Okay, full disclosure: I’m not really a Bruuuuuce fan. Yes, like every other Springsteen not-actually-a-fan fan, I have a handful of tracks that I trot out every year or so when I’m taking a long drive, working through daddy issues, or collapsing under the strain of bein’ a hard workin’ man.
Springsteen’s nineteenth studio album is called Western Stars, and instead of touring it, he’s decided to make a concert reel to promote it. It was showing at our local multiplex, so my smarter half (a Bruce fan from years back) dragged me along to see the great man perform the album live, in his shed. Well, I say ‘shed’, but it’s actually a barn, and when I say ‘barn’ it’s actually big enough to hold a band, an orchestra, a bar, all his mates, and a film crew … Anyway, the seats in our local picture house recline, so at the very least I was expecting a decent nap. I was also expecting about ninety minutes of self-indulgent rambling interspersed with a few songs about travelling long and dusty roads.
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.