We had a big movie catch-up this weekend, and at the end of it all, the weight of the world seemed almost too much to manage.
Both Joker and Uncut Gems are very good films, but they leave you exhausted by the time the final credits roll. Each asks its audience to bear witness as the main character descends into a darkness of their own making. From the movies’ opening scenes, it’s obvious that there are few good guys in either film, and the main characters’ decisions will lead to destruction. The only question is how much destruction, exactly, will be wrought.
Both films, too, feature amazing performances by their leading men–who both take-on speech affectations that hint toward the darkness brewing within. Joker and Uncut Gems are also both about improperly treated mental illness. Joker more explicitly connects its main character to mental illness, sadly offering little hope for those who suffer from and assortment of complicated, yet treatable, conditions. Others have written about how disappointing the movie is with its implication that mental illness always must lead to violence.
Uncut Gems never explicitly broaches the subject, but Adam Sandler’s Howard Ratner is a gambling addict on a seemingly life-long bender. He needs treatment and recovery as badly as Arthur Fleck. Without them, as we see in both films, odds are not in the men’s favor.
When I was a younger fellow, movies like these and Taxi Driver (which Joker nods towards) didn’t bother me so much. Now, I find myself admiring them for performances or cinematography, but feeling maybe not guilty about basking in their characters’ downfalls, but I don’t feel good about it, either.
I’m reminded of how I feel about the Hunger Games films, whose characters stare at us and lecture about how wrong it is to fetishize violence, moments before dancing through highly-choreographed fight scenes where young people just off-camera get stabbed in the chests with tridents.
How can I enjoy a movie like this, without myself being part of a problem?