No Joke is a detailed examination of Todd Phillips’s Joker, one of the biggest global box-office hits of 2019. While his success was no doubt partly because of the association of its title character with the Batman superhero franchise, Joker is anything but a flashy superhero romp. It does explore the pathologies of its central character and suggest ways in which his life experiences might have driven him to become a supervillain, the arch-enemy of Batman. At the same time, the film leaves open the possibility that its “Joker” is not, in fact, the same as the one conventionally associated with Batman. In fact, the film leaves open many interpretive possibilities, in keeping with the complex work of postmodern art that it turns out to be. Joker also engages in extensive dialogues with a range of works from modern American culture, especially the films of the 1970s and 1980s, the period in which the action of Joker is set. Moreover, Joker is a highly political film that comments in important ways on American political history from roughly the beginning of the presidency of Richard Nixon through the end of the Trump presidency, with a special focus on the Reagan years. It also comments in more general and fundamental ways on the very nature of American society and American capitalism. All this, and more, is covered in M. Keith Booker’s analysis of one of the most talked-about films of recent years.
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