I had seen a few previews for this movie, so I sort of knew what we were getting into. We ended up seeing it on a whim, as we came across a movie theater with the movie at the right time (and the right price) so we went for it. I wish I had done more to prepare myself emotionally for the darkness of this movie.
Joker follows the story of (who else) the Joker from the Batman series. While origin stories for superheroes are countless, it's not often you get an origin story for the villain, which is what we have here. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a struggling comedian in the city of Gotham, who just cannot catch a break. He is constantly ridiculed, mocked, attacked, and just generally terrorized. His only relationship is with his mother and is equal parts unhealthy and disturbing. Fleck's descent into madness is driven by his own mental illness and the dire straits of the world around him.
Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant in this role. Everything - the acting, directing, cinematography, costumes, etc - every aspect of this movie was done at a high level and is objectively good, which is why my rating is not lower than it is. The darkness really pulls you in and you can almost feel yourself spiraling along with the main character. It is the definition of immersive.
Which is why I hated it. This movie is dark, full stop. There is no glimmer of hope, no hint at a humanity that will be saved...that deserves to be saved. Everything is awful, all the time, so why not go crazy and start killing people.
I like movies that take me on a journey and perhaps I am shallow but I like movies that give me at least a little bit of hope. This movie seems to take the darkest, most hopeless, most chaotic parts of our society and magnify them to the extreme. Perhaps it's a foreshadowing of where we are heading if we don't find a way to live together more peacefully, but call me crazy, I'd rather watch a movie that could maybe inspire us to do just that.
To borrow (and maybe botch) a turn of phrase from another Batman franchise, perhaps this is the movie we deserve, but it is not the one we need right now. A world descending into chaos needs stories and art that shows us the best of what we can be, not the worst.