out rampant racism. Elsewhere, he talked about the gender divide, how not enough women are getting the recognition they deserve. He has also talked about glaring inequalities in the world– where 2000 billionaires are richer than the 4.6 billion of the poorest. (As Oxfam pointed out to the Davos elite this year, 22 rich men have more wealth than all the women in Africa. And India’s richest 1 per cent hold more than four times the wealth of 953 million who make up the bottom 70 per cent of our population.) But then, I am digressing.
Phoenix spoke with passion about how cinema has a greater purpose than entertainment. That purpose is to lend voice to the voiceless. He described it as the medium’s greatest gift—the power to change the world. Whether it’s gender inequality, racism, queer rights or the rights of other blameless sufferers, he said, it was ultimately a common fight against overwhelming injustice. “We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, one species has the right to dominate, use and control another with impunity”, he said. No, he did not mention religion and caste here, but he just as well might have if he had India in mind.
He also held greed responsible for the havoc man has wreaked on the natural world. Millions of birds and animals have disappeared; millions more are about to go extinct, all because of us, and how we treat them. He spoke of the milk and dairy industry and the horrible cruelty it inflicts. Phoenix, a vegan by choice, spoke of artificial insemination, the theft of calves from their mothers, the “cries of anguish”, and the wanton use of milk for our coffee and tea. He pleaded for a more humane, a more just world where animals do not have to live at our mercy.
The speech concluded with a poem by his late brother River Phoenix: “Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow”.
That is exactly what the Joker did as he set alight the riots on the streets. What he was fighting for was just peace. Peace from those who would not leave him alone. Peace for those who, like him, were hurting from overwhelming injustice.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.