PLOT/MOVIE SPOILERS BELOW
Last year’s Joker was the kick-off of my own “Oscar-viewing season” which started with Joker and ended with Jojo Rabbit over a week ago. Joaquin absolutely crushed every scene he was in, and that was literally every scene of the movie. This was the Joker’s movie, after all. We only see things from the comic book villain’s perspective.
Everyone else is kept in the background and we, the viewers, are left to figure out what they were saying and doing behind the scenes. The most important supporting character is arguably Murray Franklin, the talk show host played by Robert DeNiro.
DeNiro certainly seemed comfortable in his own skin playing Murray. No surprise. He played an aspiring talk show comedian back in 1982, when he starred in King of Comedy. It’s even more interesting to note that Joker seemed like a rehash of King, but injected with the gritty tone of Taxi Driver.
It begs the question why Scorsese wasn’t given TWO Director nominations at the Oscars instead of one (Sorry Todd Phillips). When I watch Joker clips on YouTube, I feel I’m the only person who says DeNiro deserves some credit (at least). It doesn’t have to be all Joaquin, or all Hildur…just throwing that out there. The movie is great in other ways, you know.
I found Murray a fascinating, 3-dimensional character, second only to Arthur/Joker. He serves as the antithesis of the Joker character. Murray performs a brand of comedy that is popular and socially-acceptable. Joker does comedy that is at the expense of someone’s well-being (orphans and burning cities will leave him in stitches…and others in stitches, too).
When Joker killed Murray on live TV, it was emblematic of the chaotic replacing the civilized in Gotham City. Murray was not only the Joker’s opposite, he was also what Arthur Fleck wanted to be: to be loved, adored, and to have his comedy appreciated.
Even more, Murray (albeit briefly) represented the father figure that Arthur had always needed.
Since the movie’s release, fans have been so quick to point out how much of a jerk Murray was. Sure, he was the antagonist in Arthur’s story, but isn’t it well-established that Arthur was never in the right frame of mind? He killed an innocent psychologist at the end, if I need to remind you. Yes, we can understand and empathize with Arthur. Yes, he wasn’t given a fair shake in life. And no, we do not have to support what he does.
Joker is the most iconic villain of all time. You know, the v-word that is synonymous with “bad guy”?
So why are we pretending that Murray Franklin is the “villain” of Joker? Because he played Arthur’s standup video for laughs? Because he made fun of him on his show? (“Antagonist” and “villain” mean two different things, mind you) If you’re doing standup, you will likely be recorded on video or audio. After all, you’re willingly exposing yourself to the public, no? Even now I’m writing this blog and submitting it for public view. I am opening myself up for criticism, and I accept that.
If someone invited me on their talk show to make fun of me, sign me up! Going on talk shows is the best way to promote your brand. The only thing worse than being talked about negatively, is to not be talked about at all. How do you think the Beatles got their big break in America? We all owe Ed Sullivan our gratitude.
When Arthur was brought onto Murray’s show, it was his opportunity to make the best of it. He had the chance to turn the “Joker” moniker into a household name: i.e. the hack comedian that tells bad jokes. Arthur had been mired in the slums of Gotham, and Murray was his ticket out of there.
When Murray first met Arthur in the dressing room, he assumed Arthur was there to play a character (I mean, Arthur showed up wearing face paint, would you have taken him seriously?). And the best part of it?
Murray was more than willing to play along.
Remember when Gene (douchebag with the beard and glasses) tried to convince him to leave Arthur out? I’d say Gene was more of a villain than Murray was. Easily.
As the night went on, Murray and his audience were genuinely having fun with the idea of Arthur’s Joker “gimmick”. Unfortunately, it dawned on everyone that Arthur was not in on the joke. He took it personally and started to break.
Being a mentally-ill loner, Arthur did not understand the nuances of social interaction. More symbolically, and characteristically, he did not understand the nuances of socially-acceptable comedy, either. Murray, engaging in playful banter, did not realize this until it was too late.
When Murray sensed that Arthur was deranged after confessing to killing 3 people, he didn’t stop the show right away (as Gene tried to do). In fact, he kept the program running longer than he should have. Instead, he offered Arthur some fatherly guidance:
“Not everyone is awful, Arthur.“
He tried to get Arthur to see the error of his ways in a civilized way. Unfortunately, Arthur lashed out in anger and it didn’t end well for anybody. Throughout the film, Arthur interacted with people that were “awful”. Each person had a hand in his descent to madness (his mother, Thomas Wayne, his boss, co-worker, street kids, you name it). Of all the people he met, Murray was the only one with the means and willingness to give Arthur what he so desperately craved: fatherly love and adoration.
Murray Franklin was not the villain of the story. As a civilized people, we should refrain from villainizing characters that are lawful and mean well. Had certain events transpired differently, Murray Franklin would have been Arthur’s saving grace.
If anything, Murray Franklin was actually the hero of Joker (and didn’t need a cape and cowl to act as one, suprisingly).