Every time I review a DC film, I say pretty much the same thing: they have to stop taking themselves so seriously. Well, once again, they ignored me: Joker is about as serious as you can possibly get, and it’s a much better film for it. For me, this is their best outing to date, and it’s pretty grim.
Joker is set in Gotham, before Batman and before Arkham became a rest home for homicidal super villains. The connection is there, but it’s very loose: this is not a film about super heroes, this is a film about how we’re all just a few steps removed from becoming a menace to the public.
Joaquin Phoenix, unsurprisingly, turns in a masterful (and I mean masterful, as in ‘Oscar worthy’) performance as Arthur Fleck, a failed clown and failing stand-up comedian suffering from a range of mental ailments and perpetual bad luck. As his life spirals out of control and his past unravels around him, he becomes increasingly unhinged, delusional, and of course, homicidal.
Somehow, describing this as the ‘long-awaited sequel’ doesn’t quite cover it. I’ve had this on preorder for MONTHS. As I’m sure you know, The Testaments is the follow up to the enormously successful, and worryingly prophetic, Handmaid’s Tale – the story of a dystopic America, where a huge swathe of the country is under the control of a totalitarian government that has removed the rights of woman to exist as individuals. (Seriously, if you’ve never heard of this book then I think you may be on the wrong blog).
The Testaments carries on a few years after the last book left off, delving deeper into the world of Gilead from the point of view of women living within it, and outside. It’s not the same literary horror story we saw in the first instalment (or indeed, the tv series), so I don’t think it carries the same shock value I remember from reading The Handmaid’s Tale, though now I get less of a sense of ‘this could happen!’ and more of a sense of ‘I think it already has.’
The writing is much lighter, with less of the literary flair we saw in June’s account of her life as a handmaid. What does come across is the hypocrisy of the entire Gilead setup, and the sense that many of the original characters (Aunt Lydia in particular) are perhaps just as much victims as the handmaids; they were just better survivors.
Seems like quite a long time since I wrote a novel. The last one was The Quisling Orchid way back when.
Since then I’ve been fiddling with screenplays, writing short stories, winning competitions (ahem) and working with the fine fine people who make up my local writers group.
But I have been working on one book for a while now …
A couple of years back, my mother became very ill. She always enjoyed reading when she had the chance, but during her final year, she preferred having either of her sons read to her. Since she couldn’t really concentrate on a full length novel, I started writing a collection of linked short stories, so I could read her each chapter as I finished it.
Sadly, my mother passed away before I could write the last few stories. I didn’t feel like carrying on with it, or writing anymore, for that matter, so the novella languished inside a laptop for a couple of years, and I sort of turned my back on writing.
I’m not sure why I picked it up again. Would love to say I had some sort of otherworldly epiphany, but it wasn’t that exciting. While sorting out my mother’s effects, we found a stack of handwritten papers: the beginnings of an autobiography. It was deeply moving and beautifully written. I had no idea she could write. I mean, when I talked about my writing, she never mentioned it.
Now I think about it, maybe it was an epiphany. Anyway, I dusted off the novella with a plan to self-publish it (for free if I can figure out how) before the end of the year. Sort of a tribute to my Mum.